Retail shelf space for new PC games is constantly shrinking and as a consequence space for old PC titles has become almost non-existent. PC games found a new home online in digital distribution but most, if not all, of the focus is on delivering new titles not old. That is until Projekt CD, the developer behind The Witcher, decided to dip its toe in the publishing business and announced the launch of Good Old Games; a digital distributor of classic PC games.
Last month at the Games Convention in Germany, GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Adam Oldakowski and Lukasz Kukawski the managing director and PR manager of GOG, and Michal Kicinski, the CEO of CD Projekt. The trio discussed resurrecting forgotten titles from back catalogues, competing with piracy, the challenges of launching a digital distribution platform and convincing publishers of the value of going DRM-free.
Q: How is the launch of the Beta going?
1. Adam Oldakowski: Well right now we've pushed the beta back because we were so overwhelmed with the response we had. In the first three days we had over 20,000 people signing up - the overwhelming reaction really made us change our plans. We really only had plans to do the beta for 2,000.
2. Lukasz Kukawski: The reaction of the media and the gamers, the amount of sign ups was just overwhelming. So we changed it and decided to give everyone early access to the site and because of that we had to move it just to make sure that everything works fine. The beta for the press is running - we got some feedback that was good as well.
Q: How do you feel about going up against some of the already established digital distribution channels?
1. Adam Oldakowski: I don't believe we're actually going against them directly. I think we're more of a niche market for classic PC games, more retro than actually going for the mainstream games. We're not actually going to be competing with them directly - we might have some newer titles in our catalogue but that's mostly down to trying to find a few really good games to go into the catalogue and sometimes they're newer.
2. Lukasz Kukawski: After the announcement we got hundreds of emails with game recommendations, what games they would like to play. So we've got a list of hundreds of games that people would like to see on GOG.com, these are games they can't find anywhere and that's our target. To get all the games you can't find in retail or even online, eBay or whatever, and just make it work on modern operating systems.
Q: I noticed you had Sacrifice on there, that was a Dave Perry game, have you found it has been difficult to get this stuff from the IP holders?
1. Adam Oldakowski: It has been a challenge, talking to publishers trying to find who owns the rights of the titles. When we approach someone and we say we want to see their back catalogue, they say 'you mean the current back catalogue' and we say 'no we want to go for the older stuff'.
Trying to convince them that DRM free as well, which is one of our key points, is the way to go as well has been one of the main stopping points. They're very interested but at the same time they're a bit uncertain to go DRM free, but we are convincing more and more.
Q: It seems weird that publishers don't want to let go of their older titles but don't see the money making potential like you guys. Do you know why that is?
2. Lukasz Kukawski: I think they realise there is some potential in their games but maybe the near future scares them a little bit. We convinced Codemasters and Interplay and after we launch I'm sure that with the sales and the gamers' interest publishers will see the light and know that their back catalogue is something they can really make money from.
3.Michal Kicinski: It's a hard time for publishers to get money from their back catalogue. The shop space for PC games is shorter and shorter everywhere and newer games are more and more discounted. Most of the publishers, they don't know how to get money from their back catalogue and they think this opportunity is lost. We're trying to convince them that we can provide them with some new turn over. They have a choice to not have it be sold or give us a chance and make some more revenue from older titles.
They want this but they're also afraid, so we're trying to convince them there is nothing to be afraid of. Like DRM free, that is something they are really scared of but on the other hand we can say "all of those games are available pirated widely so it's better to sell them for small money than make the customer's life difficult and get some more revenues". That's our point of view.
Q: Is that why you decided to go DRM-free, because it's an inconvenience to customers?
3.Michal Kicinski: Yes, that's the main reason. We are gamers and we are using all these digital distribution platforms… I had Steam but I had the problem that my internet provider could not work with it so I couldn't use the games I bought… I think that if somebody is paying for the game then they deserve to own it, not with a certain list of conditions. Sometimes the list of conditions can be long. So we decided we'll sell all these old games, sell them for cheap and why do we need to protect them?
We believe that if you take this kind of approach to gamers they will also appreciate us and they won't pirate those cheap games because we provide so many additional selling points in the full site like manuals, game guides, archiving your own games so you can make a backup for yourself. There are certain cool features that are going for a very cheap price so we think they'd rather download the game and pay very little money than having trouble with torrents.
