Good Old Games is no more. Last time anyone said that, there were a lot more robes and hoods involved. This time, though, no one's gazing into the Internet's fiery maw and foretelling their own doom. Instead, this is more of a phoenix-rises-from-the-ashes-and-also-realizes-that-Machinarium-is-pretty-rad scenario – you know, just like in mythology. Newer big-budget games and indies will soon begin appearing on the rechristened service, with Trine 2 and The Whispered World already available and completely DRM-free. So then, why now? The short version, somewhat surprisingly, is Steam sales.
Skyrim may be the big budget game on everyone’s minds today, but it isn’t the only kick-ass RPG that was released this year. We found a lot of things to like in The Witcher 2 when we reviewed it back in June, and hey, it’s even DRM free! (Unless you buy it on Steam, of course.) While other publishers would have you believe that ditching digital protection is akin to asking for pirates to pillage games, CD Projekt has announced that The Witcher 2 has sold over a quarter million digital copies.
While we were still bumming about the PC snub EA delivered with its Battlefield 3 tournament, we ran across an interview with Adam Badowski, the development director at CD Projeckt – i.e., the makers of The Witcher 2. All the DLC for The Witcher 2 is supplied absolutely free, no strings attached. CDP would like to make DLC free for owners of the upcoming Xbox 360 version of the game as well, but Microsoft just won’t let them.
“Incredible.” “Horrendous.” “Wow. I can’t believe that just happened!” “Ugh, I can’t believe that just happened.” “Geralt, you cheeky bastard.” “Geralt, you worthless bastard.” These are all things we said while playing The Witcher 2. It’s an incredibly hot-and-cold game, to be sure. One moment it might wow you with brilliant writing, or a choice that makes BioWare’s fantasy behemoth Dragon Age look utterly toothless. The next it’ll have you spitting flames over frustrating, repetitive combat, and design decisions that simply boggle the mind. Ignore all that, though, because here’s what really counts: We couldn’t put it down.
Remember when Namco made those ill-advised – and, might we add, thankfully never acted upon – comments about Ubisoft's Dark Lord of All DRM? Remember when The Witcher 2 entered the picture, and suddenly you got a horrible sinking feeling in your stomach as it clicked that, yeah, Namco might be planning to similarly lock the game down and throw away the key? Well, here's developer CD Projekt swooping in to save the day in a very, very big way.
See, CD Projekt also owns digital storefront/blessing Good Old Games, but it's making an exception on that “old” bit with The Witcher 2. Yep, the gorgeous-looking dark fantasy RPG will be casting its spell on GOG on day one. And – better still – it'll be, in GOG's own words, “100% DRM-free,” just like all other GOG titles. Oh, and just in case you – through some Olympic medal-worthy mental gymnastics of entitlement – were able to read that last bit and say, “Huh? That's all?,” a pre-order will also snag you any one of five free games, including Divine Divinity and Gothic 2.
Now then, join us in prostrating ourselves before CD Projekt and screaming “thank you” at the top of our lungs. Also – most crucially – please don't pirate the hell out of this. Otherwise, this seeming end to DRM will probably only be the beginning.
When a publisher starts extolling the virtues of Ubisoft’s Alcatraz-level DRM lockdown, it doesn’t matter how far you read into their words; at the end of the day, it spells trouble. And so it was when Witcher 2 publisher Namco Bandai declared Ubisoft’s system functional – if not exactly ideal. Shortly afterward, Witcher 2 developer CD Projekt attempted damage control by vaguely stating its intentions, but that backfired -- leading many gamers to fear that the dark fantasy sequel had truly gone over to the dark side.
Fortunately, CD Projekt Red CEO Adam Kiciński has released a statement that paints a much clearer picture of The Witcher 2’s DRM situation.
“Given the concerns expressed by players and growing media speculation, we have decided to make public our internal DRM policy,” he said. “Although we are the game’s developer, we obviously won’t be making a unilateral decision on the DRM protection that is applied to The Witcher 2. Nevertheless, our internal rules and guidelines should reassure players.”
