Why you should check out GOG Galaxy 2.0

One launcher to rule them all

15 March 2020

It's nice to keep things organised. Household bills, the inside of your car, dog toys. Okay, that last one is impossible, for sure, but either you sway towards the type of person to keep things neat and organised, or… well, we all know at least one of the other type.

Launchers everywhere

For a long while, Steam, the pioneering platform behind digital distribution of games (anywhere, not just on PC), was the market leader, and, to some extent, it still is. But as the catalogues of other major publishers grow and grow, they see more of a benefit in creating their own launchers, to compete with, or simply exist alongside, Steam.

It makes perfect sense if you think about it commercially. Steam takes 30% of the revenue of any major publisher whose games are listed on its platform. With their own platforms, this is cut to 0. Of course, there are still many costs associated with running one's own launcher, such as the bandwidth required to allow users to download games and patches, and there's always payment fees, but this is likely to be a fraction of the 30% Steam is asking for.

Sure, Epic Games famously charges a lot less of a margin on each individual sale, but 12% is still more than 0, so we still see platforms like Uplay, Origin and Blizzard (formerly battle.net).

Brand loyalty and availability

Those who are loyal to Steam or another online platform might prefer to get their games from a single place, regardless of whether they might cost a little more. One of the main reasons for this might be that there's a single list of games, and it might dissuade anyone from purchasing a game directly from, say, Uplay, if a Steam equivalent is available.

For a long time, brand loyalty was driven by the awful quality of these other launchers (Games for Windows Live, anyone?), but nowadays, things are looking different. It might not be great to have a dozen separate launchers installed, all with different login credentials and a different look and feel, but that slim difference might be all it takes to remove the motivation to stay with Steam, or any other single platform.

Then there's the fact that not all games are available on all platforms, often making gamers choose between adopting a new platform, or missing out. The FOMO is strong with the gaming crowd, for sure.

Example of the Uplay user interface

Where's my game?

Obviously, there's a problem finding your games, eventually. It's fine when you have a limited collection, but with the rise of indie gaming and the generally favourable pricing of PC games and bundles, it's easy for a collection to get out of hand.

All of a sudden, you're not sure which platform you need to load to play a particular game. After all, just because Ubisoft published the game, it doesn't mean you'll definitely find it on Uplay. Maybe it's on Steam. Heck, even Twitch and Discord have their own game libraries and launcher platforms these days.

Is it worth loading up and signing into half a dozen launchers to find that game? Maybe it's just easier to play something on Steam…

Origin user interface example

A different design philosophy

The concept behind GOG Galaxy 2.0 is actually quite innovative. Although you need a GOG account to use it, you don't need to purchase anything on GOG.

Instead, it's a launcher that attempts to integrate with all of the other launchers, so you need only run one program on your computer, and it will detect and list everything you own, automatically, as well as launch that one game you weren't sure where to find.

The integrations list is huge, and third party integrations are also available, if you're using a platform that isn't supported out of the box. You can integrate with as many as you like, as well.

For the most part, all the individual launchers don't need to be running on your PC in order to list games, although some will be quietly booted up in the background when you try to launch a game. That's a launcher-specific requirement though, not something GOG is doing.

GOG integrations example
GOG Twitch games list

Feature-rich

There's a whole bunch of ways of filtering games as well. If you prefer to see just games on a particular launcher, it's right there on the side of the screen, and you can filter games by genre, name, and everything else you might need.

One you click on a game, you'll get a preview much like other launchers, but it will try to incorporate data from various public sources, as well as your own play data, to get you the full picture.

Due to the way different systems work, you might not see achievements or play time for all of them. But if there's a feature available, it's likely to be here in GOG Galaxy 2.0. My preview page for Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has play time, achievements, images, description, and even friend progress, showing that the Steam integration works very well.

GOG preview of Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

Although friend list integration is pretty good for most integrations, chat is not always supported. For example, although I can see and chat to all of my friends on GOG, it's not like I'm going to have many of those! Mostly my friends would exist on Steam, and it would suck to need to add the same friends on every platform.

For Xbox right now, you can see friends and what they're up to, but you can't communicate with them. It's a partial victory here, and it's definitely better than nothing, but it would be nice to have a seamless friend list and simply be able to communicate with anyone regardless of where they are.

This might well remain a dream, because each chat system is bound to use its own behind-the-scenes magic, and it's going to require collaboration and good will from a lot of companies in order to get it all working.

GOG friend list

What's in it for GOG?

GOG, run by CD Projekt, who also own CD Projekt Red, the company behind the massive Witcher and Cyberpunk 2077 franchises, is totally free to use. So why develop it, given that it gives the ability to run games on other companies' launchers? None of these companies are paying GOG for this service.

A lot of GOG's practices have been highly praised for their consumer-friendliness. For example, everything available on the GOG store is available DRM-free. Which means, there is nothing but morality to stop you from making a purchase and then sharing the game with all of your friends.

That's the key for GOG and a core part of their philosophy: "we know there will be piracy no matter what, so let's be as positive as possible towards our customers, show that we trust them, and in turn, people will be motivated to spend money with us."

Has it worked?

Kind of. Reports emerged, like this one from TweakTown, that suggest that monetarily, it's not looking great. An increase in user base would help to boost revenue, and what's a better way to increase the user base than releasing a free and excellent launcher, that will potentially replace many other launchers, while also requiring users to sign up?

Although it's possible to use GOG Galaxy 2.0 without ever buying anything from the GOG store, I think that it will motivate people to at least check it out, and motivate some towards this store over others, given how consumer-friendly the platform is overall.

This isn't definitely a recipe for success, nor would any business analyst tell you it is a winning approach, but when everyone else is making launchers that only serve their own needs, at the cost of customer experience, it's surely worth a try.

GOG Galaxy promo screen

Slowly but surely

The pace of development is slow. The GOG team said back in early 2019 that they had hoped to launch a beta of their new GOG Galaxy 2.0 product by the early summer, with a full release by August 2019. That was wildly optimistic, and it wasn't until December 2019 that the open beta became available.

Is it now fully released? There's still a large number of features wanted, but I guess I'd see this as a constant work in progress rather than a "release and forget", so whether it's open beta or "released", more features will be added over time.

These features are not being added quickly, though. Whether because of the poor financial performance of GOG as a whole, or shifting priorities for CD Projekt, there's only an update every few months, often bringing a scant selection of new features, and mostly just bug fixes or enhancements.

Should I use this?

Yes, use it. It's free, it works very well, and it's pretty to look at. Even though I said development has been slower than I'd hoped, and some integrations and other features are either missing or… wonky, it's still a very functional launcher and for the last 9 months (since the closed beta), I've been using it in place of Steam-and-all-the-other-launchers as my main place from which to launch games.

It obviously lacks some of the features of Steam. For example, you can't see user reviews or Workshop content, so these are things you'll be switching over to Steam to look at.

If you're the type of person who is only really interested in one launcher's products anyway; suppose you only buy your games from Steam and never anywhere else; you'd find very limited use in GOG Galaxy 2.0.

For everyone else, it's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned. It's a great platform for searching, listing, and launching all my games, and I have high hopes for it in the future.

This piece was not endorsed or sponsored by GOG or CD Projekt in any way.

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