Announced a few months ago, Good Old Games is CD Projekt’s new digital download service intended to make it much easier to pick up older titles for your PC at a reasonable price. To sweeten the deal, all of the games are DRM-free and streamlined to work on modern operating systems.
I've been a pretty avid user of digital download services for some time now, mostly sticking with GamersGate and Steam. I haven't yet devolved into the kind of person that demands all games be made available digitally and is too lazy to get off his butt and walk over to a store, but I certainly believe digital download holds the future of PC gaming.
One of the problems games have always had is their short shelf life. Part of this is due to the ever-advancing nature of game design – especially in graphics – which means older games look less attractive than older films. Let’s be honest – Fallout will never keep quite like Scarface does when it comes to sales. However, another problem is simply unavailability: distributors aren't keen to keep printing games just for a trickle of sales, and stores aren't too keen on keeping them on their shelves. As such, Good Old Games fills a much-needed niche: make old games easily available from one single place, fix them to run on modern computers, and offer community-based trouble-shooting.
So what approach does CD Projekt take? Well, the first thing you'll notice about GOG is that it is fully browser-based, and does not necessitate a constantly-running program (like Steam) or a special downloader (like GamersGate). You can make an account on the site to join the community, keep your games ready to download online, and benefit from special offers. Or, if you just happened to stumble upon the website, you can purchase games without making an account and then forget about the site forever.
This approach is obviously more hands-off than Steam; once you purchase a Steam game you're tied to Steam forever, like it or not. Instead, GOG gives you a single executable file – the Good Old Games install file for the game – which you can just save on a back-up disc or burn to a CD to install the game as many times as you like. The GOG installer is part of CD Projekt's commitment to keeping the games working on modern systems, as the new installer should work on all modern computers whereas some of the games’ original installation routines would give quite a headache previously. The site is easy to navigate, purchasing games is just as easy, and you download the executable as a normal file via your browser at very decent speeds (1 MB/s or more).
The community is also pushed to the background compared to Steam: there are no viewable accounts, friends groups, or ways to invite people for online games via GOG (though not many of the GOG games have online components). Instead, the community is more similar to the way IMDB approaches it: they provide content for themselves in the form of ratings, reviews, discussions on the gaming forum, as well as troubleshooting FAQs and lists of mods (with the support of GOG.com staff).
The last two in particular are very important to the success of GOG and it's good to see how integrated they are into the service. While CD Projekt has worked on these games to run on XP/Vista, it is hard enough to guarantee a game will run on all possible configurations for new games, let alone when editing old ones. Most of the games I tried from GOG ran fine, but MDK in particular had graphical glitches and lag from the start, and that's where the troubleshooting comes in handy.
Mods might not be that important, and unlike troubleshooting (which is quickly available from your games list), the mod list is tucked away on the game's forum. A lot of these games will not have any mods available, but this service is great for games with an active modding community – like Fallout 1 and 2 – that have seen patches, resolution fixes, and unfinished business modifications.