Projekt Management - Part Two
Lukasz Kukawski and Tomasz Gop explain why a DRM-free PC market is a great place to be
In the first part of the interview with CD Projekt Red studio's senior producer Tomasz Gop and GOG.com's PR & marketing specialist Lukasz Kukawski talked about the Polish gaming market, The Witcher 2 and how decisions made by classification boards in different countries often mean the investment of more time and money on the part of the development team.
In this second part we delve in to the health of PC gaming, GOG.com's origins and the implications of its DRM-free agenda.
Q: What's the background story of GOG.com? How did the service come about?
Lukasz Kukawski: It was an idea that came straight from CD Projekt's management team, they were talking about the old games of a while back and when they used to play games like Duke Nukem and Fallout and they came up with this idea based on the fact that some of the old classics are very difficult to get hold of elsewhere and even if you can find them they can be pretty expensive and sometimes just won't run on more recent PC operating systems.
The idea was to bring back these good old games and make them available to as many people as possible for a reasonable price and, of course, optimised to run on Windows XP, Vista, and now Windows 7.
Q: How has the service expanded since its inception?
Lukasz Kukawski: I think we've been really successful so far, we're still in the beta phase but we've really started strongly. We started with just two publishers on board in September 2008, Interplay and Codemasters, and now, just over 15 months later, with have more than 30 publishers and over 180 games.
We're adding new games every week so I think that this is an indicator of how successful we've been so far and we're not slowing down. There are going to be a couple of big publishers that we'll be announcing this year that our customers are going to be pleased about, I can't say who they are just yet but one will be announced very soon. The first of which will bring with them an initial batch of 15 new products.
Q: How long do you envisage the beta phase lasting?
Lukasz Kukawski: We'll probably come out of beta this year but I can't say for sure! Maybe with the announcement of the second of the two big publishers that we'll be announcing this year we might release the final version of the site but I can't promise that!
Q: The service is all about making old games available to users of new operating systems, what are the challenges of optimising older titles for PCs running a modern OS?
Lukasz Kukawski: It really depends on the game but there are some areas that are trickier than others. We've teamed up with the DOSBox guys and they've help us a lot with the DOS based games as we're using their software to run the games. Any issues we've had with optimising the DOS games we can contact them and they're really helpful, for which we're really grateful.
However, the DOS based games don't give us as much trouble as Windows 95 games! That's the operating system that gives everyone a hard time when we're trying to take games made for Windows 95 and prepare them for XP and Vista!
Q: We often hear that PC gaming is in decline, with some detractors claiming that PC gaming is all but dead, as a predominantly PC gaming company what are your views on this soothsaying?
Lukasz Kukawski: Well another way to look at this is that the PC is actually the biggest selling gaming platform worldwide! I hear those voices also, saying every year that PC gaming is in decline and that consoles will take over the market but I don't think this is really the whole story.
The PC gaming market is still standing strong and I believe it mostly comes down to what games you like to play. For me, strategy games, RPGs and FPS multiplayer are the main reasons to have a gaming PC. You just won't get that same feeling on consoles with these genres so I think PC is just better suited to those types of games than consoles and that's partly because of controls, the complexity and the potentially better graphics.
Also, something that really like about PC gaming is the MOD scene, you don't get that on console, fan mods and also indie developer mods. All these are the pros of PC gaming.
Tomasz Gop: I'd also add that there are enough people with good enough hardware that want to buy PC games so the market is clearly still there. Personally I had been exclusively a PC gamer for many years and some games are just more fun on PC, but then two years ago I bought my first console and I've seen the shift in my gaming habits and I've very much become a console gamer.
I recently played the latest STALKER game [on PC] and I loved it, it's a great title but my PC is not as good as it used to be and, frankly, I just don't feel like upgrading it. I have enough console games on my shelf waiting to be played and I'd rather work through those than upgrade my PC. That said I honestly don't think that any time soon are we going to see a console FPS that has a comparable feeling to a PC FPS, I just don't think that will happen.
Lukasz Kukawski: Certainly one of the main issues with PC gaming is that if you want to keep up with the new releases then sooner or later you're going to have to upgrade your PC and it's probably going to be sooner rather than later, I'm afraid!
I think the role of the PC market is to push the home console market forward. New graphics techniques and technologies are seen first on PC and then the consoles take some of these ideas and use them for their own development so the PC can really show off what can be achieved and is like the benchmark of the industry.
Q: DRM is a thorny issue for many a consumer but developers and publishers have a right to attempt to protect their work from piracy, what's your view on the use of DRM measures?
Tomasz Gop: I think there is a huge difference between shipping a game totally DRM-free, and applying the protection that certain titles have. Personally, I think that extra content will get more people to buy legitimate copies of a game. We've always wanted to remove DRM from The Witcher, and as soon as all factors fell into place, we did it. It's always up to many sides to decide upon things like anti-piracy protection, or lack of it.
In the end though, DRM is always connected with some sort of discomfort for the end-user. Nothing has been decided for The Witcher 2 yet, but we'd love to take things lighter this time.
Lukasz Kukawski: The lack of DRM is of course one of the main features on GOG.com. We decided to do it that way not because keeping it in would make optimising games harder, but because we hate DRM ourselves. We are gamers and we hate all the hassle that comes with all those copy protection schemes.
In our opinion most DRM systems, if not all, make legitimate customers feel like criminals. Just look at how many things you can't do if you buy original games. You have limited number of installations, so you won't be able to install it on all computers you own. You need to connect with a server each time you want to play your game, so you can't play it on your laptop during a flight. Also, you can't make a backup copy of the game, so if you lose your disc you have to buy the game again. Compare that to those who download the illegal copies of the games from internet; the game is already cracked and is deprived of all those copy protection schemes and all of those restrictions.
We understand that developers and publishers need to protect their work, but in our opinion implementing draconian DRM won't help in this. The right way to fight piracy is to offer good games at a reasonable price with cool additional material which will convince people to spend their hard earned money on original copies.
We believe that gamers are honest people and if they find a product that meets their expectations, they will grab it without any problem. Gamers are fed up with being treated like criminals, so if you want to earn their respect you have to treat them with respect. It works in our case: you won't find GOG.com installers on torrent sites.
Q: How do developers and publishers that you want to bring in to the GOG.com service react to this view?
Lukasz Kukawski: The DRM-free approach definitely doesn't make our job of adding more games to the catalogue easier! To be honest, it's the main reason you can't find some of the most famous classics from PC gaming history.
It was harder at the start but, with time, when more and more publishers joined our "DRM-free revolution", more publishers started thinking about selling their games via our service. The opportunity we're offering trumps DRM concerns.
In most cases the older titles aren't sold by such publishers at all. We're giving them a chance to monetise their old brands without any work on their part. We're optimising the games to run on modern operating systems, we're preparing all the materials and we're promoting the games ourselves. How could you miss such great opportunity, right?!
Tomasz Gop is senior producer at CD Projekt's Red studio. Lukasz Kukawski is PR & marketing specialist at GOG.com. Interview by Stace Harman.