Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Is retro-piracy a legitimate way to see old games?

So you’ve got a bunch of old machines....
But they don’t make new games for these machines anymore, so who are you hurting by downloading some old ROM and disk images?

Well, the short answer is quite possibly nobody would, but, and of course there’s a ‘but’ … not all manufacturers want you to have those old games. Why? You ask. Well there are the fairly lucrative mobile-phone, hand-held, and on-line markets. Not to mention the various compilations that always seem to be amongst the first things to appear for every new console or other gaming platform. Quite a few older games have been re-released with a fair degree of monitory gain for little effort. Always a good thing if you are doing the selling. And the copyright holder do have the legal write to ‘just say no’ without giving, or having, any reason at all.
Having said that, and although there is no such legal thing as ‘Abandon Ware’ (the copyright always reverts to somebody), much of the software houses responsible for developing 8 and 16bit games have released these programs to the public domain, or otherwise given permission for them to be freely used and distributed. Ultimate – Play the Game, being a notable exception to this.

Most people do not pirate games for current generation consoles. Yes, you will always get the Pirates, but that has always been and will probably continue to be a relatively small sub-group of users. To the vast majority of consumers it’s ether morally wrong, just too much hassle, or both!

But for most there is a sliding scale… 
It’s perfectly ok to download all the ROM images for the Vectrex system for example, because these have all been put in the public domain.
It's also ok to download any free home-brew and demo software for any machine. Although  the legalities of actually running this type of software may be a bit more complex, especially where emulators are concerned.

You may also download any  programs for older systems like the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, BBC micro, Atari ST, and whatever else where permission has been given. A lot of this has been officially made avaialble as 'freeware' and term that shouldn't be confused with 'Abandon Ware', which dosn't legaly exist, remember!
But how big a step is it for you to also download say, the Ultimate games, where permission has expressly been refused? Would you intentionally download them anyway? Would you delete them if you got these game images in a bulk-download pack? Would you play if someone else illegally downloaded it?
So what about the newer systems? How about the original Playstation, SEGE Saturn, or  Dreamcast? After all the Dreamcast hasn't been officially supported for some time. Nothing is relying on these games for revenue, and you can simply burn a CD image and play it on any unmodified Dreamcast. It’s an easy and free way to see all those games you missed or imports you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

And what about the xBox… this was a relatively successful last-generation console, but Microsoft just cut production and support dead. If they have washed their hands of the machine, does this make it fair-game for piracy now? Twenty minutes with the right software (relatively easily downloaded free from the internet) can give you a soft-modified xBox that is capable of playing copied disks or ISO images loaded straight onto the hard disk.

What about the PS2, that wasn't officialy retired. Is that a big step away from xBox? What harm is there in copying this out-of-date and unsupported software. Isn’t this a victim-less crime?
Well the software manufacturers would argue a very loud ‘No’ and it’s easy to see that they would want to protect their intellectual copyright. After all, much of those games have their sequels on the latest generation of machines and it could be argued that pirating on defunct machines could damage future sales, although it has also been counter-argued that allowing people to freely access these older programs can in-fact increase sales of the newer ones. Again there haven’t been any definitive studies done to ether prove or disproves any of this.

Of course piracy runs the gauntlet of systems with the bleeding-edge taking us right up to modern-day…
The top end of the scale is the person who is happy to openly pirate new games for the most current systems, often claming that the games are over-priced to the point of being legally inaccessible. And there are others who simple admit they don’t want to pay when they can get the software for free!

Now I’m not condemning nor condoning any reasons I’ve mentioned here, although I do think some hold more weight than others.
So what do you think? Are you against piracy on principle, or is it something that just doesn’t figure in your gaming. Even, or maybe especially, if you haven’t considered it before, where would you put yourself on this scale?

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