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Can GOG Survive?/Future in Selling Old Games?

by Shot97 Thu May 18, 2017 6:32 pm

-Disclaimer- Rambling Thoughts Post - Author is a proud lover of original hardware and has not actively touched an emulator for "fun" in well over 10 years. Having the original hardware I also have little experience in sites like GOG, which sell old games via the use of an emulator or with fixes/patches to allow them to run in modern versions of Windows. I have old versions of Windows running on period hardware, along with DOS and many other platforms. I really don't care enough to heavily research the details in how places that sell old games exactly go about the process of making them playable today. I have a basic understanding of what they do and I know there are exceptions as well. Please keep in mind these thoughts are a journey from someone into the actual real machines looking in at other areas he simply has no interest in. The thoughts of that person looking to the bigger picture with what he knows/and or believes about these processes. AKA - This is for fun; this is not a post to nitpick sentences here or there because I simply do not care if I am right or wrong. This post is about the bigger question; are places that currently sell old computer games destined to fail? Were they really lucky to even begin in the first place? I am looking forward to other's thoughts on the big picture of these places; for I have never happened to come across anyone looking ahead on the horizon with these places. I'd love to hear from people who disagree and why they feel these places are here to stay; because it's not an area I really care about. Nevertheless; I do have thoughts on the topic, thoughts I've never personally run into before.

I've thought about making a whole topic on this for quite some time... With the recent rise of legal means to obtain older software I couldn't help but start looking toward the bigger picture. My theory is there is no future for sites like GOG. They are doomed... Why? Because they are 100% dependent on either the emulator known as DOSBox - or are dependent on fan patches to play Windows games natively on newer versions of Windows.

Well.... DOSBox is a very special case in terms of emulators... In that the only reason it's legal for a site like GOG, or Origin, or any place to sell old games is because DOSBox has its own operating system. DOS was quite literally reverse engineered for that thing. There is no Microsoft code... It's all it's own thing, and yeah, it's designed to play the games, does not really care about the operating system.

Personally I hate DOSBox, when I did emulate I used Virtual PC and I installed the actual MS-DOS 6.22 operating system on it... But that's the thing; That's why it's so hard to find Amiga games for sale today, or any other game for any other system (unless it's through a consoles virtual emulator set ups) - Most emulators require a ROM file, unless you're able to rip said ROM file off your original equipment, you have no legal rights to use an emulator. Even if you once owned it or indeed still own those games, unless you rip your individual ROM off that machine you don't have the legal right to use an emulator. You have the moral right, absolutely ... I'd say you'd even have the moral right if you never owned it and are just curious... But that's another topic. Also in another topic would be the future of selling old console games (Atari, NES, Sega) on newer consoles. In this writer's mind this practice, while disheartening in many ways, is very much here to stay.

At the moment you can go to GOG or Origin and buy the original Wing Commander. You can even buy most of series quite cheaply in a pack depending on their sales. You can go there and buy almost all of the Gold Box games... Many times they have their own configurations and end up working quite well, or with few issues. There is a problem for me though; the utter lack of options when it comes to the versions of these games. It was not unheard of for one game to get 5 or more releases on various systems at the time. GOG does not care about which version was best, it does not care about which version was the original, it does not care about offering all kinds of variety in exchange for your buck. No... Good Old Games might as well be called DOSBox R US. All DOS, all the time; some exceptions when it comes to Windows games because Windows happens to still be a thing... But you can't buy the best looking Amiga version of Pool of Radiance on GOG, nor can you buy the actual original Pool of Radiance which was first released on Commodore 64. It's 16 color EGA and the PC speaker for you, my friend!

Would you appreciate variety even when the DOS version is arguable the best? Wing Commander came out for the Amiga looking quite impressive for the system and featuring extraordinary music. Would you like to quest with the Avatar in the original Apple II releases of Ultima? For the C64? Upgraded grapichs on the Amiga? Find it hard to deal with the old school look of Might and Magic 1 and 2? 2 looked amazing on the Amiga, and the first ended up coming out on the NES in an utterly awesome feel with full soundtrack. The MacVenture games (Uninvited, Shadowgate, etc.) had the very unique style of altering the games interface quite heavily based on that systems operating system. On the Amiga it looked like Workbench, the original Mac was in black and white with your Apple "system" style, The Apple IIGS gave it color while the ST gave it that GEOS feel. All unique experiances, all worthy of being played, all deserving for their history to be bought and played with the players having the option of being exposed to these versions.

My thing is the Amiga... I could buy emulation software through Cloanto that includes ROMs that they sell, along with a select few games that have no rights or they managed to get the rights to. If you love the Amiga your only legal route is to buy the real hardware and games or to buy an entire emulation package from companies that many would argue don't actually care so much for the Amiga or the games; but for exploiting every last dime they can from a long dead company.

