GOG's Death (Not?) and the Shame of Abandonware

Keith Burgun's picture

gog.com's logo. RIPToday, Good Old Games (gog.com) shut down. It was one of the very few ways available to customers who want to purchase a game that's more than five years old.  This is sad news, but not nearly as sad as the cannibalistic reality that we've been living with for a very long time.

"Abandonware" is a term that should fill the heart of anyone who cares about computer gaming with shame.  Imagine if you couldn't buy or borrow a book written more than five years ago - or if older films like Casa Blanca or Citizen Kane were simply impossible to get your hands on.  The grim situation - if you're not already familiar is this.  After a game is about 5 to 10 years old, two things happen.  Firstly, it is "succeeded" by a sequel.  Instead of adding bug fixes, new content and other improvements to the original game, those are usually released in a new box and sold as a separate piece of software.  Then, the old software is simply forgotten, and it is assumed that no one cares about them and they are not sold.  The other problem that leads to the existence of Abandonware is the insane, frothing-at-the mouth technology arms race that we've found ourselves embroiled in since day one.  Technology has, of course, always been linked to computer games;  but for the past twenty years, the situation has been ridiculous.  If your software is more than six or seven years old, chances are most people won't even have a suitable platform to play your game on.

"So what?"  You may be saying.  "New, better games come and replace the old games."  I've heard this argument many times, and indeed, this is the narrative pushed by not only retailers but even our media, our "journalists".  The problem is, new games aren't better than old games.  Some new games are better, and some new games are worse.  Sometimes a sequel comes out and it's improved in some ways and less good in other ways.  How many games released for the Wii last year were truly better games than Spacewar, often credited as being one of the first electronic games?  Furthermore, just as there is value in understanding political history, art history, or the history of any field of study at all, there is great value in understanding video game history.  If everyone understood the history of CRPGs, would they be all that impressed by Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion?  If The New Super Mario Brothers for the Nintendo DS was the first platformer I ever played, I would probably think it was an outstandingly good game (and if Tetris DS was the first Tetris I had played, I would grow up thinking Tetris sucked - which is what's happening to a generation right now, hope you're all comfortable with that).  The point is, history gives us the context we need to judge a game's quality.

Another problem with this practice is that we lose respect for software, in general.  I remember working at FuncoLand (before it was bought by Gamestop Evil Enterprises Corporation), and lifting a few-years-old copy of Madden for Gamecube out of a great bin of 1.99 discounted sports games (sports games, by the way, are the worst offender here, since most of them have a new release EVERY YEAR).  I thought to myself "man, only a couple of years ago, people were lining up to buy this for FIFTY DOLLARS, and now, not more than a couple of years later, it's basically cultural garbage."  The game wasn't any less of a game than it was the day it came out.  I used to have a saying to customers, "games don't get any worse over time, they only get cheaper."  Few listened to my advice, because we are so wrapped up in this mindset that any game more than a few years old is basically garbage.

So what is the solution to all of this?  Sites like Good Old Games have popped up here and there, offering consumers a way to play some older games, but clearly it isn't working out too well.  Steam and Impulse both sell a lot of old games on their services, as well.  Someone may still be able to make a viable commercial site dealing in old games, but my idea is to create a digital, public video games library.  Right now, these do exist, but they're unofficial, and technically illegal.  I donated to The Underground Gamer, a torrents site which is one of the only places on the internet documenting nearly all of video game history.  Despite this service to history and our culture, what they are doing is illegal.  This is why I think it should possibly be the role of the state to step in and say, "hey, this stuff needs to be preserved and made available for the public at large", just as we have done for literature with the public library system.  This would require both a technical know-how and a respect for video-gaming that I do not see the government having for another ten or twenty years, however, so I wouldn't get too excited.

The digital library idea may seem crazy, but if you're like me, you think that we've been in a pretty dark place for gaming for the past ten or fifteen years.  This situation will not improve until we change the way we look at, and deal with our heritage.  I'm to understand that GOG.COM isn't actually dead (could be a rather tasteless PR stunt) and there are some new technologies, such as OnLive which could serve to function as our digital library.  However, they will only function this way, if these companies think that there are enough of us who care.  We have a long way to go.

