Collection Of Rare Japanese Games Leaks Online Without Owner's Permission

Earlier this week, a group of game archivists revealed that a trove of over 70 lost Japanese video games has surfaced, including the third game in the obscure Horror Tour trilogy of point-and-click horror games. The release of these games, from the personal stash of a Japanese collector, has touched off a debate about how unreleased or obscure games should, or shouldn't, be shared.

An extremely rare Japanese game called Labyrinthe resurfaced this week on YouTube. Screenshot: Labyrinthe (YouTube)

A YouTuber named Saint posted a video playthrough of Horror Tour on June 4 along with a link to download the ROM. But it turned out that the information was taken without permission from the original collector, potentially making it even more unlikely that rare lost games such as these will be publicly shared in the future.

The first Horror Tour was released on PC and Sega Saturn in Japan, and on PC only in the West as Zeddas: Servant of Sheol. Its sequel, Horror Tour 2, never left Japan.

Labyrinthe, the third game in the series, is about solving puzzles in a castle in order to defeat an evil demon, and is even more obscure. As Vice's Motherboard noted in its report earlier this week, the game is a phantom listing on retail sites such as Amazon Japan and, according to a 2014 article at Hardcore Gamer 101, was so rare some people remained convinced the game was never actually released.

Based on the four-hour playthrough of the game uploaded by Saint, however, it's very much real.

How the ROM came into their possession has become an even larger issue in the days since the discovery was shared, however. Japanese collectors can be very private about the unreleased games in their possession, only sharing them within small circles of other collectors they trust.

"I'm generalising a lot here, but I think it's important to understand that there's a fundamental difference between Japanese and Western software archivists," Frank Cifaldi, a fellow archivist and founder of the Video Game History Foundation, told Kotaku in an online chat.

"For the most part, Japanese archivists don't widely share their material, I believe out of respect to the original authors. This isn't 'wrong', it's just a different approach, and one that I think we ought to empathise with and maybe even learn from. They tend to make the material safe, but keep access limited to a trusted group of like-minded people."

"The guy who found and uploaded the game has uploaded a ton of Japanese PC games into a Mega folder which was only posted in the forums of a private torrent site," Saint wrote in the video's description. One of the folders within that mega folder read "DO NOT UPLOAD". That's the one Labyrinthe came from, which according to Saint was uploaded nearly a year ago.

While the owner threatened to stop uploading games if stuff from that folder was leaked, Saint decided to do it anyway, noting how rarely anything there appeared to get updated. "If he gets pissed about me uploading the link I don't care." Saint did not respond to a request by Kotaku for comment about the matter.

The leak of Labyrinthe - and 67GB worth of other obscure, unreleased or otherwise previously unavailable Japanese PC games - has caused a new debate about how to balance efforts to preserve gaming history with the need to build trust among the collectors whose help is central to that effort.

Phil Salvador, a digital archivist who maintains the blog The Obscurity charting his experience researching old, rare and lost games, originally tweeted out Saint's video and listed other games that were in the collection, including a sports game called Cookie's Bustle and a third game in the poorly documented Yellow Brick Road series.

In a blog post, he also explained the games had been circulating since earlier in the year but no one had shared them publicly due to the personal relationships and circumstances under which the games were obtained.

Salvador, who is in possession of the collection, originally wrote that he planned to begin uploading them to the Internet Archive. Those plans have changed, though, due to the sensitive nature of how the leak came about, and he has since "redacted" his earlier blog post, saying he was overeager and doesn't want to fray relations any further.

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"Leaks like this happen from time-to-time, like the unplanned early release of the Pokemon Gold Space World ROM this month, but not often at this scale," Salvador said in an email to Kotaku.

"What all this tells me is that there's a collector who was doing extensive work preserving games that no one else was focusing on, but they weren't ready to share it yet. Someone within their circle betrayed their trust, which is how all this came out. While it's exciting and important for more games to be available publicly, I worry about this discouraging collectors for doing similar preservation work in the future."

Salvador has since updated his original blog post with a short paragraph reiterating his belief that leaks are not a sustainable way of working to preserve old games and gaming culture.

"Private collectors have saved historical objects that otherwise might've been lost, and rather than demonizing people who are reluctant to make their collections available, we have to collaborate with them on the importance of preservation," Salvador wrote.

With so many more digital troves out there like this one, Cifaldi believes it's important not to alienate the actual collectors in Japan doing much of the legwork for the short-term gain of being able to play the games immediately.

"There are only so many people actually doing this in Japan, we can't afford to lose any of them," he said. "If the cost of these games being online right now is that we lose what appears to be a tremendously talented archivist, I don't know if this is really worth celebrating."


Comments

    Thieves discussing the ethics of thievery.

    (Okay, okay, I'm being hyperbolic, but almost none of these unreleased collections are acquired fully legally and above board - so the discussions between the groups is somewhat absurd).