If I wanted to buy The Secret of Monkey Island but grew up with the Amiga version I've got nowhere to go. Lucas Arts penned an anniversary addition that was upgraded and gave some options to go back to the DOS VGA look. But what about the DOS EGA look? That game was actually designed quite well with an EGA palette in mind. The Amiga version had a great soundtrack and looked every bit as good if not better than the VGA version. The Atari ST version added some color while retaining the original EGA look. Where are my options?! DOS is your only option; and even on the rare occasions DOS was best, DOS was usually not the only experience to be had. Despite what I've impied thus far, I do indeed have my own special love for DOS. But a major problem with sites like GOG is that they often make it nearly impossible to actually run these games on real hardware! They are using the DOS files but they set up their system in such a way to alienate the passionate hardware group who might wish to buy these games for their machine.

A site like GOG can only exist because of the reverse engineering of DOS...Which had been done before, in fact DOS was not Microsoft's, it was either stolen or reverse engineered from CPM. DOS, it turns out, is a rather easy operating system to figure out. Not even the often complicated PC hardware can stand up to DOSBox, because it does not care about PC hardware. Doubtful anybody is ever going to reverse engineer Windows 95... Doubtful someone will reverse engineer the Amiga and Workbench. I will note one person did reverse engineer the Commodore 64 and sold joysticks with games that you could hook up to a TV, a very talented woman as a matter of fact... Makes me wonder why nobody is trying to sell C64 games on GOG actually... I suppose another middle man (woman) is just not worth it for GOG.

GOG is actually not just DOS, however. They have a nice selection of Windows 95 era games as well. From my experience looking at other's playing these games, there are countless issues in terms of this era of games. Even Windows XP games are having issues running on newer machines... You just can't always foresee this stuff...GOG seems to reply on previously published free fan patches to run old Windows games, on rare occasions they may even put their own effort into it. The thing about Windows games being resold for newer machines is that they are not using emulation. There are emulators that can run Windows95 quite well, this has never been an avenue for these sites, however.

I believe at some point GOG will be unable to rely on fan patches... Or the fan's are going to get pissed that GOG is selling games using their patches and might stop making them.... It's not like these patches are perfect, either. The ones that work today, are not guaranteed to work the next inevitable time Microsoft decides to bloat your hardware.They will break at some point, meaning you're back to square one. There will come a time when GOG just can't gain inventory in terms of old games; because they won't be able to make them run on newer versions of Windows.

Regardless of if you love DOSBox or hate it, I feel as long as someone cares enough to keep it going you're probably set when it comes to DOS games bought via GOG. But since there is no "Windows95Box" reverse engineered emulator for Windows, I feel the current "life support" measures being undertaken to sell these games will hit a dead end. Windows 95 games sold through GOG should be run through emulation. There are far too many issues with running these older games on patched modern hardware. Just because it runs, does not mean it runs right. There's no shortage of examples of me watching people let's play a game bought through GOG (Might and Magic 6 is a huge example) and seeing numerous issues.

Historically speaking this is a huge concern for me. Games are being shown stretched into a modern widescreen aspect ratio when they were designed for 4:3 displays. They look bad. Seeing is believing, and far too many people assume a glitch or a bug is the fault of the original design rather than consider it is probably an issue with these various patches. Games can be dismissed and laughed at because a main boss falls of a cliff into lava (MM6) when they play today... But I've played the game 4 times and I guarantee you that Boss is standing right where he should be using Windows 98. Hey, we can't expect everything to always be perfect, but many are far too quick to laugh and insult the people who cared. Yes, bugs happened in all periods of games, but it has always sat wrong with me how little people dive into why they might be seeing that issue. It really is important to have the thought that this stuff is not running on the hardware it was designed for in the back of our heads.

If they're going to sell old Windows games I would much rather emulation be used rather than these patches. But they can't sell a PC emulator and pack that with Windows 95. For one game? Imagine the cut Microsoft is going to want on these games that had nothing to do with Microsoft. There's no 100% compatible clone of Windows, it's too bloated and complicated. What happens in 10 years when the patches end up performing like MoSlow (MoSlow was a Windows 9X utility designed to slow down old DOS games but left much to be desired). The same reasons why they won't use Windows emulators is the same reason you don't often see Amiga games being sold on these sites. A quick search on GOG yeilded exactly two Amiga games being sold on that site, both Cinamaware titles. I couldn't tell you how these are running but based on the reviews, I'm not surprised to see people citing issues. It would be a nightmare to have to deal with Cloanto and Hyperian in terms of the hardware. But what of long sold off companies that were gobbled up by Activision or others?

Legally speaking; there is no future for a site like GOG, in my opinion... At some point we're going to be right back back to 100% abandonware again! Unless places like GOG or individual companies start lobbying hard for Microsoft and others to give up their IPs for free, there is no future. It would be quite laughable indeed for a company to ask that when they are seeking profit themselves. It's already a laugh that that these companies are profiting from a free piece of software like DOSBox. If the right clause was put into the fine print of that emulator, I don't believe a place like GOG would have ever existed.

