|GOG's Trevor Longino Discusses The Move To Mac|
October 25, 2012 | Justin Ancheta
Hippie Freaks, Flyswatters and Sledgehammers: An Interview with Trevor Longino, Head of Marketing and PR for GOG.com
The recent announcement of Mac support on GOG.com has left a lot of Mac gamers both surprised and pleased. GOG, a service that has long prided itself on excellent customer support, fair worldwide pricing and – most importantly – DRM-free games, has been without doubt one of the best-kept secrets in PC gaming. However, with the huge success of the Witcher series, their announcement of a mature, open-world, story-driven RPG based on the well-loved Cyberpunk pen-and-paper system, and their successes in selling indie games, GOG is becoming more and more known among the gaming industry at large. Now, with official Mac support at last, they’ve decided to make themselves known to Mac gamers as well, in a big way. But what was the story behind it?
I was able to get some time last Sunday with the colourful Trevor Longino, GOG community personality, and Head of Marketing and PR for GOG.com, to have a conversation about his journey with GOG. We also talked about where GOG went with Mac compatibility, shared some thoughts on Linux, and why sledgehammers are simply the best tool for the job. Thanks once again go to Trevor for his time and willingness to speak his mind on GOG and the Mac.
JA: Could you tell us a little more about your role at GOG, and how you got involved with them?
TL: “Certainly. I’m the head of marketing and PR for GOG, and how I got involved was a bit strange - I ran my own business in Orlando, Florida, teaching companies how to do Internet marketing. And the recession hit pretty hard in Orlando and I saw something like an 87% drop in income (from) one year to the next, and I thought, you know I should probably get a real job.
“And I started applying around and happened to see that GOG, which is a site I had been using, was hiring someone for Head of Marketing. And I was like, “Ehhh, I’ll apply for it, don’t know if they’re going to interview me, but whatever, sure, I’ll apply.” I went through the interview process, went to Warsaw to meet everybody, and ended up getting picked to be their candidate for Head of Marketing. So how I got involved was kinda serendipity, but I’m definitely glad I got the chance, because I’ve been playing games since the Commodore 64 days, and a chance to work for a company that does old games I love is definitely cool.
JA: What sort of challenges have you faced with GOG now, as opposed to when you first launched in 2008?
TL: “GOG started in 2008, and I started working for them in late 2010. As far as challenges that GOG has gotten…I’d say one of the challenges that they used to have was that they’d walk into a meeting with a publisher or a developer, and they’d say “Good Old Games? Who are you guys? DRM-free games? What, are you out of your mind!?” That sort of thing they got a lot of in the early days, but they were very fortunate because GOG is part of a series of companies, one of which is called CDProjekt. And CDProjekt is a Polish games distributor, and they had real success in Poland selling old titles at a budget price…around the lines of like $2-4. And so when they were doing this, they saw that there was still a desire for these old games, and that they needed to be priced sensibly; you can’t charge $60 for Baldur’s Gate II, when Call of Duty – whatever the most recent one was, it was Black Ops - has just come out at the same price. So what could you do to make it more equitable? Because CDProjekt had released these games, through these partners GOG started up and could go to people like Interplay as one of the first big publishers that GOG signed, and could launch with titles like Fallout, which was an incredible title, and say “Hey, this is what we’ve got on our service” - this brings the gamers to you in a way that launching with a more obscure back title wouldn’t. So that was an initial challenge with some good fortune early on, and as more and more time has gone by it’s easier and easier for us to find people, and now it’s more common for us to get people coming to us and say, “Hey, you’ve got a great service, we’ve made a great game, let’s pair up.” So that is a changing challenge.
“Challenges we have now – we used to be called Good Old Games, now we’re just GOG.com. One of the challenges we have is with the newer titles we sell, getting the…indie developer to release their games DRM-free is not much of a challenge. A lot of the indie game developers have come to accept that this is how games should be sold. But if we wanted to sell, uh, I’ll give you an example of a game I bought today, X-Com (the new one) – if we wanted to sell that without DRM that’s a much harder sell for a AAA game maker. So a challenge for us as we move into newer games is how do we convince our partners who we have their back catalogs of classics, how do convince them and say, “Hey, this would be a good place to see your newer games as well”, and how do we move our business from just focusing on older games into newer games and now of course, into Mac games.”
On Mac Compatibility:
JA: What influenced your decision for Mac compatibility now, versus earlier, or sometime in the future?
TL: “Mac compatibility is something that people have been asking, for…since before I started. It’s a fairly common request we got. Initially when we were just starting out – if you branch out your business too quickly, that is a recipe for disaster, if you try and do too many things at once. Once we had pretty much figured out how we’d release classic games and also when we started doing newer games, and we more or less figured out how we’d release those newer games - the employees know what’s going on, and there are of course always surprises but they hopefully are not as often as they used to be, and now we’re looking at what else can GOG do to grow as a business, because if you stick yourself into a niche as a business and never leave--eventually you’ll starve yourself out. So we said, new games are definitely a big step for us, but it’s also not a huge change in the service, we’re still offering PC games…we’re still treating the same audience we’ve always been treating, and giving them the same quality of games that they’ve come to expect from us.
