Retro PC game download site Good Old Games (aka GoG) is part of Polish developer/publisher CD Projekt, a firm also well know for RPG The Witcher and its work localising and distributing third party games for Eastern Europe. GoG make headlines last week, thanks to a hoax closure - which may have angered many of its customers, but unquestionably created an enormous amount of profile for the relaunched site.
The apparent closure seemed especially puzzling to GamesIndustry.biz at the time, having interviewed current GoG MD Guillaume Rambourg a few weeks previously. He was openly optimistic about the service's present, though perhaps a little less sure about what the years to come may bring...
Q: What was your background before this role?
Guillaume Rambourg: I'm the new managing director of Good Old Games, since March. But working for CD Projekt for three years, for another company from the group. They have a few other companies, there was one called Porting House I was managing, then I took over GoG five months ago.
Q: How's GoG going now? Are you where you expected to be at this point?
Guillaume Rambourg: We have made quite some progress since we launched in October 2008. As of today we have over 230 games on GoG, we sign content from major publishers like Activision, Ubisoft, Atari. We launched some Atari games back in May. We had Outcast, Master of Orion, so we are quite satisfied with our trend. The thing is, I believe we are running after roughly 200 good old games, and then I think the PC catalogue will be pretty much packed. There are only so many good old games. 450, 500 and then I think we'll be done. So what can I say...?
Q: What happens then, where can you go next?
Guillaume Rambourg: It took us two years to get 230 games, so I think it will still take us at least another year, maybe two years to get to 400. We still have much on the plate. Our current strategy is to have one key publisher per quarter, so we had Atari in May, that was the second quarter, right. So I think we will hopefully announce another big publisher before Christmas.
Q: Although you're the only retro-only service, you do get a lot of older titles cropping up on Steam and Direct2Drive. Have you had problems signing up titles because they're disputed?
Guillaume Rambourg: I don't think we have any kind of strong competition. We have a niche market, we don't want to touch full-price for now, we don't want to touch new releases. We want to fully concentrate on back catalogue titles. We have a niche and we try and go as deep as we can, have some singularity and be different than the competition. I wouldn't call Steam and others our competitors.
Q: How has the business model changes in the two years you've been running? Have you been able to experiment with sales and new trends?
Guillaume Rambourg: We're learning every day, because digital distribution is evolving all the time. I would say the business model is still the same; we just have a better flair, a better feeling for pitching certain titles, reviving certain brands so we have the right angle and the right approach to make the business model more efficient. But in the end we still have the same roots, the same ideas as in the beginning. We're just building up on a solid foundation.
Q: Do the crazy sales that have gone well for other channels appeal? Or is it a bit academic when your prices are low anyway?
Guillaume Rambourg: We have only two price points on GoG – we have $5.99 and $9.99. So as such we have already quite a pure message for the users. So of course we run promotions, but we are not so much into it. We believe that the best way to promote the games it not to have promotions all the time, but to put your heart into it. That's why we specialise in reviving the brands by adding some exclusive interviews, talking to the guys who made those games. I think this is the best way, not to dive into endless promotions all the time, and devalue the products.
Q: How much does your audience engender that – older, more affluent gamers, who already treasure these games rather than consider them a commodity?
Guillaume Rambourg: Yes, this is our approach from the very beginning. That's why we are DRM-free and so on. Nowadays, the users have a huge offering on their plate, they are trawling under a huge offer. So the users that are very knowledgeable about what they want, and which are the best games. So an old game today, we have to play on commercial factors like convenience and being DRM free, and play on emotions as well. We are putting a lot of heart into it, because that's the only way to convince people to put down six bucks or ten bucks. Even though it's not so much, but to spend their money on an old game rather than the latest trendiest thing.
Q: How much does GoG contribute to CD Projekt's overall revenue – is it one of the larger parts of the business?
Guillaume Rambourg: It's hard to say. I think this is a question for my boss... Generally though, CDP is focused on three key areas, which is retail distribution in certain countries, development with The Witcher 2 and Good Old Games. I have no clear visibility on which is the biggest, but we are performing above expectations so far. We are really happy with what we have achieved so far.
Q: How are you feeling about the state of digital distribution in general? The NPD have claimed it's accounting for around half of PC game sales – does that seem to match up with your experience, given CDP does retail and digital?
Guillaume Rambourg: I saw that, yes. I'm glad about those stats, because it's showing that guys like us, and all those other platforms, that we are convincing the users step by step to give up retail distribution and move up slowly to the digital universe. So we are hopeful for the future. I think it reflects what we are seeing, we have more and more users – we have been doing this for two years and we have growing, growing traffic, we are seeing more and more companies with the key features from the digital universe.
Q: Would you recommend anyone else get into the digital distribution market at this stage?
Guillaume Rambourg: I would not. I mean... the market is free, right. Anybody can join, feel free to compete with GoG, absolutely fine. But the thing is again, we are not looking at the competition because we really want to play up our singularity and difference. So anybody can join, right. It's a growing market. But we are not so much worried - I wish them good luck. [laughs]
Q: How tough is it to get gamers' attention when there are so many demands for their time and money? Now we've got Facebook and iPhones providing games you can play for just a couple of minutes
Guillaume Rambourg: Our... mission, our challenge is to develop our difference, but not forgetting the key communication challenges from nowadays, like Facebook. We have to find the right balance between using mainstream tools to promote a different message. We don't want to convey a classical message using classic means. So we use those vehicles of communication to spread a different message.
Q: Has that been challenging, not being able to use the marketing originally created for these games because it's out of date, so you have to start almost from scratch?
Guillaume Rambourg: We have to come up with new ideas all the time. The thing is, we are quite surprised that so many publishers have forgotten their great old brands. Brands just gathering dust somewhere in the corner. We like removing the dust and showing them that there are still some people who will buy those games. And even beyond that, even today we still believe that there is an audience who would be interested in old games. I will take an example – point and click games. I think nowadays, everybody has a girlfriend or a mum who likes adventure games. Those games, they could be appealing to today's audience. We like to go back to the roots.
Q: How much have you experimented with marketing to non-gamers rather than older games?
Guillaume Rambourg: We are open to anybody. Of course we have old games, but from another point of view we are taking a step by step approach where we believe that old games can be promoted and presented properly to today's audience. And this is the mission we want to achieve in the future, taking the young gamers to GoG. I have some good examples – we are working with key publishers like Activision and they say a couple of times that they are quite glad because they see the young gamers, like 16 or 20, they bought games on GoG and somehow we strengthened the brand nowadays. We turn young users into faithful fans.
Q: On a final note, what's the Polish government's attitude towards the local games industry? There's a hullaballoo in Britain about the withdrawal of planned tax breaks, while places like Canada and Russia are offering incentives.
Guillaume Rambourg: I don't think that the government as such is giving some advantages. All I know is that Poland is benefiting from the European fund. So I heard about a couple of projects in Poland being financed, being funded by the EU. But the government as such, not giving advantages to companies coming and settling here, it's more like from the EU.
Guillaume Rambourg is managing director of Good Old Games. Interview by Alec Meer.