For some, digital distribution is a blessing – it gives them a means to buy and enjoy video games without the worry and hassle of interacting with (or even looking at) another human being. For others, it’s a curse, robbing them of their physical possessions and threatening to steal away their games for account violations, or making inappropriate comments to level 2 tech support.
But like it or not, digital distribution is here to stay. Not only that, but there is a literal bevy of services to choose from, each with its own perks and drawbacks. Choosing who you want to throw your money at can be something of a commitment, so this review series is dedicated to helping you – dear reader – decide which one is best for you.
GOG, or Good Old Games, is the pet project of Witcher developer CD Projekt. It was launched in 2008, based upon the novel idea of a service that dealt exclusively in selling games released in the mid-90s to nostalgic PC gamers. And to be honest, it’s worked rather well – although the service is geared towards older games, there’s a small but growing number of newer indie games available, in addition to CD Projekt’s own games (namely The Witcher) and a few mainstream titles such as Alan Wake and Asscreed.
Currently there is a selection of 564 games available for the service, with downloads of all games for Windows and a number also available for OSX. Disappointingly, there is no Linux support – especially as many of GOG’s games are built on technologies such as DOSbox and ScummVM, both of which are developed actively on Linux.
One thing I DO have to praise GOG for is the level of compatibility their releases have with newer machines. For example, the Steam version of Beyond Good and Evil is notorious for crashes, visual bugs and cutscenes running too fast – but the GOG version has precisely none of these problems. For this reason, I’d recommend that you buy your 90s games on GOG and not Steam when possible.
That said, some multiplayer games, such as Empire Earth, have had their official servers deactivated and are between difficult and impossible to play online. Disappointingly, GOG provides no workaround for this.
Value for Lolly
(translator’s note: lolly means kawaii)
The typical price of a game on gog is between 6 and 10 dollars, although sales will normally chop that down to 3 or 5 dollars. It’s worth noting that unlike most stores, GOG’s prices are the same everywhere, so if you’re European you won’t have to choose between Tyrian 2000 and feeding your family. GOG has regular sales and bundle deals, which give you steep discounts for buying games in bulk. They also flat-out give away games at times – they were giving out Empire Earth a mere two weeks before I’d heard that they were giving out Empire Earth, and more recently they’ve given games like Duke 3D away in promos. Considering Apogee are still selling copies of Commander Keen and Math Rescue, that’s impressive. Also, who the hell is still ordering copies of Math Rescue?
GOG’s value for lolly isn’t just limited to sales and promos, however. With every purchase, you get the sorts of bonuses that money-grubbing publishers normally reserve for pre-order bonuses – including HD wallpapers, concept art, design documents, PDF manuals, soundtracks, maps, audio interviews with the developers, and even comic books. Ultima 4 came with a spellbook but I have not tried it.
None, to speak of. All games are offered Shackles-free with almost zero exceptions (Defender’s Quest technically launched with a DRMed executable in the form of Adobe Air – the backlash resulted in a patch to remove this and an apology from GOG). As far as I’m aware, GOG was really the first distributor to make a big deal out of this. All games can be downloaded via their very pretty web interface, or via a download manager called the GOG downloader.
I’d never used it until now, but I downloaded the downloader for you, dear reader, and then used it to download Tyrian 2000. I didn’t notice any significant improvements in speed, and bizarrely, you still have to go to GOG.com in order to initialise your download, which makes me wonder what the point of the whole thing is. Even more perplexingly, the GOG downloader just downloads the installer executables, you still have to click through the whole install process. It’s just a downloader. They’re not packaging it as anything else, to be fair, but if downloading games is beyond your abilities then a downloader that itself has to be downloaded and installed is not going to fix the issue, it’s just going to make you feel hopelessly inadequate.
Edit: since this article was published, some people have reported to me that they were able to get faster download speeds with the GOG downloader than their web browser. However, I have been unable to replicate this effect on my own computer. In fact, for me, the inverse proved to be true: Mozilla Firefox was able to download Torchlight from GOG’s servers at a steady 7.1MB/s but the downloader’s speed varied between 3MB/s and 7MB/s, averaging 4.1MB/s.
This is by no means a rigorous scientific investigation, so I would still advise you to try the downloader for yourself if you suffer from a very slow internet connection.
GOG is a decent enough service. They offer the definitive versions of old games, patched for modern systems, at a fair price. The extras are a very nice addition, and the lack of regional pricing is also a plus.
But there is one problem I’d like to bring up. If you already own any of these games, there’s very little incentive to buy them again. I do sometimes wonder how many times Ubisoft are going to be able to sell me Rayman 2 before I get bored of it.
Overall, the GOG project feels like something of a waste – many of the developers of these games are defunct, meaning they don’t see a single penny of the money you pay, and their games can easily be played in ZDoom, EDuke32, ScummVM or DOSBox for free. The online problems I had with Empire Earth (which can only be solved by a third-party patch) shows how little effort has gone into some of GOG’s releases. The downloader and lack of Linux support only adds to the redundancy. Like I say, GOG isn’t necessarily a bad service – but its usefulness is certainly limited.
My advice is: if you already own these games, don’t buy them on GOG. If you don’t, make sure you’re getting a good deal.
I have no more to say on the matter, dear reader, so you’ll have to wait until next week’s Hoedown for more clever visual analogies and references to 90s PC games. Incidentally, next week’s hoedown is Nintendo. So that should be fun.