Piracy Is The Only Thing Keeping Many Old Video Games Alive

Pirating new video games is a crime. But there's long been a rather grey area around the piracy of old games. And when I say old, I don't mean 2008 old. I mean 1988 old.

Sure, the blockbusters turn up on services like Nintendo's Virtual Console, and original entries in still-running franchises can be bundled and sold to a new audience, but they're the 1%. What about the 99%? The Amiga games that scored a 6/10, the NES platformer that sold 1700 copies and nobody can even remember its name?

They're important too, yet without the act of piracy, many of them wouldn't exist anymore. This great piece over on Technologizer, called Why History Needs Software Piracy, examines the conundrum, arguing that "If...copy protection schemes had been foolproof, as intended, and copyright law had been obeyed, most of the programs published on those fading disks would now be gone forever. Many cultural touchstones of a generation would have become extinct due to greed over media control."

Given the popularity of MAME and people playing old SNES and C64 games on emulators it's probably preaching to the converted for you lot, but it's an interesting read regardless.

Why History Needs Software Piracy [Technologizer]


    For as long as I can remember, many games software companies change who have made their money give away their games for free after what looks like 10 years (I think it's 10). Wikipedia has or used to have a page where you could download these games for free and it was legal.

      Wikipedia has a list of commercial games released as freeware but there is also abandonware, which is in somewhat of a grey area.

        Abandonware isn't a grey area. It's black and white.

        In most cases the copyright for the software is still in effect unless specifically stated by the copyright holder, since it's impossible for any game to be released to public domain yet (between 50 and 70 years after the author's death/original publish date, depending on the country).

        Therefore pirating this software is still copyright infringement. However, due to their "abandoned" status, most copyright holders don't care about it...though there are those out there that do for various reasons (they want to re-release or remake the game, or continue the franchise, or something).

    Until Ducktales NES is availble on virtual console/psn/xbla wateva, I fully support piracy!

    *continues playing The Simpsons Arcade game on emulator*

    It's interesting the old games which used copy protection, like Kings Quest, Police Quest, Rise of the Dragon and Day of the Tentacle, which were defeated by photocopiers, are some of the most effective as the downloadable versions rarely include the manuals.

      Haha, I remember those. Quite a few Apogee games in particular used that method.

      I remember Spear of Destiny (the often forgotten successor to Wolfenstein 3D, which was a prequel) fondly as one that did it not by asking "what's the 3rd word on the 4th line of the 2nd page of the manual?" but "what's this enemy called?" and "how many eyelets are on the hero's shoes?" - which was information that was in the manual. Obviously these days you could probably google the answers but it can still be quite effective.

        Civ II had a really nice version of that.

        Of course if you knew your history/tech achievements its not much of a problem. But every now and then during the game it would throw a random question and symbol and asked you to identify which tech achievement it was (ie. coinage, monotheism, etc.) if you failed all your units would "leave your country because of your lack of knowldege" and you were left w/ all your colonies undefended and no army xD

    An 'emaulator'. What Plunkett is to the English language.

    I mean, seriously? It even has the goddamn red squiggles in the comments box. What is he writing this in? Does he post this shit without even looking up?


        It's just another quality post by Plunkett. What do you expect?

      Geez get over it! People make mistakes, not the end of the world ffs!

        It's not like he's posting on a forum. It's his job and he's shit at it. Can't he see the big red squiggles under words that announce "Attention, is this what you really mean?!?"

          Don't worry, 1. Your comments aren't read by him on the Australian site. 2. People have no doubt told him in the US site. 3. He makes fewer typos than a certain Japanese obsessed blogger on this site.

          He's a hell of a lot more worthwhile to this comunity than yourself, purely by virtue of the fact that he's actually contributing something, as opposed to bitching about what are realistically almost entirely understandable mistakes, and at the same time insignificant things.

          Don't dig it? Don't read it. That seems so obvious.

            Hey look! I misspelled 'community!'

            Ah I see we have a Plunkett-fanboy over here guys. You make me sick.

              Because not everyone jumps on a misguided bandwagon to have a go at a guy's spelling mistakes, they make you sick?

              I bet most of the people complaining about his spelling didnt even notice the mistake until it was pointed out

              In fact what I think is worse are the people who only read Plunkett articles for the sole purpose of finding the typos so they can win some "pissing contest" to say they were the first to find the mistake.

              That makes me sick

              OK, There's little I could add to DansDans response - It's pretty accurate.

              But if forced: come on. With the name you've chosen, how could it be possible that you're not simply an incredible astro-douche on a personal level, trying as desperately as you can to be antagonistic?

    "Why did you copy our game?" "I'm a historian."

    Without piracy, I would have never got a chance to play The Neverhood, and that would be a crime.

    If it weren't for piracy, I would have never played Day of the Tentacle.

    Could just make it if a game is X amount of years old and hasn't received a patch and isn't available for purchase you can download it for free.

    If the owners don't want that to happen then they have the game up for digital download for what price they want.

      While the new digital download system alleviates this somewhat, the whole reason companies don't do what you said is because they don't know "when" they can make more money off a dead product rather than "if."

      It's like when DVD discs came out movie companies delved into their old movie warehouses and transferred them to DVD so they could now sell them in fantastic digital quality!

    Ask anyone that had a C64. I bet 95% of their games were pirated with the awesome hacker intros and music before the game.

    All those gaming companies did well didn't they?

    Didn't they????


    If I can't find it at a hobby store or on GOG, then I pirate it. ^^

    Without piracy, I, an Australian, would never have played Earthbound, and that's terrible.

    Oh sure, I could have imported a NTSC SNES and then bought one of the few remaining copies of Earthbound off of eBay and then bought the necessary hardware to use foreign hardware in our powerports (or "wall holes" if you prefer), and that would have only cost untold hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

      2 words - Mother 3

      Nintendo had absolutely NO INTENTION of localising the game for English audiences, and it came down to fans to create a translation for each other.Heck once the translation was complete, they even released an unofficial walkthrough!


      Piracy is literally the ONLY way this game can be played by English gamers, and Nintendo still continues to spit in our faces

    Damn right!
    Right this very moment my three year old is playing Tekken 3, on the PC, with a Xbox controller!

    Bullshit, whats constructive about personal attacks? Even more importantly, the odd typo doesnt detract from the information- stop bring such a pedant. Kotaku isnt poetry, its a high volume news site with lotsa padding. Go read this week's cat and girl comic about getting something for nothing and still complaining.

      Finally - a commonsense post about this whole "Plunkett" hate. Its at the point where you almost dont want to read the comments that attached to a Plunkett article because you know someone who has never met the guy, who doesnt know the pressure he is under and who think they can do a better job is just waiting to bash him in a comment.

      My question is to the editor of this site: why do you allow this to occur? In its current state now, the hate towards Plunkett could be classed as cyber bullying, which is odd because only a few weeks ago you posted an article about bullying using online game services and the comments here were in support of stamping it out. Does this only go one way?

    That is until the companies start releasing them again as HD remasters or aniversary editions aka halo, god of war etc.

    This is where websites like GOG can fill in a niche and reintroduce us to all these old classics in a legal way.

    I admit though, it may be hard to find some of the much older, obscure games.

    Yeah the Plunkett hate makes me cringe. You dont like him, dont read it and shut up.

    Reading the linked article has lead to me deciding to back up all of my good iOS apps and to buy all future games as CDs where possible (and then back up their files). I might even share then once they are 25 years old.

    Very few people understand the pressure journalists - especially online journalists - are under. If he makes the odd typo who gives a shit? Seriously! He's probably got a mountain of inches to fill and deadlines looming. As if you've never let a typo go through.

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