The Nostalgia Issue

The Nostalgia Issue
Everything Good Old is New Again

Alan Au | 7 Jun 2011 12:32
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Games get official sequels, spiritual sequels, spin-offs, and remakes even decades after the originals were released, but nostalgia is a funny thing; despite the low-resolution graphics and the chintzy music, some classic games have a magical hold over us that modern production values can't replace. If your old favorite was based on the PC, you have a friend in Good Old Games (GOG). GOG's mission is to track down classic PC games, get them running on modern operating systems, remove the digital rights management (DRM) bits, and release them back into the marketplace. Hobbyists have been doing this for years, so why pay for the privilege? It comes down to convenience, and factoring in the time and effort required to get an old game working, GOG is a bargain.

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The whole thing started with the guys at Polish distributor CD Projekt, who got their start distributing games in the mid-90s. One of their early successes was releasing budget PC titles in the Polish market. Combining this experience with a personal love for classic PC games, they founded GOG as a subsidiary. "The idea came from [CD Projekt's] urge to play some classic PC games like Fallout, Baldur's Gate, and Duke Nukem," explains GOG's PR and Marketing Manager, Lukasz Kukawski. "But when they started to search for those games they came to a realization that many games aren't available anywhere to buy legally, and even if you own them you'd have lots of issues running them on modern computers. So they were like 'Hey, let's use our business contacts and create a digital distribution platform with those classic games.'"

It's one thing to collect a handful of personal favorites and get them running, but putting together an entire digital distribution system? This was more than just a weekend project. "The next couple of months were strictly dedicated to analyzing the digital distribution market, building a list of the most requested titles by gamers, expanding the concept of the service and preparing the design and programming side of the project," says Kukawski. From there, things grew rapidly. "At first the team was a small group of designers and web-developers, but it quickly grew into a group of 20 people including more designers and developers, business development people, a band of support/testers and some marketing folks."

Within months the company was up and running, but what about the games? The Interplay and Codemasters libraries were a good start, but the list of classics is diverse. "First of all, the games we release on GOG.com have to, or at least we hope they do, fulfill requirements that result from the name of the service: Good Old Games. They cannot be new releases. As a rule we've picked, our games should be at least 3 years old. If our community would like a game from the early 80's, we wouldn't mind releasing it." Still, there's no telling which titles will trigger that nostalgic reaction, and the GOG team knows it. Says Kukawski, "Some games just have something that makes you excited when you see the intro or hear the main music theme. You can't reasonably explain it, you just feel it." Since there's no guarantee that all gamers will respond the same way to any one game, the solution is simple: offer more games. "We're trying to bring back games that were critically acclaimed by gamers and journalists, but also those that for different reasons (bad marketing, release date, etc.) haven't achieved huge commercial success, but still are considered as cult games. We try to bring a wide selection of games, so if anyone comes over and takes a look at the catalogue, they can find something that will match their taste."

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