GOG, a.k.a. Good Old Games, made a name for itself by taking PC games designed for defunct operating systems like DOS, and updating them to make the games operable on newer platforms. The “most popular” list on GOG.com is dominated by re-releases of Star Wars games on PC, some of which date back to 1993. GOG Galaxy, on the other hand, is setting its sights on distribution of triple-A games, and therefore a much wider selection of titles.
The primary selling point for GOG Galaxy thus far is DRM-free purchases. If someone buys a copy of a game on Steam, they need access to the Steam client in order to play the game. The benefit of this system is that someone could log in to an installation of Steam, on any system, and then download and play the games attached to their account. The downside is that Steam customers need access to Steam, in order to play their games.
GOG Galaxy, on the other hand, will give customers a backup installer that will allow customers to install their games directly to a hard drive and outside the GOG Galaxy service. In other words, using Galaxy is optional after purchasing a game from the service. This DRM-free policy could be a huge selling point among PC gamers, who generally chafe at any restrictions to their freedom when it comes to playing and modifying their games.
GOG Galaxy will also offer friends lists, chat, and game achievements, and feature support for online multiplayer and matchmaking that includes cross-play with Steam users.
A frequent complaint of Steam Greenlight, the service that allows Steam users to vote on new games to fast track for Steam distribution, is that it decreases the overall quality of the games on Steam by welcoming de facto shovelware onto the system. Steam Early Access allows developers to charge for access to games that are still in development, a practice that’s taken fire by critics with a consumer advocacy bent.
Steam is owned and run by Valve Software, a developer held in extremely high regard by the PC gaming audience. GOG is owned and run by the CD Projekt Group, which includes CD Projekt Red, the developer best known for The Witcher series of role playing games. CD Projekt Red enjoys a reputation among PC gamers that feels similar to the reputation of Valve Software among the same audience, because CD Projekt Red similarly understands what PC gamers seem to want.
If GOG Galaxy taps into the reputation of CD Projekt Red, in the same way Steam tapped into the reputation of Valve Software—and if GOG can distance itself from programs like Steam Greenlight and Early Access—the stage might be set for a genuine challenge to Steam’s dominance in the digital distribution of PC games.
PC and Mac users can sign up for the GOG Galaxy open beta here.
Illustration via GOG