Q: So you approach is to stop telling people how to buy it but rather provide an alternative?
3.Michal Kicinski: Yeah. It's the same with buying music online with DRM, Amazon has decided not to provide it with DRM, iTunes is doing this iTunes plus.
DRM makes customer's lives too complicated, and this is usually because of some corporate ideas, policies and trying to be smart, too smart, in how to get customers and how to keep them and no let them go somewhere else. We are believers in the free market and bringing freedom to customers.
1. Adam Oldakowski: ... give them choices.
Q: Have you had any bad experiences with publishers in trying to get them to understand why going DRM-free is important?
1. Adam Oldakowski: Not naming any specific companies: it has been a stopping point but not to the point like "no", it's like "we're not sure if we're ready". Once we can show some figures to publishers they will then actually then be able to see the real benefits of our model.
3.Michal Kicinski: And publishers are looking for more sources of revenue and they somehow see the potential and they want this revenue but they are hesitating. So if we show some numbers - I think that more and more publishers will join us.
Q: Do you have any estimates for how large a customer base you're going to initially appeal to?
1. Adam Oldakowski: We're starting worldwide, that's our starting point. We want to provide it in English to as many people as possible. From the reaction from people who signed up to the beta for early access, 20,000 odd people signed up - that's was a very, very good reaction. Looking at domain names from email address and IP addresses we can see that they're from all over the world, which is a very promising start for us.
3.Michal Kicinski: GOG is approaching worldwide. Most of the sites for digital distribution have limitations and we are from Poland and we really suffer from this - so we decided to make GOG really worldwide. There is no limitation, no matter where you are you can download, we take currencies from all the countries, and some other forms of payment will be accepted. That is important to be worldwide, but it also bring some problems in getting content because there are some companies where the rights are pretty scattered.
Q: Have you had to take on a localisation role as well?
1. Adam Oldakowski: Right now it's in English and we'll see how it starts off for now, technically I think we can manage localised sites but right now our key focus is to stay in English, see how it goes and see what happens. We really have to show the publishers, because that will also allow us to get more content, that we have a following and that this is a service that people want. By having people buy the games we will show that we've got that support and then we can focus on different localised versions.
2. Lukasz Kukawski: We definitely would like to make different localised version at a certain point and new localised version of the games at some point. But this adds another layer of problems and challenges to overcome, that's why it's not our starting point. There are definitely countries like Germany, Poland, Russia, we'd localise versions of the games for.
Q: Are you considering of the free-to-play micro-transaction or ad-supported business models?
1. Adam Oldakowski: I think we're trying to be as nice as possible to gamers, we don't want to do anything that the gamers find is intrusive or uncomfortable. We don't actually have any ad-banners on our site or any pop-ups or flashing things, it's all very nice - that's the whole point. It's meant to be such a simple clean layout and that's on the site all the way though to the store... We might consider in terms of a business point of view but I think right now the key is to launch it as it is.
3.Michal Kicinski: I think in the future, in new directions, we would probably look at indie games and offer this business model to indie developers. They usually have no big choices in how to distribute their games, maybe we'll somehow give them access to our platform to distribute games but it's more like a far flung future.
Q: As this makes you a games publisher, what do you think of the recent move by five UK publishers to issue letters and legal threats to 25,000 suspected file-sharers?
1. Adam Oldakowski: From our point of view, with CD Projekt also being a developer, we've had this feeling of putting in so much time, so much effort, so much love and everything else and then somebody takes it away from you - I think it makes you unhappy in that way.
3.Michal Kicinski: Piracy in Poland is always much, much bigger here than in Western countries so we got used to living with piracy and we grew up in a surrounding where there was no help from governments to actually fight piracy. So we had to learn to compete with pirates, for example we believe that GOG.com makes such a good offer that it's not worth pirating... We attract people to buy the original games instead of pirating them and that's the most efficient way of fighting piracy.
Adam Oldakowski is the managing director of GOG. Lukasz Kukawski is the PR manager of GOG. Michal Kicinski is the CEO of CD Projekt. Interview by James Lee.