GOG's Galaxy client, a DRM-free Steam alternative, enters open beta

GOG Galaxy

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If there’s anything I associate with GOG.com, it’s…well, good old games. But if there are any two things I associate with GOG.com, the other is probably the site’s commitment to DRM-free software. For years GOG’s been the yin to Steam’s yang, the free bird to Steam’s (actually sort of convenient) cage, the Ralph Nader to Steam’s Maggie Thatcher. Or something like that.

So it still seems a bit anathema to GOG’s whole image for the site to bring out its own launcher, GOG Galaxy. And yet I’m pretty damned excited to use it, now that it’s in open beta (conveniently right before the launch of The Witcher 3).

GOG Galaxy

Insert convenient Witcher 3 promo shot of Galaxy's achievements.

I mean, for one thing I’m not a hardcore proponent of DRM-free games. Sure, it’s nice, but I don’t exactly notice Steam’s shackles every day. Steam’s shackles are soft. Silky. And what I get in return is incredibly convenient, including friend’s lists, achievements, and automatic updating.

GOG Galaxy brings all that to your GOG library. Yes, you’ll finally have games that auto-update instead of logging into your GOG account and seeing all the games you downloaded and were too lazy to patch. That alone is worth it to me.

But GOG is taking a very GOG-style approach to Galaxy. From today’s announcement:

“GOG Galaxy is fully optional because you don’t need it to play games on GOG.com. If you want to, you can simply download your game via your browser, install it manually, and launch it offline, just like we've always done it on GOG.com. If you decide to use GOG Galaxy for some aspects of the convenience, you can still switch to offline mode at whim and play your games. Optional also means that all features in GOG Galaxy can be turned off. Not a fan of achievements or auto-updates? No problem, they're extras.”

Don’t want auto-updates? Turn them off. Did you auto-update a game and the developer’s patch broke some feature you used (a.k.a. mods)? Soon you’ll be able to roll back patches. Want to play offline? It’s there, and will I assume work better than Steam’s subpar offline mode. Want to play online against people who bought the game on Steam? That’s coming too!

GOG Galaxy

You can even prompt the client to download a DRM-free backup of every game onto a secondary drive, so if GOG ever threatens it’s shutting down again, you’ll at least know all your purchases are safe.

It seems pretty gentle, as far as launchers go—basically, cherry-pick the modern conveniences you want to take advantage of and turn the rest off. Or use it as a Steam replacement because you’re mad about Valve’s recent paid mods push. Or just don’t use Galaxy at all if you’re still living the 1998 dream and manually patching all your games. There’s a pretty broad spectrum you can inhabit here.

If you are interested, just head over to GOG and sign up for the Galaxy beta. It sounds like it might take a few days for everyone who signs up for an invite to receive said invitation, but I imagine GOG’s trying to get everyone in prior to The Witcher 3’s May 19 launch.

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