There are more gaming platforms than ever before, and Steam, although it was the first true digital platform, and continues to enjoy a massive market dominance in 2020, is losing some of those big releases, and even a notable quantity of decent indie titles.
In a world with more games than ever before, and only a limited time to enjoy them, finding what interests you is often the hardest part of the hobby. Enter GOG Galaxy 2.0, as CD Projekt attempt to focus on ease of use, rather than monopolising exclusive titles, to make the gaming world go round.
GOG Galaxy 2.0 is a free download that primarily serves as a launcher for your GOG titles, but also integrates with just about every other digital platform where you might have other games, and collects them all in one place.
The vast majority can be searched and launched directly within this single launcher. There are some obvious exceptions, like PlayStation games, but it will at least make those easy to find.
It's great for anyone who has ever thought, "I know I own this game, but I can't remember which of these 5 launchers I need to load in order to play it," or anyone who thought, "I want to play an RPG, but I don't know which one. I wish I could just search all my RPGs on every launcher at once, instead of loading them all."
One launcher to rule them all
For a decade or more, this used to be the case. If you wanted to buy a digital game on Windows, you went to Steam. It was the first, and it began as the only choice, but as more and more launchers started to appear, most of their games were also on Steam, because these other launchers were often owned by specific publishers (Electronic Arts' Origin, or Ubisoft's Uplay), and, mostly, compared to Steam, they were garbage (Games for Windows Live, anyone?).
Slowly, the world of Windows gaming has changed. GOG.com carved out its place with retro games, lack of any kind of DRM, and ease of use. Publishers' launchers began to catch up, and they weren't all terrible any more. This paved the way for exclusivity on those launchers, something that, in prior years, would have been suicide for the games themselves, but now that the launchers didn't burn out your eye sockets every time you loaded them, titles like Apex Legends could go exclusively on Origin.
The rise of Epic
Epic Games is lucky. Epic Games is masterful. Epic Games is demonic. Ask a hundred different people and you'll probably get a hundred different answers. Without going into depth on how the situation arose, Epic found itself unbelievably flush with cash after the success of Fortnite's battle royale mode (let's face it, you didn't remember it ever had other modes, right?) and decided to go big.
It was a controversial strategy that is still playing out as this article is published, but it involved buying (often limited-time) exclusivity for many major titles, in an attempt to force (or coerce, encourage, cajole, whatever word you prefer) gamers into using the Epic Games launcher. This also came with a bonus for publishers using this platform: Epic Games would take a significantly lower cut than the 30% taken by Valve for games on the Steam platform.
Diversification lowers ease of use
Regardless of your opinion of Valve or Steam, I think most of us will accept that competition in any market is generally good for consumers. It's never a great thing when one company has all the power in any area of business. What we're starting to see is greater diversification, and it's not just Epic Games.
Right now, I know that I have a number of Steam titles, some on Epic Games, some on GOG, Origin, Uplay, Windows Store, and even other places like the (now discontinued) Discord gaming platform and the Twitch launcher. How am I going to remember where a particular game is, or even browse my entire collection?
Much of the reluctance from gamers to invest in the download of a new platform, even though the platform and software is generally free, has been the dread of needing to keep five, six, or more launchers open all the time, potentially slowing down the PC and clogging up the system tray. Worse, these launchers often default to open with Windows, making booting up the PC a slower experience, and it's often inconvenient to disable this option in each launcher.
Aside from the removal-of-monopoly argument, I find it hard to argue for this as a good experience for gamers.
A different strategy
CD Projekt has done very well for itself, starting from its roots as a small Polish translation and localisation company. But even with the massive success of The Witcher 3, it pales in comparison to the financial resources of the giants like Valve and Epic Games, and has a small enough library of published titles that it wouldn't be able to justify its own launcher, except...
The company is well known for thinking outside the box. Rather than compete with Steam, it offered a digital service that listed titles generally not available on Steam: retro. To sweeten the deal, this came with a DRM-free policy, and each title was (more-or-less) brought up to date to work with modern hardware.
Arriving at a battlefield where Epic Games was engaged in a bloodbath against the venerable Valve, using modern equipment and almost bottomless wallets, CD Projekt didn't try to compete. Instead, the company fell back on its tried and tested strategy: think outside the box. Do what none of the others are doing.
One launcher to launch them all
GOG Galaxy 2.0 isn't trying to be better than Steam or Epic Games or Window Store; it's trying to unite them all. It acts as a single game library for all your titles. Launch one program (or "app" or whatever the kids are using nowadays) and it will handle the rest for you.
For a gamer like myself, who has a collection spread out across various launchers, this is ideal. I can simply load GOG Galaxy 2.0, and launch any Windows game directly from there. I can filter or search however I want as well, and rather than go to the store page if I can't remember the synopsis of a particular title, I can read about it directly within GOG Galaxy. I can even see achievements and friends' play time.
It must be noted that when you launch a game with GOG Galaxy 2.0, it still needs to fire up the launcher in the background. If you launch a Steam game, it will need to load Steam for you, so technically you're still running more than one launcher, but at least it eliminates the need to keep a lot of them running at the same time, which is a benefit.
Where gamers might find this less useful is if their libraries are mainly in one place, like mainly on Steam or mainly on Epic Games, in which case, there's never a need to load many different launchers.
