Are GOG's retro Disney games worth buying?

In a surprise move, Good Old Games is selling off 16-bit era Disney games, but the prices feel high. Is there a sensible middle ground?
I’ve now been running my year-long retrogaming challenge for some 18 weeks (which means, amongst other things, that I’ve got a long way to go), but for the most part when it comes to recommending how to actually (legally) acquire games, I’ve been tilting folks towards eBay.
(Disclaimer: My eBay links are affiliate links; if you do buy a game that way I get a very small percentage, which assists in a very small way with the running costs of Fat Duck Tech. Your patronage is appreciated where feasible).
The reason for doing so is pretty simple; for a lot of titles, especially those based around some kind of IP (TV, movie, cartoon or such), the rights are complex, often shifting hands over the years. Many companies go out of business, and when they do the rights to whoever wrote the code vanishes away with it. That leaves licensed titles in a very peculiar limbo, and often in a position where even if folks did care about reviving them, it would be nigh on impossible to do so.
It’s one of those things that companies like Good Old Games has been particularly good at; finding out who the rights holders are and offering retro PC titles at pleasing prices to those of us who enjoy older games, whether for game quality or sheer nostalgic value. Still, most of what they’ve got is straight up direct original IP stuff, whether you’re a fan of Sensible Soccer or Dungeon Keeper.
So I was tad surprised when GOG announced overnight that it’s released a trio of classic console games to its service. Disney titles first released on consoles (though I’m pretty sure these are the PC ports of same) based on Aladdin, The Lion King and The Jungle Book, to be precise.

In one sense, they must have been easy IP to source the owners of, because once Disney owns an IP, it never lets it go, and all three of those games are based on what were either classic or current Disney animation projects at the time. Having been developed by multiple outside companies, however, the rights there could well have been a bit tricky.
Still, they’re all quite solid platform games, that very much being the 16-bit style of the time. I used to own all three, but my collection is now down to just one of them; Disney’s Aladdin (Megadrive version), which is the exact same version GOG’s advertising it’s selling. A wise move, because the SNES version was the weaker of the two. Not often you can say that about a cross platform SNES/Megadrive title, but it is what it is.

Wait... Aladdin is PRINCE ALI? I'm... stunned. Never saw that coming.
Wait… Aladdin is PRINCE ALI? I’m… stunned. Never saw that coming.

Oh yeah. Um. Spoiler alert. Sorry about that.

So a win all around for retro gaming fans everywhere, right?
Maybe not. There’s a sticking point here, and it’s a tough one to reconcile. GOG is asking for $12 per title at launch, or $27.27 for all three.
When I saw that pricing, I’ll be honest; it felt high to me for digitally delivered titles of this style.
Now, if I was buying actual cartridges, then that’d be an OK price; indeed a quick check of eBay for Aladdin specifically suggests you can easily pay quite a bit more than that.
But a digital file only for $12? A tougher sell, I think. And that made me stop and think why.

It’s $12 “on special”

GOG notes that all three games are $12 (your local currency may vary; I’m using the price quoted to Australians here) “on special”, because the regular price will apparently be $13.59 per title.

Are you earwormed with "Bear Necessities" yet? No? How about now?
Are you earwormed with “Bear Necessities” yet?
How about now?

I totally understand how bargain pricing works to entice customers, but I suspect GOG’s sliding perilously around Australian consumer law here, because if the titles have never been offered at $13.59 (and they haven’t), it’s not actually a “saving”. An “introductory price”, maybe.
Legal quibbles aside (and I’m not a lawyer), it also doesn’t quite work when the price is at that level. Indeed, it makes even the $12 price seem high because there’s a layer of “pay this now or pay even more” thinking behind it.

The piracy pachyderm in the proscenium

First and foremost, while it’s not legal, there’s little doubting that those who just “want” these games could acquire them and emulators to play them on quite quickly and easily. It’s not that which fusses me, because I don’t have all that much time for that much entitlement play.
Ignoring the fact that it exists, however, is arguably foolish. You can’t compete with “free”, but $12 is a fair distanceĀ from that.

Priced to profit, not to sell

Disney is a huge media empire, and it likes money. I can’t say I’m privy to whatever deal GOG struck with Disney, but I presume that most of the money is probably flowing to the House of Mouse in this case.
While GOG will have to pass most of it on to Disney, I doubt the original programmers are getting a fresh cut. It’s a pure profit play for Disney and nobody else at this stage.

Hakuna Matata. Now, BITE HIS FACE OFF.
Hakuna Matata.

But it’s a price that’s built for profit, not to particularly entice sales. Yes, you could pay more than that for a physical cartridge, but then you’d have physical goods. You can play it. You can choose not to play it. You can even sell it to someone.
GOG has to compete with that, and I’ll be frank here.
Most of my GOG purchases have been on-a-whim-because-the-price-is-great type stuff. I think I paid around $2 for Sensible World Of Soccer, and that was a great price and well worth it, even if the PC build is a little wobbly in places. Ditto Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Settlers and many others. I bought them because they sat in a very comfortable space where I knew even if the rosy nostalgic glow didn’t hold up, I could get just a couple of bucks worth of fun out of them and that would be enough.
Conversely, though, paying $12 for a digital game sits outside that space, because at that price I feel like I may as well cast around for eBay bargains for actual physical games. Yes, I may end up paying more than $12, but then I’ll get more. It’s impressive that GOG’s managed to score this particular deal, but they’ve got to be priced a little more competitively than that to actually entice me.
For what it’s worth, it’s the exact same reason I own relatively few Nintendo Virtual Console games; Nintendo’s pricing on many of those games is on the steeper side, so it doesn’t get my cash. I don’t get to play those games, but that’s OK; I figure I’ve got a towering enough pile of shame to keep me going anyway.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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