Abandonware: The Ethics and Essentials

Written by Joe Martin

January 24, 2009 | 09:47

Tags: #abandonware #pirate #torrent

Companies: #gogcom

Heroes of Abandonware

Thankfully though, in this grim and mostly copyrighted situation there are a number of good people out there who are fighting to make abandonware more available.

The motives for doing this can vary greatly of course and, while there’s a large amount of people who just want to download free, old games, there’s also a lot of folks who want to see the software saved and preserved.

Preserving these games serves two uses – not only do you ensure it can survive even if physical copies are destroyed, but you can keep it until the copyright runs out and it becomes true abandonware. Once the copyright has expired games are often legally distributable, though it’s definitely worth checking the nuances of your country's copyright law if you want to avoid more of those angry letters.

The usual sender of those nasty snail-mails by the way is the ESA – the Entertainment Software Association. A US-based trade association for the computer and videogames industry, the ESA has a partial stake in a huge amount of developers and publishers. Though this enables the group to do a lot of cool things, like hosting E3 and working with the ESRB for industry standards, it also does a lot of work to combat copyright infringement.

Abandonware: The Ethics and Essentials Is Abandonware Legal?
Many companies release older games for free, as Bethesda have done with Elder Scrolls: Arena

Battling the ESA over the status of many abandonware games though are plenty of different groups, such as the Official Abandonware Ring and the Internet Archive. There are even some companies which get involved in the abandonware scene for personal profit.

These groups tend to meet with differing levels of success though and, while the Internet Archive has successfully attained licenses to collect and preserve some titles that would commonly be classed as abandonware, it is unable to make them available for download. The Official Abandonware Ring meanwhile constantly treads dangerous ground by listing sites (like Abandonia and C:DOS) that offer downloads of disputed games, as well as lobbying publishers to make old titles abandonware.

At the same time it’s also worth mentioning that there are a number of publishers and developers out there who do work to make their catalogues openly available. A prime example of this is id Software, who has always held a policy of releasing the source code to its older games. True, the company hasn’t released the games themselves, but the process of releasing the code has done a lot for the communities around these games and other ones built on the same engines.

Abandonware: The Ethics and Essentials Is Abandonware Legal?
Some developers, like id Software, choose to support gamers by releasing source code

There are other developers and publishers too which keep to a similar strategy, releasing whole versions of older and now unprofitable titles to help interest players in games that are on sale. Revolution Software has done this, releasing free versions of Beneath a Steel Sky and Lure of the Temptress with no strings attached.

If you’re after old games that are better supported though then a good place to start is usually GoodOldGames, which operates an online distribution platform similar to Valve’s Steam service, but one that specialises in only old, good games.

GOG.com is constantly seeking out the rights to distribute games that are no longer on sale or widely available, providing a legal marketplace for games that many might mistake for abandonware. Even better, because GOG is selling very old games all the prices are reduced – everything on the site is either $5.99 or $9.99 USD, coming with a bevy of extras and guaranteed compatibility.

Speaking of actually playing the games, it’s time we got down to what everyone is really interested in and take a look at some of the best abandonware games out there – though we still recommend checking their legitimacy before you download them.
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