Good Old Games on online activation: "it's just bollocks."

Rich McCormick at

Rich McCormick: You mentioned that in Poland there's a lot of piracy, and for a lot of people, the first game they buy will be a budget title. Why do you think they took the step of buying the game after piracy? Was it convenience, added value, or...

Marcin Iwinski: If I consider buying things, I always think about the value it will bring, and the same is pretty much about games. So if you buy a game and it's reasonably priced and it offers you a lot of value, and then maybe there is a great community on GOG, it's compatible with your new operating system, it's patched and it runs really well, and you just pay, I don't know £5.99, £9.99 for it, that's an extremely good deal. Then you have a soundtrack, then you have wallpapers and other things, and this makes it super value for money. At the same time, if you are in a store getting for 49 dollars or Euros a game which has 16 pages manual and one DVD, you know, unless the game really knocks you down, that is not that big of a value. So we are trying to build a value for the consumer, and the amount we are talking about, it's in many cases an impulse purchase. If you have a good offer you just go for it and buy it, and that's what we are after.

Guillaume Rambourg: We believe that GOG.com is on a different segment, right? Our number one competitor since the very beginning is abandonware, all those websites giving away games for free. The thing is to take people from abandonware to let's say a more legal road. As Marcin explained, we had to put quite some heart and values into the products, and funnily enough, this is something that makes me smile all the time, but we turned many abandonware websites into affiliates. This shows that if you put the right values and the right message into all games, and you stress the convenience for the users, you make a special focus on the ease of use, everybody's following. And they have a ready to go package where you have all of the flavour of the past in a simple package, basically.

Rich McCormick: So if you guys were put in charge of a major publisher tomorrow, what would you do to prevent piracy?

Marcin Iwinski: We come from a country where we know something about piracy. When I started CD Projekt with my high school friends, there were no legal channels for game distribution. The market was 99.9% piracy and our competitors were always pirates and not other companies. Whenever we were releasing a game it was available on the street, you know, CDs priced at one fifth of what we were asking for, so it was all about value. This is in our opinion the only way to go.

Of course, we don't agree with piracy, we don't like piracy, but if you put a really strong protection DRM people will always find a way around it. Unless DRM is not part of the game. I'm really annoyed when I see examples of companies who release single player games and they ask you to be online. I think it's just bollocks, pretty much. Frankly speaking, I have my notebook and I'm going, I don't have internet access. Though people wouldn't like to think so, there's no internet access in many places in the world where you go, or it costs a lot of money, so I'm not able to play the game.

Normally what a lot of gamers will do is say "This is not a good offer, this is not a good value, I'll go download this game from torrent, or I'll copy it from my friend. It's cracked, and the annoyance of being online is removed." and I'm totally separating it from cases when the game has online elements and it makes perfect sense. This is a totally different world. I think the best example is to offer value to the end consumer; if you offer substantial value both in the retail box and in the digital version, and then additional stuff like being a part of the community, people will think ten times before pirating.

And of course it has to be widely available, because in some countries, and Poland was one of them, you couldn't buy the legal products and people were pirating because it was not available. This is not the case anymore with digital distribution. If you are in Costa Rica or if you are in Poland you cannot buy a good game and I'm asking, "What the hell is that?". On GOG one of our fundamental values is that the games are available worldwide. We have people offering up games and saying, "We have the rights for Western Europe." And we say, "Great, what about Eastern Europe? What about Russians, Poles, whatever? How are they going to enjoy it?". So if it's not worldwide we just don't sell it.

Guillaume Rambourg: I wouldn't like it to sound too extreme, but if you treat people like criminals, they react like criminals, right? We can see it in society every day with riots, strikes and so on. Our aim is to be a fair trade business. To put the right values, to put heart in with the users and the products. It is the best way to convey a positive message that, yes, our product costs money compared to a game which you could pirate for free, but for that money it's fully compatible, there is no hassle, and you don't have to configure the game to have it running. You are given free goodies, and you really feel that you invested in - I know it's going to sound like philosophy or something - but you invested in a product that benefits gaming. You feel you are part of an adventure, part of a good cause.

Rich McCormick: Your community is quite vocal in talking to each other as well as talking to you. What has that brought to the company?

Guillaume Rambourg: A lot. A lot. We are very, very, very sensitive to their feedback, suggestions and so on. This is why the new website we launch will include some features that were requested by the community. This is why we made Baldur's Gate happen, because we knew that the game was really well ranked in the wish list we have at GOG, so there's a real communication being done. As I stressed before, they can read our minds, we can read their minds, so it's like some kind of telepathic forces between respective wishes, and this is the way we drive the company forwards.

