GOG tells us about how their ultimate goal is to be easier to use than a torrent tracker.
By Tim Colwill on July 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm
We continue our chat with Trevor Longino, Head of Marketing and PR at GOG.com. To catch the first part of our chat, click here.
Read on for all of Trevor’s thoughts on censorship, torrents, ease of use, and what your options are if GOG.com ever disappears completely.
GON: Now in Fallout, you were saying you can’t kill children. I had that same problem in Fallout 3 because the children in that were just super irritating, there was that whole town full of really smug children, and you just want to murder them all but you couldn’t.
GON: It was the worst.
Trevor: Yeah, it was. I think it’s the same in the American version of the game, where you can’t kill the kids. I think. If you think of it one way, it kind of makes a little more sense, I guess, in an FPS because the visceral horror one feels at shooting a sixteen by sixteen-bit sprite child versus shooting a 3000-poly child, I imagine it’s a bit different, so I can kind of understand why they were like, ‘No, we’re not allowing this.” But some players want that freedom and they’ll definitely be like, “Wow, Fallout 1 and 2 gave you more freedom to deal with things that way.
GON: Well, there was a mod specifically for Fallout 3 that let you murder those children.
Trevor: I’m sure there is, yes.
GON: Because, you know, video games. Were you working at GOG when they did that “We’re shutting down” stunt?
Trevor: That was actually two weeks before I started and I was just as confused as everyone else.
GON: (laughs) I was going to ask if that had any negative impact on business.
Trevor: Well, it took us time to earn back community trust. It was, I think, particularly burdensome for me because everyone sees this new PR guy show up right after the site is down and says, “Oh, this was apparently your idea, it’s your fault.” So that was a bit tough for us in general.
It took us almost eighteen months before everyone stopped being like, “So, GOG, you remember, those bastards that shut their site down,” and we actually still have some people, I talked to a journalist at E3 who said, “We still don’t cover you because of the site shutdown,” and I’m like, “That was three years ago.”
GON: Oh wow. That guy holds a grudge. Or girl possibly.
GON: That’s amazing. So do you get any really delightfully hateful fan mail that you pin up around the office? Here at games.on.net we run about a couple of hundred games servers and so we have to deal with all these mad hate-filled letters from people who get banned just because they’re huge racists.
Trevor: (laughs) Right.
GON: So I imagine you guys saw some delightful mail. Did you have anything pinned up on the walls? Any classics?
Trevor: We did for a while, we moved offices. We had a guy who sent three pages of singled-spaced, all caps-locked text. And given the typos in it, he probably composed it directly into our customer support forum. Just a torrent of bile and seething anger and hatred.
But most of the comments on our forums were, I’d say, more moderate than the ones outside of our forums. It was definitely a learning experience for GOG and for the people who were operating the site at the time, because they figured everyone downloaded their games as soon as they bought them. And everyone’s like, “No! We don’t do that! We trust you to have backups for us if we ever want them,” and we were like, “Our bad!”
GON: In the future, say 30 years from now, will GOG still be around in some form, even just an FTP server?
Trevor: I hope we’ll still be around!
GON: Wasn’t there a quote a while ago from Gabe Newell that if Steam ever went down they’d find a way to let everyone download their games?
Trevor: He never actually said that, but that’s kind of ended up the rumour? Being somebody who’s interested in DRM this is something I actually researched because, if he’s ever like, “If Steam goes bankrupt I will release the games!” No. That’s not something that he’s ever said.
GON: He didn’t say that? Interesting.
Trevor: And frankly, why would he? Think of the liability you’d be open to. Personally, if you hit the big red panic button and now all the games are DRM-free, nevermind the liability that Steam may or may not have for this, a lot of game developers produce games with iron-bound contracts that there must be DRM on the game for the publisher or publishers have contracts with the developers or whatever.
There’s a bunch of legal figures there that you can not just be like, “Well, we’re going out of business so, screw it!” You can’t just say, “I will magically remove the DRM.” Removing the DRM as we know from our experience at GOG is not only legally complicated, it is sometimes technologically challenging, so — Gabe Newell never said that, although Internet rumour says he did. I would not put my faith in “If Steam goes bankrupt you will magically have all your games to play,” I’m pretty sure you will magically have none of your games to play.
