Good Old Games, or GOG, a website that sold classic PC games without digital rights management, is gone as we know it. The site is apparently undergoing some kind of radical transformation, which will be announced this week.
On the website, GOG offers cryptic reasoning for the change. “We have recently had to give serious thought to whether we could really keep GOG.com the way it is,” the site says. “We’ve debated on it for quite some time and, unfortunately, we’ve decided that GOG.com simply cannot remain in its current form.” A solution for people to re-download their games will be added this week.
One rumor has it that the closure is just a marketing stunt. Another unconfirmed report says GOG will be swallowed up by Steam, the juggernaut of online PC games distribution. Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fundamentally different GOG emerge this week. From what I’ve seen in digital games distribution, the strategy of offering one niche product is not enough to succeed.
The best digital distribution outlets for games offer a little something for everyone, but with some kind of unique hook to draw people in. Steam, for instance, made its name on Valve games like Half-Life and Counter-Strike, then expanded to include indie games, classics and other major publishers. Xbox Live Arcade started with a mix of classic arcade games, like Pac-Man and Robotron, and exclusive small-scale offerings. Now, Xbox 360 downloads include current and last-generation Xbox games, and downloadable games that are available on other consoles as well.
For GOG, a partnership with Steam or another larger platform would be a logical move. Its library of classic games would get more exposure, and could benefit from Steam’s achievements and multiplayer services. The model of DRM-free gaming would die (judging from GOG’s Twitter feed, this was a foregone conclusion) but Steam’s DRM approach is fairly benign, tied to one account that allows access from any computer. At the very least, the idea of selling good, old games doesn’t seem to be going away.