When the site relaunched less than a week later and revealed the hoax for what it was, after days of ... less descriptive explanations as to what was going on, fans and customers were understandably upset. GOG publicly apologized last Wednesday on Twitter, saying, "We really are sorry to those who felt deceived. It was done with the best of intentions, hopefully we can make it up to you." After all that, we asked GOG managing director Guillaume Rambourg what in the world happened.
First and foremost, he said that last week's temporary closure of GOG was inevitable for the site's relaunch. "98% of the code of our website was rewritten to be able to welcome more users and deliver a better experience, which required a major change in our backend and as a matter of fact, taking down our platform for a few days," Rambourg explained. He told us that management was faced with two options: make an "official 'boring' statement" or take "a more creative route." As evidenced by the past week, it's pretty clear management chose the latter.
And even though the reaction hasn't been 100 percent positive, Rambourg said he'd do the same thing all over again given the chance.
Joystiq: Did you expect the backlash you got from fans before/after the press conference?
Guillaume Rambourg, managing director, GOG.com: We knew that the closure of our website - which we had to go through due to technical reasons – was going to be a tough moment for everybody. However, one thing we have underestimated is the fact that so many users were relying on our platform to access the games they purchased on GOG. This is clearly the main grievance that came to our ears. Unlike other digital distribution platforms, GOG allows users to download their DRM-free titles as many times as they want and therefore play games anytime, anywhere and on any computer they want. Thanks to the complaints from our users, we realized we should communicate more about that essential feature in the future.
Some folks are viewing the ploy as intentional -- that you wanted to make folks upset and get vocal to increase the reach of GOG's relaunch announcement. What do you say to those accusations?
"Our aim was never to harm anybody here. All we wanted is to take an exotic path to cause a debate." - Guillaume Rambourg
As stressed previously, we had to close down anyway due to technical reasons. 98% of the code of our website was rewritten to be able to welcome more users and deliver a better experience, which required a major change in our backend and as a matter of fact, taking down our platform for a few days. Due to this situation, we had only two options in terms of communication: either making an official "boring" statement or taking a more creative route. We have been gamers forever and thus decided to pick the second option, as we believe the industry has been getting dead serious for the last few years. If even the entertainment industry – which I believe is supposed to generate emotions and creativity – gets dull, where is the whole world going? Our aim was never to harm anybody here. All we wanted is to take an exotic path to cause a debate. Luckily, this was the first and last time we had to take down our servers. In practice, this means our future major announcements will still be creative (we'll never give up on that!), but without the slightly bitter part for our users.
The shutdown faux-publicity was focused around how hard it is to run a site without any DRM. Is it actually that hard, or was that just part of the publicity stunt?
I think being DRM-free has been quite challenging indeed. When we launched GOG two years ago, we had to convince publishers that our model was the best way to revive their 'dusty' PC classics and make end users happy to play these again. We had to explain why we believed adding a technical constraint on past titles was the best way to convince people... not to buy those games. Gamers who initially played those titles when they were younger are very knowledgeable about PC gaming today. They know the value of spending money on this brand new AAA release or that 10-year old back catalogue title; nobody can be cheated here! We were convinced being DRM-free was a must to bring PC classics back to life. Our talks with publishers eventually turned fruitful and some of them jumped into our boat (if they read this, thank you again for that!), which allowed us to build up our credibility. Every new big publisher we sign is a big step forward for us, as it gives us the occasion to gain legitimacy and show to skeptical publishers/developers that yes, our DRM-free model does work. Typical snowball effect I would say. Let's hope the recent launch of Baldur's Gate on GOG will allow us to sign more and more content.
Well – first and foremost - I wish we could have avoided to go down at all. But again, we had to do it due to technical reasons. Those unfortunate facts put aside, I do not think we would have changed the PR angle we took (however, I would not have minded a lighter monk costume, not to sweat so much!). Do not get me wrong: no arrogance here! I simply would like to stress again that we are a company willing to take a creative approach in everything we do and modestly try to help the gaming industry not to get so boring and 'sterilized.' We do not see ourselves as a digital platform only, but also have a mission to promote gaming the way it was always intended to be: fresh, innovative and filled with emotions.
True or false: Any publicity is good publicity?
Hmmm ... that's quite a philosophical debate and I am not too sure we have enough time or ink to engage into a deep discussion here. However, I can launch the debate among your forum users by sharing one fact: the traffic on our website the day of our launch was 20 times higher than ever in the past. Everybody can draw his/her own conclusions! More seriously, it is all about what you call "publicity". If you talk about generating buzz, anybody can do that. It is only a matter of imagination, not even time or money. If you talk about spreading a positive message, then it is more about the psychology you put behind your message and how it can become meaningful to users, which is a lot harder. We at GOG try to balance all those aspects since two years to promote PC classics and build up a lively relation with our users.
What's your plan if you actually have to close down the site?
As mentioned between lines earlier, we will not have to close down the website ever again. Our new backend and IT infrastructure will allow us to deploy new features at any time, regardless of how fast our user base grows. Trust me, that's a big relief for us. Our Live Launch was really a stressful event, not only because much had to be done to launch the new website and games as such, but also because seeing our users wait in such difficult conditions really pained us. I was myself checking – obsessively I have to admit – our users' reactions on Facebook and Twitter every five minutes for four days (and nights!). It was a difficult time for us, and we certainly empathize with anyone who was put in a tough emotional state because of the site closing.
Do you anticipate that this burst of traffic (cited in the GOG Twitter feed) is going to stick around for a while?
Well, we still have a lot of great titles from Atari/Hasbro to launch. I think people will be delighted when they see what we've got in stock for them. Baldur's Gate and its expansion were definitely only the beginning. In addition to those titles, we have already secured some extra major content for the following months. Releases aside, we also have a lot of ideas and surprises for our users. Do count on us all the way till Christmas ... and beyond!