GON: But what if GOG does? If GOG goes bankrupt and I haven’t downloaded Rollercoaster Tycoon, for example — although don’t worry, I have, and I have a backup on my spare hard drive — if I haven’t downloaded Rollercoaster Tycoon, what are my options in this hypothetical future?
Trevor: In this hypothetical future? One, I severely hope that we’d have time to warn people. I don’t think a company goes bankrupt and doesn’t know ahead of time.
GON: That’s true.
Trevor: And you know, our three guiding principles at GOG are ones we use inside the company when we’re determining courses of action: We have honesty, we have creativity and we have passion.
Honesty is the first one, and that guiding principle means, for example, we had JoWooD Games. The company kind of dissolved, and so we told people, “Look, download your games. We’re putting them on sale. Download them right away, because we don’t know if we’ll be able to figure out some other way to secure these titles or not.” So we put the games on sale because I think we had a weeks notice before JoWooD was like, “We don’t have the rights to any of this anymore.”
And then we told everybody, “Download the games,” and we ended up being able to keep them. I believe most of them are now at Nordic Games. But we told people up front, “Here’s why we’re doing this and here’s what you should do as a result.” And when we can, which is not always, when we are removing the game from being listed we tell people ahead of time and say, “Hey, if you want to buy it, now is the time because we have to remove this game from active sale.”
To date, we’ve never had to remove a game from being downloaded if you’ve bought it. So that way, even games like Colin McRae’s Rally which had music soundtracks where the license expired for the developer so we couldn’t sell the game anymore — you can still download the game if you’ve already bought it, although you can’t buy it any more. These kinds of things we try and communicate openly about.
So if we were like, “Oh man, we’ve apparently found every single classic gamer in the world, none of them want to buy any more games because they’ve bought all the games they can, we’re in trouble,” I sincerely hope we’d be able to tell you: “Go download your games, get your master back-up copies now because you might not be able to in a month.”
But I’d also note, this is probably not the most, uhh, upfront ways of getting your backups, but you know, all of our games and all of everyone’s games are always available on Pirate Bay or wherever and they’re DRM-free so you know there’s not going to be a problem with them being cracked or something.
Now I would say, if you’ve legally bought a game and you didn’t get your master of it, even though you’ve purchased it legally, depending on your jurisdiction it may or may not be legal, but I don’t think it’s necessarily immoral in either case.
GON: Don’t worry, I’m not going to use that as a click-bait headline, but I’m thinking about it.
Tevor: (laughs) Well, I’ll be honest, personally I have never used a torrent tracker, I don’t know how. But if my copy of, I don’t know, what do I play a lot of… my copy of XCOM. If for some reason I sat on the CD and broke it, I would not feel bad… well, I have it on Steam, I wouldn’t have to re-download it.
My copy of Mission Force: CyberStorm, one of my favourite tactical strategy games came out right about the time of XCOM, I have two CDs that are both slowly disintegrating. Eventually when they are no longer playable — I bought the game twice, Interplay got their money from me twice — I can’t buy it anymore. At this point, if I want to get a copy I have to go get it somewhere illicitly, and I wouldn’t feel bad about doing that because I have paid the developer, the developer has gotten the money.
I would never be like, “Oh, I haven’t bought this game, I want to try it out and I want to do it for free.” I think that’s not morally cool. But once you’ve paid for the game, I feel a lot less bad about that.
GON: How do you feel if I, as a GOG customer, say I own Rollercoaster Tycoon, for example, because it’s great and my friend said, “I’d like to play Rollercoaster Tycoon,” and I just sling the files up on my own server, for example, and he downloads them. What’s GOG’s official position on that?
Trevor: Our official position is, “Treat these games like you used to treat these games.” I have some games I loaned to a friend back in 2004 and JOSH! Yyou still have my CDs! So I can’t play the game. You know, basically, if I’ve loaned the game to a friend, I can’t play it. And so your buddy’s like, “Man, I haven’t heard about Rollercoaster Tycoon, can I try it out?” we’re cool with you saying, “Sure, let me give you a thumb-drive with it, uninstall it when you’re done and let me know so I can play it again.” Because at that point, you’re treating it like a CD in the days of yore when you had to have the CD to play.
That’s, I think, more restrictive than many people actually treat the games, but that is how we would like them to treat them. Just like if it was physical media you could loan it and eventually get it back, that’s how we’d like to see games treated.