“So moving into Mac was something we started more than a year ago. One where we said, “Ok, we need to do this because the Mac audience has a lot of people”…I’ll give you an example, I’m here in San Francisco today, and I was in Los Angeles last week for a conference called MacTech, where I was speaking to a lot of journalists…and these are people who, when you say, “GOG has games ranging from 1982 to 2012” – and when I say “1982” I mean games like Zork and Ultima I – all the Mac gamers go “Ohh, yeah I know that game back on my Amiga or back on my old IBM, and these are people who remember those old classics. So a lot of Mac users are people who played games growing up and now that they’re adults, and they’re serious and they’re sober, they’ve got a Mac, and they don’t play games anymore, so in that transition of moving us to Mac, we still find a very large and very enthusiastic classic gamer audience in the Mac user base and a chance, not just to show them all these old classics but also to say 'Here’s some great new games that feel like the kind of classics GOG has always carried.' It’s a great experience for them and also obviously, it’s good business for us.”
JA: A while ago, on a thread about Linux compatibility, I read a very well thought-out post by you that outlined why…Mac compatibility was not a really good idea, and here’s why and here are the challenges and problems and my question was–
TL: “…That post you’re referring to was me arguing why Linux compatibility was such a difficult issue for us.”
JA: Right, but I think you also posted in that same thread some of the problems with Mac compatibility, and…my question was what…changed with GOG between then and now that made it easier for you guys to offer Mac compatibility?
TL: “The issue…I would say, technically it’s less of an issue than Linux compatibility is, and that’s part of why we went with Mac compatibility first. We did have some good fortune that we found an external developer who’s very talented who was able to help us in bringing DOSBox games into a fully featured and very stable Mac version of DOSBox. It’s called Boxer. So we were using custom solutions for Boxer and we actually have Alun--that’s the guy who codes it, Alun Bestor--improve on Boxer so that our games could be run the way we thought they needed to be run for us to be happy to move to Mac.
“So challenges: I’ll give you an example. WINE is a fairly stable solution that works for many games, but not consistently for every platform. So right now the games we have on GOG, they’re DOS games, they're SCUMMVM, and they’re native ports. That’s because we haven’t found WINE to be a perfect solution for providing that GOG experience for Mac gaming. If we can find a good solution to bring Windows games to the Mac, we will definitely be more than happy to do so. What’s important when you buy a game from GOG is you install it and it works. Obviously with the huge variety of hardware configs you can have on PC, some games will require some tweaking despite our best efforts. Maybe your resolution is less than 600 vertical pixels tall, which causes problems for some of our games. Maybe you’re on some obscure graphics card that we don’t have support for. And certainly we’ll try and help you out with those, but the overall goal for the overwhelming amount of people is that you buy the game, you download it, you install it, and it works.
“So getting that on the Mac was important to us, and how we overcame those challenges, was over the course of this year (we were) identifying titles, and seeing how we could make them work, and finding people to make sure these games do work; buying all of the equipment – we had a very large amount of computers (that) we had to buy – a number of Macs; not just new, brand new Macs, but we were also looking on eBay to find some of the older Macs…you know a wide variety so we could make sure that, hey, we’re using 10.6.8, 10.7.2, 10.7.5, 10.8.1, whatever it is…we could keep the experience as smooth as it could be. So, the challenges I’d say still are there but what we decided was we needed to grow GOG into new platforms, and the Mac was the largest single platform as an alternative, and a fairly accessible one as well.”
JA: Yeah…I just read Alun Bestor’s blog post on how he developed that extra side branch of Boxer for you guys to work with, so it was pretty cool seeing him involved with (GOG).
TL: “It’s a treat to get him involved – I knew him, actually; I’ve been using a MacBook Pro for about a year and a half now, and I had installed Boxer just to see I could get some GOG games running on it. So – like I said, about a year ago we needed to get our games on Macs, and I said, “Well, I happen to know a guy who developed this really neat extended functionality for DOSBox”, which of course does work on the Mac as well, but Alun Bestor’s Boxer has some more features to it. So I said, “Do you know what, why don’t we give him an email, and see if we can access that,” and it worked out pretty well.
JA: I noticed that for the Mac version of Imperial Glory, you have the version developed by Feral Interactive, which was another company; it was sold and distributed through another company…are you actually going to bring in more companies who’ve made Mac ports like Aspyr, or MacPlay, or MacSoft?
TL: “That I couldn’t really say…what ends up happening is sometimes when you get the rights to sell – well, when we signed all of our games initially we had only Windows rights. So what the year of work has involved is contacting all of our partners and saying, 'Hey we want to start selling Mac games, how do we go about acquiring those rights as well?' Sometimes they say, “Hey, that’s awesome, there’s nothing holding you back from selling our games, so sure, feel free to go ahead.” Sometimes they say, “Sure, you’re welcome to have the Mac rights but you can’t use the already existing Mac port, because we don’t have the rights for the Mac port, so you’ll have to port it yourself instead.” Sometimes they say, “Yes, you may sell Mac games, yes, you may use the port we already developed – here is the port that we own the rights to, even though somebody else developed it,” - so, it’s a very confusing issue. You know, if you want to screw something up, you get lawyers involved. This is a case where I can’t say whether or not we’ll have Aspyr or Mac(Play/Soft) games or anybody else’s product there, simply because I don’t know if anybody else who we have signed with owns the rights to the games that they ported.”