    That being said, Digital Preservation is incredibly important, and I would hope that having wide preservation where thru sheer mass the chance of losing something is low is preferable.

      You can argue per the letter of the law, but at what point does this become ridiculous? Copyright infringement isn't theft because it's duplication of data, for a start. There's plenty of ways for developers and publishers to make money off their back catalogue - it's up to them to choose to do it. If they show no interest, then they've lost literally nothing by somebody dumping the ROM. Even if you want to take the absurdist "potential sales" route, there never was any potential sale if there was no way to purchase it legally (and the second hand market doesn't count - because the devs didn't get paid for that purchase either).

      If you can't actually buy the game (or whatever) anymore, or the devs simply aren't getting anything from the sale, then the law becomes ridiculous.

        Japan does actually have some vague laws covering orphaned work, if the original copyright owner cannot be found, you can apply to the Ministry of Culture to have to copyright removed.

          Which is fine, but again, sometimes the law is ridiculous.

          I suspect finding the copyright holder (or some company claiming to be the copyright holder) of these works is not that difficult, so having them declared part of the public domain would be difficult. Most games have copyright notices of some form, so in most cases it is probably possible to track down that company or its successor in interest.

    It's probably worth noting that uploading games (and other media) onto the internet without authorization is a criminal offense in Japan which can result in imprisonment. It's very likely that collectors don't share their collections widely in case of this.

    There's a lot of context missing I'm going to assume, but that Saint fella comes off as a bit of a douche nozzle regardless.
    Seems a little bit more interested in his 5 mins of YouTube fame.

    "but keep access limited to a trusted group of like-minded people"

    That's where they lost me, some sort of "only our holier-than-you club can play this, nerr nerr".

      Ditto. Not only does the Japanese collecting/preservasion community have an introvertedness problem, but an elitism one too. There're plenty people with this mentality that's basically "I paid for this and it's mine, why should I share it?" - there's also a much higher chance of legal repurcussions for Japanese when uploading pirated digital media, no matter the intent. That's what makes it so difficult for people like Joseph Redon to do their job. He's putting so much effort into videogame preservation, but isn't allowed to put it online anywhere for people to see, and Japan's non-profit laws make it difficult for organisations such as his to do what they need to do.

      He lost my sympathy when the guy making the video explained that the original uploader was mainly upset about deterioration in resale value of the original when he sells it.
      That's not a moral position, it's a commercial one.
      If true, it also means he has good reason to be afraid of being arrested, since commercial copyright violations can have some pretty nasty penalties attached, whereas noncommercial copyright violation (at least in Oz) involves relatively small penalties.

    Because something is digital, people just don't give a shit.
    If "Saint" - cool name... *snigger* - decided it was his duty to crack open someone's wine collection and share it around, people would rightly think he was an A1 prick. Never mind the guy he took these games from probably spent as long, and got as much enjoyment from, collecting them and sharing it occasionally with friends of his choosing as much as someone with a fine wine.

      It somewhat matters that it was digital, because that’s transformative to scarcity. Fine wine is scarce in general, but the software is arguably only scarce because the owner is making it scarce. That, in turn, has an impact on the question on who is depriving whom of what.

      Yeah, your analogy might work if the wine was literally infinite, and it didn't stop the owner at all from continuing to enjoy it in its fullest, and it had no bearing on their enjoyment at all.

      From the sound of it, the original collector had made the games available in a public share and only gave the URL to a few people. The URL was subsequently posted to a forum somewhere, which is where Saint found it.

      The only thing the collector has lost here is that some of the games in his collection are no longer quite as rare any more. Given that the collector is not the copyright owner though, and likely acquired parts through not entirely legal means, it isn't clear why other people should have a duty to protect the rarity of his collection.

    I don’t think this article elaborated enough on why the collectors don’t share these things outside of a small circle of people. Is it due to concerns regarding legality? Or is it just to make themselves an elite group with exclusive access to this software? My sympathies are likely to shift pretty significantly depending on that.

    I know that the article touched on the idea of respecting the rights of the original author, but that’s often a bit of a moot point for software rights that are neither under the control of the creatives who worked on it, or under the control of an entity that even possesses the means to re-release it.

      It really is a mix of all of those things.

      I think in some cases at least it's the idea that because they paid so much to secure the "only known physical copy" or whatever, if they dump and share the ROM it would then devalue their investment.

    Such poppycock. Ask any creator, anywhere: unless specifically stated wishes against it, the best way to "honour" them is to allow their works to see the light. These unreleased games are creations of people who put their tears and blood into it for a not insignificant amount of their lives, just to see them canned for reasons external to the process of creation (most likely someone making money decisions). Nobody other than private collectors are going to see a cent coming from those games, ever. Might as well let them be discovered and maybe enjoyed by people before their creators die.

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