Trust is a One Way Street
I don’t really care to comment on the abject stupidity of Good Old Games’ recent marketing boondoggle. It was cataclysmically mishandled, and although this idiocy does not quite measure up to the level of fraud in my book and therefore does not put the retailer into the camp of never to be trusted again, it does demonstrate a level of poor decision making that gives me and my wallet pause before our next inevitable buy.
Ok, so maybe I want to comment a little bit on the matter, but the larger issue and question to me is one that is only related in a secondary way to GOG in particular. The underlying issue that GOG’s brain-dead antics casts into terrifying and startling relief is one that many of us have glossed over for a long time, but which can be illustrated as a sort of retail Sword of Damocles.
It is the bugaboo of digital distribution's dependence on a service rather than ownership, and the danger of relying on a someone else to preserve and provide the games for which you have paid so much money. If GOG had, indeed, come to a thundering and abrupt end rather than simply bungling through a rebranding campaign inspired by Joaquin Phoenix, what would have become of my games and materials.
Full disclosure, I have gotten to the point where I exclusively use Steam for my PC games, and as a primarily PC gamer that is not an insignificant statement. I currently own 85 games through the service, and while many of them are older titles, games I bought on extreme discount or lower cost indie games, I also own more than a dozen higher profile games purchased at full-price. My investment in the service is measured in hundreds of dollars.
I have confidence that Steam is a safe bet, but much larger companies in the industry have on occasion come to quick and bitter ends in this industry. It is not a business landscape where any foundation is without cracks. The reality is that my confidence is built on the flimsy assumption that Valve wouldn’t do me wrong like that.
To be honest, it’s never a confidence I’d necessarily established with GOG. I like GOG because I like their product. I like that I can download games that normally reside under the gaze of misty-eyed nostalgia, and can do so unrestriced by DRM. Ultimately, they seem like a fairly small and obviously vulnerable company, so I never invested the same kind of trust that they would always be there. I always kind of assumed in the back of my mind, frankly, that they wouldn't survive.
Their closure was not a surprise. Even the fact that they mucked up their effort to launch out of what I hadn't realized was still a beta wasn't really that surprising.
Yet, now I feel slightly gun shy about all of my digital download services as a result of their actions. A bigger question to me is actually, what would happen if Stardock went under tomorrow? I realize, of course, that they have always espoused a strong client commitment, and it's likely that they would find a way to accommodate their customers, but I also have seen them make decisions that give me pause. Honestly, I don’t even know how a Stardock closure would impact my ability to play games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod or Elemental.
It’s all well and good to say that Company X is strong and we don’t have to worry about it, but purchasing through digital downloads, particularly when tied to a service that requires connectivity to access content, is a long commitment. There are no promises.
Maybe it’s good to be reminded every so often that the trust we think we have in these companies isn’t without its dangers.