GON: Excellent. I won’t do that, but I have wondered about how it works as far as your company was concerned, whether it was a problem for you. Obviously you guys understand that releasing completely working games into the wild means that eventually someone will share them in a manner you probably don’t intend.
Trevor: Oh, of course. And every game we have is available on torrents. But you can’t look at every game that is pirated as a lost sale. And you can’t even look at every pirate as somebody who won’t buy games. We have a number of people who come to our website and who on the forums admit, “You know, I downloaded twenty games on GOG from uTorrent and they all work pretty well and they all seem pretty awesome and you guys are having a sale now where I can get the game and all the goodies for four bucks. So I figured I’d actually do this legitimately now.”
So these sorts of things, I won’t say they’re incredibly common, but I would note that for a while we had torrents.ru, a Russian torrents site linking to individual product pages for the descriptions of GOG games that were up on their torrents. And that traffic converted better than Google Search traffic as far as buying the games.
GON: That’s amazing.
Trevor: We see pirates as our competition, we don’t see Steam as our competition. Because our goal is to be as close to the ease of use as a torrent tracker, where the process for finding a game on a torrent tracker is your search for the game name, you download it, you play it, that’s it. In our case, you search for the game name, you pay for it, you download it and you play it. And you really can’t subtract any of those steps and still have a legit enterprise happening here.
So we’re doing everything we can to make it that simple, as opposed to if you’ve got DRM, you have to make the account on the service you’re buying the game from, then you have to download the game, then you have to make the account on the service the developer has, download the updates, start the game, see you have more updates, download those updates and then eventually you’ll be able to play the game. That’s like nine steps to get to play your game, where as we really do try and make it four and then you’re done.
GON: And it seems to be working. But I have two final questions, both of which come from friends of mine. The first one is “Where the #%$@ is X-Wing vs TIE Fighter”?
Trevor: You know, LucasArts is a company that we would love to sign. I want TIE Fighter, the straight TIE Fighter and the fact that you like X-Wing vs TIE Fighter over TIE Fighter — or your friend does — pains me because TIE Fighter is objectively a better game as far as I’m concerned.
TIE Fighter is one of my, say top five games of all time and it doesn’t work in Windows 7, I can’t do anything to make it work. I could, I suppose go to our Build Masters and you know, bribe them, and say, “You guys know how to do this, I have my CD here and you know how to do this to make this game work! Do you magic, make me a master build! I’ll, I don’t know, pay you in cookies or more likely in vodka, because of Poland.” You know, I’m sure I could do that.
But regardless, getting those games, you know, getting Grim Fandango, Full Throttle — Full Throttle was the reason why I owned a motorcycle — these sorts of things from LucasArts would be phenomenal. Why don’t we have them signed? Because of Reasons, that’s why. We’d love to do it and as soon as we can do it, we will. That’s where they are, they’re legal and licensing reasons, that’s what they are.
GON: Can I ask if you have re-approached LucasArts, now that Disney has purchased LucasArts and ripped all the organs out of it and left it a weakened, flopping shell on the ground?
GON: I mean, surely they’re vulnerable now. They’re vulnerable if you wanted to attack them, this is the prime time.
Trevor: (laughs) I would say that we’ve been speaking with every single major developer and major publisher who we haven’t signed yet. Whether we do so in person at E3, whether we’re doing so over the phone, whether we’re going to try and catch them again at GamesCom or GDC, I mean, we’re talking to everybody. Whether we’re getting anywhere is entirely a second issue, but we are talking to everybody.
GON: Alright. Okay, my final question is, “Where is Freelancer?”
Trevor: Freelancer, who is that? That’s…
GON: I don’t actually know, it’s been so long since I’ve heard Freelancer mentioned.
Trevor: Is Freelancer a Microsoft title?
GON: To Wikipedia!
Trevor: To Wikipedia, this is where I’m going… developed by Digital Anvil and published by Microsoft Games Studios — hot damn, I’m on a roll. So Microsoft, they’re another, they have some fantastic IPs as well, whether we’re talking about Freelancer or Age of Empires, Age of Mythology. I mean, there’s some really great games that we’d love to have and just like with LucasArts, they’re a company you can be sure we’re talking to, but I have no idea if we’ve made progress or where we are, because that is literally not my department, as in that is business development, not marketing.
GON: Excellent. No worries, then. Well Trevor, this has been a delightful interview, thanks very much!
Tevror: Alrighty. Thanks, I’m glad I got a chance to chat with you guys.