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Keith Burgun
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A Side note (editing isnt working, bleh)

There should be a site where I can just play all video games ever made, and they run perfectly without any setup. http://www.virtualapple.org/ does a great job of this, why can't we have this for all platforms? I know it's a big job, but it'd be worth the effort. Maybe someday I'll run for office and make it a part of my platform =]

Bill Loguidice
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Not quite there yet
Keith Burgun wrote:

There should be a site where I can just play all video games ever made, and they run perfectly without any setup. http://www.virtualapple.org/ does a great job of this, why can't we have this for all platforms? I know it's a big job, but it'd be worth the effort. Maybe someday I'll run for office and make it a part of my platform =]

This is the closest that I'm aware of: http://retrouprising.com/

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Keith Burgun
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Holy Hamburgers

Wow. Retro Uprising is pretty awesome. I need to be able to hook up my controller to these games and play that way, and then I'm set. Really good stuff, although of course, it's super illegal.

Rob Daviau
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lol!
Keith Burgun wrote:

Wow. Retro Uprising is pretty awesome. I need to be able to hook up my controller to these games and play that way, and then I'm set. Really good stuff, although of course, it's super illegal.

SSSSSHHHHHHHHHH! I won't tell if you don't!

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Rob Daviau
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What's Happening With Good Old Games?
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Bill Loguidice
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Honestly, if it's a marketing

Honestly, if it's a marketing stunt, it's not a company I would ever want to do business with, period. If it's not, considering the way it happened, there must have been considerable disarray behind the scenes because it seems like a no-lose business. All of the overhead should primarily be in negotiating deals and providing infrastructure. I would think the full story will come out at some point, but either way I see few scenarios where I could feel good about supporting them.

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Carl Williams
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Joined: 08/01/2010
I agree with the points made

I agree with the points made already, this is a tasteless PR stunt, if it is indeed that (I can think of about 300 other ways that this could have been handled differently if it is indeed just them coming out of beta). If this is how they treat affiliates then do they really think that those affiliates will return in the future after being treated this way? What do they think this is going to do to the fanbase they had (retro is popular but it isn't anywhere near as popular as it should be).

If they are adding DRM then well, they may as well just stay down. That was their main draw. Sad to say but it is true.

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Thanks for the writeup,

Thanks for the writeup, Keith. This whole GOG fiasco has made me very upset, especially since I just this morning posted my video that directed all my viewers to their site to buy King's Quest I-III. I really enjoyed how GOG provided value adds, such as professionally scanned manuals, plus extra such as concept art. Plus, I liked their library concept. Most of all, I just enjoyed DRM-free. My computer is already screwed up enough; the last thing I need is a bunch of malware roadblocks constantly asking for my papers. GOG represented a good, honest service--you pay, you get what you paid for, with no nasty little unwanted "extras" like DRM.

In any case, I feel like an idiot and do fault them for that. They could have provided us with a warning, at least to their affiliates. What they've done feels unprofessional, and I'd almost rather this be a hack attempt or renegade employee than a business decision. The fact that's it going down on a Sunday makes me very dubious.

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Tyler Long
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Joined: 09/07/2010
A library that carries only

A library that carries only video games? Thank would be amazing. I know gamefly basically does this but its mostly newer games, having a library to go to and rent out, or just borrow, an older game would be great. A lot of people wouldn't be interested in it but it would still be a really cool idea.

Its a shame sites that GOG don't get much attention that they can't maintain themselves, and its also a sad turn of events that the moment Matt refers them that they close down.

Anyways, hopefully these games will gain a much larger fan base, at least to have the new kids give them a try. Hard to ask for with so many new and casual games, but these games deserve it, and so does the history of video games.

Rowdy Rob
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Joined: 09/04/2006
GOG's shut-down might just be a publicity stunt?

There's speculation that GOG's shut-down notice is just a publicity stunt to introduce the fact that they are no longer in "Beta" mode, and will soon be back online. It's all rumor, of course, but this web article makes a compelling case that this is just a poor marketing stunt, and GOG will be back online soon!

http://www.computersnstuff.co.uk/2010/09/gog-com-closure/

Either way, I was shocked when I read this here just now! I had to look around on the net to see what was up. I've purchased several games from GOG, and I want to re-download some of the ones I've purchased at least!

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