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A tour of GOG Galaxy, Steam's newest competitor

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Over the last few years GOG has evolved itself from a boutique purveyor of niche PC titles to a first-rate digital marketplace for both new and classic games. The next step in that process begins today, with the beta launch of GOG Galaxy. This new service effectively makes GOG more than just a website you visit. Now, it can be an application on your computer.

When Polygon visited GOG's offices in Warsaw this time last year, their vice president of North America was just getting ready to open new offices in Los Angeles. This year GOG has managed to publish several white whales — LucasArts series like X-Wing and SCUMM classics like Monkey Island. But their stated goal was to move beyond a rich back catalog, to create a service not unlike Valve's Steam.

"We wanted to have online features inside the online games, but we believe that those features should be totally optional," GOG's Guillaume Rambourg told Polygon. "If the player doesn't want to get online to upload his achievements to his GOG account, or simply he just doesn't want to play online, he will not be requested — ever — to get online to play the single-player mode. The core of the game will remain 100 percent DRM-free at all times."


The final feature set going live for some users today lives up to those design goals. Play what you want, when you want to — online or off. When you buy a game through GOG Galaxy, you'll be able to download a backup copy of the title that is completely DRM-free and store it wherever, however you wish. GOG Galaxy will also let you opt out of updates, and eventually help you manage the process of rolling back updates after they've occurred.

GOG Galaxy will also help players manage online matchmaking, potentially breathing new life into games that haven't been played widely in a generation. Add to that an achievements and statistics tracking system, friends list and chat functions, and you've got a pretty robust competitor to Valve with a compelling and diverse catalog of titles.

The first major test of GOG Galaxy will be the new Witcher game

"GOG Galaxy is as much about bringing the experience up to modern par, as it is about offering completely new features and standards," GOG's website says. "GOG Galaxy will make it possible for us to support new games that require online features, but it's equally important to offer an even better experience to our existing users, and to support our community in seamlessly transitioning between our website, into games and in between."

Of course, a big test of GOG Galaxy will come with the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on May 19, just two short week away. Valve famously ran into issues nearly 12 years ago when it launched Steam around the same time it released Half-Life 2. With luck, GOG Galaxy's smaller pool of beta users will allow the company to stress test the system before widely releasing it. When the public finally gets its hands on it, the experience will be better for it.

"With GOG Galaxy, we can start bringing new, big games to," Piotr Karwowski, vice president of online technologies said in a press release today. "The first major release will ... offer automatic updates, achievements and stats. We're getting ready to release and fully support even more AAA titles in the future."

Several of us here at Polygon have access to the GOG Galaxy beta, and we'll have more on our experiences with it as time goes on. You can find a photo tour of the Alpha, being replaced by today's Beta, below.

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