In 2008, game developer CD Projekt did something completely unexpected. The company launched GoG.com (Good Old Games), a PC game download service that did two things differently compared to other services. First it only provided older PC games that were made to work on modern PC operating systems. The other difference is that all of the game were provided to users without any DRM set-ups.
The service seemed to be doing well but last Sunday GoG.com seemed to be shutting down with a message on the site stating, "GOG.com simply cannot remain in its current form." As most of you know by now the "shut down" was actually just a tease for a long planned relaunch of the site which happened on Thursday with the addition of Baldur's Gate to its library along with a site redesign and a number of new features.
While many users and indeed many media outlets (us included) were not happy with the way GoG.com management handled the publicity of the relaunch we still wanted to get more info about GoG.com's new look and its plans for the future. Big Download got CD Projekt's co-founder Marcin Iwinski to answer some questions on the service and its goal of becoming the number one PC game download service alternate to Steam.
First we can't escape the fact that on Sunday, it looked like GOG.com was shutting down its operations. You guys have since apologized for the marketing stunt but you must have known that this kind of thing could be distressing to your loyal customers. Looking back do you think you should have promoted the re-launch differently?
Indeed after the "closure" on Sunday there were a lot of comments with the whole range of reactions - from votes of support and concern to explicit lyrics. We were looking at this carefully and we have decided to adjust our plan, coming up with additional statement on Monday clearly communicating, that all our users will be able to re-download all of their games DRM-free from Thursday onwards and then on Tuesday we decided to release a teaser video, which had a few shots of the new site and Baldur's Gate in it. Finally, the monk's outfits came up as a last minute idea to ask for real redemption for our sins - i.e. the sudden "closure" and lack of access to the site for 3 days.
Again, we have clearly admitted during our conference, that we think the industry is dead serious these days and we - being the old-school gamers we did plan a game with our audience. Yes, we wanted to make something really special for our 2nd anniversary and at the same time popularize good old games a bit more.
We are continuously looking through our forums and the web and yes, we still have a few surprises up our sleeves for our dear users. Obviously, we will be working hard now to regain the trust of the users, who did not feel good about our stunt, as we do value them and both the happy and unhappy ones are a vital part of our good old games community. I would like to encourage our faithful users to keep an eye on their mailboxes - there will be some surprises coming their way real soon.
Looking at the past week and analyzing the reactions and comments about GOG.com all across the web, I have to say that we have clearly underestimated one thing. We realized that a lot of users were thinking of GOG.com as any other digital distribution platform, where a constant Internet connection is needed to access and play the games you bought. While with GOG.com, you download the games and then you enjoy them without the necessity to connect to the Internet. The option of unlimited numbers of re-downloads of the games you bought is just a backup plan for our users - not a necessity.
More and more titles are becoming Internet-dependent and thus force users to have a working connection simply to... play the titles they bought. Not everybody has access to the Internet anywhere, anytime – not mentioning that your ISP can sometimes go down as well, which is a concern for gamers. The industry needs to address that.
As was mentioned in the press conference, GOG.com is approaching its two year anniversary. Can you give us an idea of about how many registered users you have and how many games have been sold on the service?
Indeed it is 2 full years already and we have to say the interest in good old games is tremendous. Since our opening over 2 million games have been downloaded and the user base is in hundreds of thousands. What is important to stress the number of registered users is one thing, but what makes us really happy is that vast majority of the users are active and looking at the last 90 days of users activity we can say, that the percentage of active users is north of 85%. We are really happy and proud of that, as it means, that we have managed to create a place in the Internet where gamers spend time and share their passions for games in contrary to just ordinary on-line stores, where you buy, pay and leave. This was our goal from the very beginning and with the new GOG.com features, we really hope, that our dear gamers will have even more fun on the site and will be able to find out more about the best of old games and enjoy them.
You mentioned that the GOG.com web site has gotten a near total revamp with 98 percent of the code being all new. How hard was it to get the kinds of features you wanted for GOG.com 2.0 in the site's programming?
We have a very creative web-design team, so there were theoretically no limits to imagination. However, the key challenge for us (considering our growing users base) was to ensure that all those features could run smoothly and without causing any overcharge to the whole website. We basically had to carefully balance creativity and feasibility, not to impact the end user experience. Our beta website was running on a 2-year old code that did not allow us to deploy safely all those fresh ideas to our large audience. This is why the whole backend and code had to be thought again, hence 98% of the code being rewritten "simply" to let our creativity blossom and be accessible to as many people as possible.
How does the game recommendation feature work in improving and hopefully increasing sales at GOG.com?
There are currently three ways on GOG to be recommended other titles. First of all, the user can see – from any product page – which similar titles have been bought by other users. To make it simple, this is basically a classical system mostly based on gaming genres.
The second way of being recommended titles is more complex. We often call it our "high end guessing system". The purpose here is to provide every user with a set of personalized recommendations based on numerous factors, such as the previous titles they purchased, the ratings they gave to the games we have on GOG, the gaming genres they browse the most often – and many other criteria. It is a flexible tailored system that is supposed to guess which titles you are likely to be interested in.
Last but not least, we have developed an essential new recommendations system that we named the "GOGmixes".
How exactly do GoGmixes work and why do you think it will improve the overall experience on GOG.com?
GOGmixes is really about sharing your tastes and feelings towards specific games, gaming genrese, in-game features with other users. We believe this way of browsing our catalogue will add a totally new flavour and will enhance users experience significantly. Let's look at two examples. First one being new users coming to GOG.com - quite often young people, who did not have almost any experience with older titles before, but still they would like to give it a go - and ... normally they would download our free titles and then could get stuck with what to chose. GOGmixes come to play here, as first of all our testing team (who played these games from A to Z many times) created several GOGmixes to start with, but what's most important other quite often expert gamers create GOGmixes with their recommendation lists - along with short comments why they like/recommend each of the game in the mix.
On the other hand GOGmixes can work really well for the more experienced gamers - they might be experts in lets say RPGs or RTS, but what if for example their girlfriend would like to play an adventure game. They should easily find plenty of GOGmixes covering different aspects of best of adventure gaming and ... heheh ... take their relation with their girlfriends to a new, different level ;)
What other new features does GOG.com feature that you think might be overlooked by users?
Tough one... as so many features and touches have been added to the new website! Some are invisible - such as the fact the new code allows us to run our platform 10 times faster and welcome over 6 times more users than we ever had in the past. Users might not notice it, as they expect the site to be fast, but they definitely would if we would not have done that.
On a more visible side, we have for example tested again all our titles across multiple configurations to ensure full Windows7 compatibility. Over 150 titles have met our level of expectations and this is why they are flagged as fully compatible on the corresponding product pages. As for the other titles, they all run on MOST configurations using Windows7, but some specific configurations still cause issues. We want to address these isolated cases and apply the right fixes to feel fully confident before certifying the product is fully compatible. We are really putting a lot of effort to support our users from a technical perspective, as too many other digital distribution platforms give up on that, especially when it comes to "old" PC titles.
We have added many features and improved many usability-related elements to deliver a most pleasant website. For a good overview on these, people can check out the following page: http://www.gog.com/en/overview/