“As per our policy, we will do our utmost to prevent the adopted DRM solution, if any, from making life difficult for those who acquire legal game copies. I can’t imagine using any protection that would deprive game fans of any of the pleasure that will come from playing the game, as has been the case with other notable PC game titles,” he explained.
“Notable titles,” of course, likely include Settlers 7, Assassins Creed II, and Splinter Cell: Conviction, among others. Which means that avoiding the example set by those games is part of CD Projekt’s company policy, for Pete’s sake. So take a deep breath, everyone. The Witcher 2 is in good hands.
Upon reading The Witcher 2 publisher Namco Bandai's pro-Ubisoft-DRM spiel, we imagine a decent many of you probably did double-takes as you put two and two together over and over again – always reaching the same confounding result. The Witcher 2. With DRM. Does. Not. Compute. After all, developer CD Projekt heads up Good Old Games. That's about as anti-DRM as you can get.
Namco Bandai and CD Projekt are separate entities, however. And fortunately, this is one instance where left hand and right aren't quite in agreement.
“Our distributors commented [on] the Ubisoft-like DRM securilty solutions, and we’re receiving a massive feedback about applying such in The Witcher 2,” read a post on CD Projekt's Facebook account. “There’s nothing to worry about, as nothing is decided yet.
“And still, it’s a private opinion. You know CD Projekt RED’s opinion about DRM, right?” the developer added, referring to Good Old Games.
That tree-demolishing gust you just felt? That was thousands of Witcher fans breathing a collective sigh of relief. Thank goodness, too. Geralt's not the handsomest guy around, but his ugly mug's still a far prettier sight than a big, game-obscuring “Connection lost. Please wait.” screen.
The Witcher, an under-the-radar fantasy RPG that – despite what its name might suggest – has nothing to do with witches, has officially earned itself a sequel. This news should be exciting to you, human being with a modicum of sanity and intelligence. If you’re not bouncing up and down with glee, though, give The Witcher a try, and then come back and join the party. Everyone else, you’ve got a trailer to watch. We’ll wait.
Cool, huh? So, when can you expect to sink your fangs into the White Wolf’s next adventure?
“We’re aiming for release in Q1 2011,” said a CD Projekt RED rep.
Oh, is that so? Well, it sure is a good thing that gamers are such patient, non-demanding people. Boy howdy, if we had a dollar for every time we’ve heard a gamer say “I can’t wait to play Game X” or “I’d kill someone with a miniature potted cactus to play, say, The Witcher 2 right this freaking second,” we’d have zero dollars. Because gamers never talk like that. Ever.
Huh? You still think they do? Oh, we have so got a miniature potted cactus with your name on it.
If you fix it, they will come, apparently. After a somewhat sloppy launch, PC RPG The Witcher managed to stick its landing with The Witcher: Enhanced Edition – a re-release (or free patch, if you purchased the original game) that weeded out the game’s bugs in a motherly, primate-esque fashion, while also re-bewitching players with as many new features as possible for a world where kitchen sinks have yet to be invented.
“So what’s all the buzz about? Well, according to our latest sales data, The Witcher has sold more than 1,2 million copies around the world! 'More numbers,' you might say, but let me finish before J Because of those numbers, The Witcher has jumped onto the list of the 100 bestselling PC games in history,” said CD Projekt marketing coordinator Karol Zajaczkowski.
“Not bad, huh? Nevertheless, bragging is not the most important thing here. What’s important is the fact that we would like to thanks all of you - our fans. We did it once before with the anniversary movie, and we just can’t stop thanking you for making The Witcher a popular choice among PC games. You are the real proof that sometimes going upstream, no matter what people say, is worth taking a risk. Without you, none of this would be possible and none of our dreams would ever come true.”
So, did you help buoy Geralt and co. to the top of the heap? If not, consider yourself grounded from the above helping of the warm-and-fuzzies until you've contributed some words of encouragement and a totally manly ass-slap to one of PC gaming's greatest -- yet somehow under-the-radar -- success stories. And hey, you'll even get a pretty decent game out of the whole deal too.