It looks and feels great as well. I often find Steam a bit clunky, and although Steam's had a number of visual tweaks over the years, it's essentially the same launcher as it's been for the last decade and its age is starting to show.
Individual preference will predict how much importance you put on a good-looking, snappy user interface.
Every integration imaginable
Okay, maybe not every single integration ever. But GOG Galaxy 2.0 allows for third parties to develop integrations, rather than attempting to develop and maintain them all in house, and installation is a breeze.
I have found that sometimes a connection will time out and I need to re-enter the credentials to get it connected again, but in general, it works really well. Fancy seeing which PlayStation Network games you have? Just grab the integration, drop it into GOG Galaxy 2.0, and get it connected. You (hopefully obviously) cannot launch your PlayStation games from a Windows PC, but you can search them.
This will depend on the specific platform, but GOG Galaxy 2.0 will attempt to show as much as it can. For Steam, this includes all achievements and play time, as well as friend progress. This isn't supported on all integrations, which is possibly something that might arrive later, but also possibly not, depending on what the platform owner decides to do.
Friends integration is generally available too, at least, in "friends list" form. GOG Galaxy 2.0 can't interact with the chat systems on all integrations, but you'll be able to chat with friends from inside GOG Galaxy 2.0 in some cases.
It's also remarkably flexible down to your specific tastes. Don't get me wrong, the defaults are just fine, but if you want to replace the cover art of any game, you can do that, and there's even a way to get it to interact with common ROM manager software if emulation is your thing, so you can launch straight into an emulated title from GOG Galaxy 2.0.
So what's the catch?
There are a few things that are less than ideal. As noted earlier, sometimes the integrations can get disconnected if they time out, and it's a bit of a hassle to reconnect them. In my experience, this isn't really all that common and hasn't put me off especially much.
The chat system is definitely missing a trick or two. It would be great to be able to see your friends and interact with them no matter which platform they're using, and again, this might come in time, but for now, it's quite limited.
Also, I'll stress again that it doesn't outright replace the other launchers. It still needs to load Steam in the background in order to launch a Steam title. This isn't ever going to change, but it's not a huge problem from my perspective.
What's in it for CD Projekt if it's free?
It's true that the launcher itself won't make any money for GOG or its owners, CD Projekt, and will potentially cost quite a bit in development time, but in exchange for you using their launcher, and the convenience it provides, it looks as though the business model is to boost sales on GOG.com.
Previously a collection of almost entirely retro titles, including many from the 1980s and 1990s, often unavailable elsewhere online, GOG.com has started to offer more modern indie titles, staying well away from AAA big-budget games in general. This has significantly expanded the library.
When you consider that the games are always available without DRM, are often heavily discounted in sales much like Steam and Epic Games, and come with a notoriously generous refund policy, this might sway certain gamers into making a purchase at GOG.com instead of a competitor.
Of course, if they're already using the GOG Galaxy 2.0 launcher for all their games, it's another click closer to making a purchase.
Time will tell if this is a successful strategy for the Polish company, but if good will were dollars, they'd no doubt be the wealthiest gaming company in the world by now.
The slow game
If you've read all of the above, and heard me sing GOG Galaxy 2.0's praises so much, you might be wondering to yourself, "why isn't everyone already using this if it's so good? Is he exaggerating?"
I think there's a certain barrier to entry for every gamer, and old habits die hard. For all those gamers who only have titles on one or two launchers, GOG Galaxy 2.0 probably doesn't serve any useful purpose. For everyone else, they've already downloaded and installed five or six launchers, so selling them another one, even at zero cost, might be too much to ask.
It's also entirely possible that the GOG Galaxy 2.0 gamble, the venture out of the box of traditional digital launcher thinking, might just be a smaller incentive than CD Projekt hoped. For me, the incentive was huge. Are you kidding me? Manage all my games in one place, for free? There's no way I wouldn't download that.
For others, it might just not be that relevant or enticing. Alternatively...
These things take time to shift. I remember when Steam was first released, and there was a begrudging slow uptake, until a few years later, when pretty much everyone had accepted it, and a few years after that, when it had become the best thing ever to happen to PC gaming. Gamers are an opinionated bunch, by and large, and opinions take time to evolve.
Unlike Epic Games' strategy, which relied on a huge cash dump into a business model that would only succeed by grabbing a sizeable portion of the PC gaming user base quite quickly, GOG Galaxy 2.0 doesn't really have too much to lose. If nobody ends up using it, okay, we sunk the initial development cost, but there's no ongoing costs to consider, and we'll try again.
It's easy to take big risks when you have big pockets, which isn't to say anything of Epic's performance in the marketplace, good or bad, just that a million dollars to Valve or Epic is a lot less of a risky waste than it would be for the likes of CD Projekt.
Each to their own
I think some might think this comes across as an attempt to "sell" GOG Galaxy 2.0. It's not intended that way. I have no horse in this race, and nothing to gain or lose according to whether you decide to give it a try or not.
I am in favour of "supporting the good guys" as it were, and GOG.com's business model is certainly a lot more consumer-friendly than most. (I am aware of crunch concerns at CD Projekt Red, the development studio, and this must also be considered when you decide who the "good guys" are.)
More than anything, I am in favour of having a decent time. After all, we play games to enjoy ourselves, and if the software we're using in order to get into these enjoyable games is clunky, confusing, or hard to use, wouldn't it be better if we changed that? Only you can decide that for yourself!