Currently for me, these sites are a major let down. Often times the worst version (DOS) is the only version people are exposed to. They want to be "good" and pay, or they may just not be savvy enough to go the emulation route themselves. I'm sorry; but as important as DOS was, I have issues with these versions being largely the only ones available. I believe there must come a time when IPs have to become public domain. Just no excuse to be pillaging people like that, all the while banking off a piece of software that happens to be public domain! If you want to sell that stuff so bad; then you rewrite it yourself to work today! The re-release of Grim Fandango is an example of that. It was ported over to the new Windows. Good for them I suppose (it was a kickstarter I believe). Although the only "feature" they added was a "widescreen" mode... AKA stretch the original 4:3 aspect ratio into 16:9, not actually show more information or even crop the old stuff into 16:9. You added one thing, and that was the option to let people look at it screwed up!

Many tangets, I know. I suppose this is more of an essay on why I have never and likely will never use sites like GOG. Another problem I've noted is that 10 years ago when you searched for these old games to snatch them up yourself (sorry, I'd never go after new stuff but there's no shame in my retro software game - It's not like buying a used copy from a reseller is helping software companies out either), you could often find the original files, perhaps stripped versions (sans CD) and even every CD image of a 7 CD game. Then GOG came along with their system of making it a pain to run this stuff you're buying on the real hardware. Those are the versions you find out there these days, due to less people caring about the real hardware. You don't have to think about only those select people, but respecting them would be nice. If it came with nice PDF manuals and with multiple versions of games that would easily run on the real hardware; Hey, you might even have me on board. But that's now, do these places have a future with ever increasing and powerful/hungry Windows versions? Not unless something drastic changes in terms of allowing the use of emulators/roms/operating systems.

My thoughts. Others?
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Re: Can GOG Survive?/Future in Selling Old Games?

by intric8 Fri May 19, 2017 8:50 am

This is a a challenging topic for me to respond to with much authority - only anecdotal personal experience and limited knowledge. And, I guess without much evidence, I'd take an opposite view, or at least a more questioning one from a business perspective.

Without seeing their revenue numbers, my perception of GOG is that they are doing fine. They seem to have hit on a market that is quite hungry for these old titles (and they sell new stuff now, too), but don't want to fiddle with old hardware or emulation. They just want an EXE file (or whatever) and play the game.

I think the other thing GOG does quite well is offer games for really low prices. They do these occasional sales where you're like, "Really? I can run Dungeon Keeper on my Mac, for $5? Hell, yes!" Then someone like myself can play that ancient title on my current laptop, say, on an airplane. For folks on Mac OS X, GOG is a totally cool thing to behold. As for PC/Win, it all depends on how much people want to tinker. Hate to admit this, but I think it's fair to say the vast majority don't. They don't even care about how "authentic" something is if it's 90% of the way there. They're more interested in the story, etc.

I remember reading an article about the guy who launched GOG. I think this was 2-3 years ago and it sounded like they were doing just fine. Better than fine, really. Plus, what's not to like about DRM-free?
I believe at some point GOG will be unable to rely on fan patches... Or the fan's are going to get pissed that GOG is selling games using their patches and might stop making them.... I
That's a whole other topic I'm not very well versed in at all. I didn't realize the community helped with the ports. That's pretty interesting, actually, and does seem to enter into some murky waters of who owns what. Not to mention technical support...

But I guess if I was to look into my crystal ball, I'd not be shocked to hear some day that Steam and GOG merged somehow. They already seem to be doing some customer sharing at the database/games library levels.
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Re: Can GOG Survive?/Future in Selling Old Games?

by Shot97 Fri May 19, 2017 11:03 am

Good thoughts; but they are dealing with emulation. Even if they hide it through one .exe file; they just run scripts that tell DOSBox what to do and to have it start up. This is the crux of the issue for me; regardless of how fine they are doing at this point, there will come a time when they simply can not add anymore "new old games". They rely on DOSBox, which is it's very own public domain operating system. This is why it's all DOS and very few other systems.

The difference between GOG being able to exist and not is all in the fine print of the public domain license of DOSBox. Had they said "This program is free to use EXCEPT for profit endeavors..." then GOG could not exist. There are a lot of DOS games and perhaps that's all they will ever need... But at some point these old 80's and 90's games might start to look too ancient for some; and they're going to want the late 90's and early 2000's games... And at some point this patch work they do with Windows games is not going to cut it. They'd have to go the emulator route, and that would involve cutting in Microsoft on the profits... I'm not saying they're going to die tomorrow; but I don't see a long lasting future either.
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Re: Can GOG Survive?/Future in Selling Old Games?

by AmigaFox Sat May 20, 2017 8:36 am

I personally avoid DOSBox like the plague. It just feels so "fake" to me. I would much rather use my MS-DOS 6.22 Virtual Machine than DOSBox.
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