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GOG: Streaming is another layer of DRM

Head of global communication Lukasz Kukawski says streaming won't take over game distribution, talks about storefront's approach to discoverability and audience expansion

Streaming game services were a hot topic at this year's E3, pushed in part by separate announcements from Microsoft and Electronic Arts that they were working on their own streaming game platforms. But not every platform holder is sold on streaming as a way to do their business.

Speaking with at the event, head of global communication Lukasz Kukawski downplayed the company's interest in streaming technology.

"We don't see it as a thing that will take over games distribution," Kukawski said. "Out stance in digital distribution is to own the games because they are DRM free, and for many gamers this is very important. With streaming, there's another layer to it. You already have games with DRM, so it's more like licensing games than owning them. And streaming is more like renting a game, so it's another layer to this ongoing discussion.

"You already have games with DRM, so it's more like licensing games than owning them. And streaming is more like renting a game, so it's another layer to this ongoing discussion"

"It will have its market because it's a cool concept to play a game on your Macbook Air, which is not really a gaming [platform], but I do believe hardcore or more advanced gamers will still want to own the games. They're building their collections on their services. And if you're a super hardcore gamer and counting the [frames per second] on games, the delay you have in streaming will be there always."

But even if GOG isn't going to embrace streaming whole-heartedly, its publishing partners may not be on the same page. Are they worried a company like EA might decide the dozens of offerings it currently has on GOG--including classic franchises like SimCity, Ultima, Populous, and Wing Commander--would be more strategically deployed as streaming exclusives to bolster subscription numbers on its own service?

"I don't see it as a threat on that side, at least at the moment," Kukawski said. "When we talk to publishers or to rights owners about some old games they have, in many cases they either don't know they own the rights for a game, or they just probably don't care about it. Like, 'We have it but we don't see it as something we can monetize or we don't have the time and resources to do it.' Because we have a team on site doing everything to bring those games back so they work flawlessly on newer operating systems, we do technical support for those games. So basically what a publisher needs to do is allow us to sell those games."

He added: "I see the service we're providing to publishers as something additional for them. They just sign the agreement and wait for the royalties to come, rather than actually getting a team of programmers to work on it. So I do believe they know what the profit will be from the smaller games, and this is going to be something that sticks in their mind and they're going to focus more on the new, bigger titles they're releasing and the big companies they're getting rather than cutting us off from the older titles just to monetize them by themselves on their service."

As Kukawski mentioned, streaming tech essentially offers publishers another form of DRM, an idea the industry has always been interested in. However, GOG has been around for a decade now, and in that time, the service has seen publishers' attitudes toward such technological restrictions evolve.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has shown highly anticipated games can launch DRM-free and not have their success hobbled by piracy.

"It definitely changed from when we launched GOG back in 2008," Kukawski said. "Then we focused on old games only because we knew there was no way people would allow us to bring day one or modern releases out without DRM. But now we have indie games showing up on GOG day one on a regular basis. Of course bigger publishers are, I would say, very careful about it.

"We're trying of course to convert them as much as possible, for example bringing up the example of Witcher 3, which launched on GOG day one and nothing happened. The world didn't end. The game is selling extremely well even nowadays. It's not like the DRM-free version killed the sales for the game. And we see that gamers appreciate this approach, and more and more publishers are open to at least talking to us and seeing what the concept is behind us doing it, and why it's worth it for them to do it. It's a more open discussion. It's an ongoing process, but we see definitely that publishers are more open to the concept."

"Where we're all struggling--GOG, Steam, other places--is to have discoverability of games"

These days GOG offers DRM-free versions at launch for some major releases like Divinity: Original Sin 2, Frostpunk and Pillars of Eternity 2. But for the EAs, Activisions, and Bethesdas of the world, Kukawski says at present, the most recent releases they could expect to bring to GOG are still going to be about five years old.

Since it can't realistically go toe-to-toe with other storefronts in offering the latest and greatest from AAA publishers, GOG relies on a catalog curated with its audience of hardcore PC gamers in mind. That approach also helps mitigate a problem lots of platforms have been grappling with of late.

"Where we're all struggling--GOG, Steam, other places--is to have discoverability of games," Kukawski said. "If you're releasing like 300 games a month on Steam, it's impossible to search for something or discover something new. If you're going to Steam, you probably know what you want to get or you're looking at the best-sellers to get one of those. That's why our approach to curation and how we support our partners is to get as much publicity for them as possible, both with our users and outside."

When GOG adds a game to the catalog, Kukawski said the company puts a heavy emphasis on it, showcasing it on its website, newsletter, and social media channels.

"We basically support every single partner with our full support for a game," Kukawski said. "We always tell our partners that they can treat us like an external PR agency they don't need to pay for. This is especially for the smaller teams focused on delivering the game and they don't really think about how to market it, or they don't have an expertise in that. They can rely on us because we're working with the biggest media, the biggest influencers. We can help get some exposure for the game."

Kukawski said GOG has some plans to go after more mainstream media and users, but is being mindful not to lose its focus on its existing customer base.

"I think there's plenty of things we can still do with the audience we're aiming for," he said. "We haven't gotten every single hardcore gamer on GOG yet, which is our plan. So for now we're focusing on this because we know this stuff by heart. We are hardcore gamers ourselves, so what we're trying to do with GOG is to build a gamer-friendly place for those hardcore PC players.

"We do have to expand. Like every single platform, we want to expand. It's more about not limiting ourselves to an audience we have currently, but building this image of GOG being a place where every single game is worth your time."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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