GOG.com Is A DRM-Free, PC Gamers Delight

Good Old Games (GOG) is another platform for buying games for the PC. What differentiates it from the largest incumbent, Steam, is the lack of being corralled into a game launching client designed to control how players game. You just buy a game, install it like any other piece of modern software then click the icon to get into your game. You can do this online or offline without any premeditated thought going into your online status. There’s no need to sign into an account after the initial download of any game and you’re not forced to download any game updates before being allowed to play. It helps to make PC gaming as straightforward as launching Solitaire in Windows but with the focus of the content being classics from yesteryear like Sim City, self-titled “Indie” games like the Giana Sisters and even a few more recent releases like The Witcher.

It does lack the integrated online community and communication features that users of Steam, Xbox Live and PSN may be used to but before Steam a popular choice for pc voice chat used to be Xfire. There’s nothing stopping people from using it now along with the wealth of other options available for anyone with a pc and an internet connection. GOG Games don’t have auto-update features but many of them wouldn’t be receiving updates anyway. I haven’t experienced any need for software updates but I’d like to believe that developers would either integrate that option or update the installer at GOG. In addition to being able to download games, most purchases include digital versions of manuals, soundtracks, maps and other goodies. Every account is loaded with a base set of free games that every user of the site has access to and some of them, particularly Tyrian 2000, are still great ways to entertain yourself.

Their holiday sale is live now but I’m actually more interested in the latest free game being offered on their site, Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition. It’s quite the unexpected gift, one of the best games from the late 90’s is now available for free. I originally experienced it via the port, Duke Nukem 64. I look forward to downloading it and finally hearing the background music along with additional content and lack of censorship that this version offers. There was always much more to the Duke than all of its’ juvenile trappings. It’s actually a brilliant first-person shooter that allowed for a great amount of freedom in gameplay while being funny in a very crass manner. I wouldn’t recommend the game to anyone that’s easily offended. This is one of those games that could probably integrate into a movie like Roadtrip without any issues.

The site allows for users to provide direct feedback on everything. The first notable form of it would be found within the user game ratings but the bulk of it is on the dedicated pages for game and site feature requests. The staff are easily accessible via the forums and the actual members of the forums are respectable and can be a great source of information about many of the games on the site. I recently learned the truth behind the issues with receiving expansions to EA games on GOG like Alpha Centauri and Wing Commander thanks to those forums. Every year a simple, non-intrusive survey about the site is given to users to help improve the service and content offered with the reward for completing it being a better site and a free game. This year the game was Realms of Arkania 1+2, a fairly solid RPG that I had never heard of before it was given away.

You may never see Call of Duty on this site or receive the positive benefits of a gaming client that Steam and Desura offer but you will be given access to games respectfully without any intrusive behavior. It’s not like the platform holders sit on their butts all day and wait to release iso’s and images of floppies digitally. Extensive work goes into making sure that the games will actually work for modern operating systems. Most of these games were never meant to be played on Windows 7 and Mac OS X, let alone Windows XP. A combination of tweaking and testing configurations in an emulator like DOSbox and assisting developers in their ports is what allows for the games to run as smoothly as they do with almost no effort on the users end. Working with a tool like DOSbox and getting consistent, quality results that you’d expect from a business is no easy task. It’s not exactly comparable to tweaking a console emulator since there are often more complexities to account for in the process. From the responses in the forums, it seems like the process of releasing older games on GOG can be extremely tedious and difficult work due to the amount of quality assurance that must be completed for a release.

That’s another thing that I love about GOG, the passion and relationship with their customers that the team displays often is very valuable. When you open up a bank account at a major institution, your relationship with them may be one that is all about them nickel and diming you for choosing to store and process transactions through them. With Steam, which I do greatly enjoy, it seems like the relationship can be all over the map. In the beginning, it’s all about the ease of use and console style experience that it can offer its’ users. Over time, it seems like the community is built around giving gamers cheap and easy access to games and their friends. Eventually, it seems like it can be all things to everyone but with a bulls-eye on gluttons – aka collectors. No one is holding a gun up to any persons head and making them buy games but it seems like Valve has found a way to easily entice and hold onto forum-dwelling gamers. The type that just had to buy and (or claimed to) play every game with a Metacritic score above 7.5. The type that still bought and (or claimed to) played the lowest rated games just to trash them. With its’ never-ending sales it makes it very easy to amass a huge collection of games by both preying on that type of person and devaluing the content that’s being offered.

Now it may be arguable that many of these games that can’t profit without the sales weren’t worth their original asking price but what type of gaming future are we headed towards if the value of games drop to a pittance? I may not be the biggest fan of modern gaming in general but I’d hate to lose out on the games that I enjoy to play because the value of gaming drops to a point so low that it’s not worth it for talented, respectable developers to make their living primarily from gaming. Games on GOG aren’t very expensive but generally the community around the site seems to be built around people actually playing the games that they buy. I can respect that companies need a solid amount of revenue to stay in business but I have never felt that GOG was using gaming and gamers as a platform in any predatory form.

Then again, all of this is debatable since people should be able to exercise restraint on their purchases, even if it’s part of their nature to not want to miss out on a good deal. Take a look at the screen shot above. Instead of charging a flat rate price to everyone with the bundle GOG offers a discount at scale based upon the games that I already own. Instead of an endless stream of sales they’re much more metered out with the site with base game prices being fair for what is being offered. I still buy games occasionally on Steam but if I ever see a game available on both platforms I will opt for the one that respects me more as a user at every level of its’ existence instead of something that decides that my experience must be tightly controlled while on the most open platform available for gaming.

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