Marcin Iwinski: I think it's a beauty what a company the size of GOG [can do]. We are 20 people, and I can say frankly that we listen to all of our community and react and interact. That's really cool. We release an average game - I don't want to say a crappy game, because we don't release crappy games - but we release an average game, or a game that doesn't really feed the Good Old Games value system, and people are the best policemen. You read the comments and they're like, “What is that?” or “It's good, but it's not old!” or “It's old, but it's not good!”. We had a few cases, especially at the beginning, when we were looking at what exactly we should release, where exactly we should go, and we were picking up feedback from people and shoving it around the office and saying, "We sucked this time, let's make it better next time." Next time the goal was, "Okay, this game is really not Good Old. Is it what people are after, is it what they want?". Sometimes we are asking them, "What do you think, what games would you like to have released?". That does really help.

Rich McCormick: Do you find that most of your users come for one game and then buy that game and leave, or are they people who stay around for a long time?

Guillaume Rambourg: I will tell you what is the most impressive metric for me: it's not the amount of accounts, it's that between 85 and 90% of our users have been active in the last 90 days. Most people have bought more than one game, and how come they're so active? Because we try to keep the message alive, to have the light always on at GOG. We go back to them with new content, new ideas. We have some regular crazy contests, soon we will have the GOG mixes [where users can create their own custom lists of their favourite games - Ed]. We want people to stay on GOG and have pleasure browsing the products.

Rich McCormick: What's the plan for after you've relaunched?

Marcin Iwinski: For Christmas we have a really strong line up of titles, of excellent titles and I think together with the GOG mixes and the new features on the website this'll make people very happy, and obviously we want to grow bigger next year. Our aim is to have almost every good old game out there, and there's still a lot of work to do

Guillaume Rambourg: Marcin is right, we are still running after quite some old games, maybe a hundred, a hundred and fifty. And these will be the hardest games to sign, because the rights might be scattered, or the big publishers behind them may be reluctant with DRM free. And basically, because I believe we need a statement for this interview, because we need something big to be put somewhere! I have a statement, and I think Marcin will agree: our biggest wish for next year and for the future will be to become the number one alternative to Steam. Because let's be honest, Steam is the heart of full price and mid price. They are leading the market, nobody can compete with them, and if in the future we could be perceived as, "There is Steam on the left side, and there is GOG for all the rest,” this will be our biggest satisfaction.

Rich McCormick: What's your favourite thing about PC gaming?

Marcin Iwinski: I think it's a sea of opportunities. It's a platform where you can do whatever you want and it's all about the idea and the execution of the idea, and the value which you build. I think GOG.com is a perfect example. Can you do it on XBLA, or on PSN? No, because there are platform owners. So we will see the PC as the most creative platform, where all the new ideas start and thrive, and right now with the chance of publishing digitally, directly, looking at games like for example World of Goo, it's great. It's just spectacular what's happening on the PC. Torchlight, you know? This is the new PC model and yes, there is no statistical data, but there are a lot of very happy gamers.

Not mentioning that the state of notebooks and laptops are exploding [in the last] two years, which has been good for us, because we have good old games and you don't need a high end configuration. Hardware trends is linked to our trends and we hope to combine it properly and contribute to the development of the PC market.

Guillaume Rambourg: It's a great market, but the thing is really, looking at the perspectives, you have to really treat the gamers seriously. Because in the mid games segment, if you're offering a lousy port of the console version, and it's coming a few months after console release because the companies are afraid of piracy - come on, this is not the offering. The offering is "Make a PC game, make it right and you're successful." Let's look at StarCraft 2. Okay, Blizzard is the biggest company, they know how to make games, but that's exactly what they're doing. In a month they sell three million units. I really love niche markets where you can sell three million units of a great game, that's [what it's] all about. Torchlight selling 600 thousand units. Different platforms, different games, that's the beauty of it.

Rich McCormick: Is there anything more you'd like to add?

Marcin Iwinski: I think at this point it would be really good to thank all of our users and partners for supporting GOG. We started just walking around with an idea and there were partners who immediately jumped on board. Then we launched the site with a very new concept and people really loved it and followed it, and they are the guys or girls who built the platform, because without them GOG would not exist. They call us every day, they tell us what is wrong, what is right, and so we're really grateful and we hope they will be happy with Baldur's Gate.

Guillaume Rambourg: I would like to say some special thanks to the guys at DOSBox, because we started with some good old games from the early 90s, and we really built up a great relationship with the guys from DOSBox. [They] have been extremely supportive. They helped us to put GOG on track and, as Marcin explains, without the help of such key partners, we wouldn't be here today. We don't have a short memory and we would like to thank them for the last two years.