Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ultima, Gog, and the demise of Abandonware

     So apparently Gog is now charging 5.99 for Ultima 1, 2, and 3 in a collective pack. Ultima is a great game. I will most definitely give it that. I started playing through the first Ultima game again a couple months ago and you know what? I had a really good time with it for a couple of hours. We are talking about games that helped shape the future of game design. So now here they are in the Gog catalog for everyone to purchase.

     Let’s take a step back here. Imagine it is 1998. Remember those days on the internet? That was back when it was still cool to have AOL, and everyone was still using dial up. At that time, what was the best way to get ahold of a copy of a game like Police Quest 1 or Wing Commander or Ultima? There was no Gog that’s for sure. At that time some of those games were still being sold as part of collections. Ultima for example came in a collection which had all the classic Ultima games for 20 bucks. The price actually hasn’t changed that much considering if you buy all the Ultima games today off of gog, you’re going to pay 17.97. But the greater reality at that time was that classic PC games as a whole were not commercially available. The only ways to get them if they weren’t lucky enough to be part of a collection was to take a risk and eBay the old diskettes.

     Abandonware was the answer to that problem. The data still existed. No one was selling it. Consumers still wanted it. So the answer was to give it away. Abandonware was never legal. It was always piracy, but copyright holders looked the other way. There were always exceptions to this rule though. Some game companies felt that newer games wouldn’t sell as well if they had to compete with their own product from twenty years ago. But these companies were few and abandonware sites which omitted their products could stay open for years and years. Some sites still are. Those sites were serving a purpose to preserve that piece of history. Most sites came complete with their own flower mission statement about humanity and the spirit of the early computer game designer.

     Enter They sell old games! The Good Old Games catalog looks a lot like the shelves of a game stop back in 1998. They most recently added a game called Nox to their catalog which I remember seeing on the shelves of a game stop for 5 bucks. I wanted it bad, but my pockets were empty. This was well before game stop became the hated commercial monster they are today.

The part I have a hard time with is when a game like Ultima 1 which has been freely distributed for over a decade enters the Gog catalog and is removed from free public consumption. Someone made Ultima and thus owns the rights to it. Gog most certainly acquired the right to distribute Ultima in a legal fashion. But is what they are doing good for the preservation of “good old games”? Maybe it is. Who knows. There are things they do that give me hope that they aren’t monsters. The fact that all of their games are DRM free gives me hope. The fact that I can save the setup file and actually OWN the games I buy gives me hope. The fact that they have brought to light games that the abandonware crowd could NOT like Nox gives me hope. So I would like to close this by talking to Gog directly.

Dear I wish you all the best of luck. Do great things. Make great profits. Finally, fuck you. I’m not paying 6 bucks for Ultima.


  1. In the end, I agree 110% with this article. Every word of it.

    But ... how much IS Ultima 1-3 on store shelves right now? Am I missing something? Are you getting games I'm not getting at Gamestop or Wal-Mart? How about Amazon ... how much is it there brand new "off the shelf".

    EA doesn't care how much it goes for used or from an individual on eBay or Amazon. They don't get anything from that. They only care about what THEY can get out of it. The fact that they're agreeing to put these old games on GoG is strange enough as it is.

    For someone who loves the Ultima series and wants to LEGALLY own the games (as in "I shelled out my money for these games and got them legally when I otherwise couldn't") that is a small price to pay. And the extras that would normally come with the boxed copy? They're right there.

    Yeah, $5.99 a pop a WAAAAAAY overpriced, but it's the fact that you can get them full and legal, in the clear with the extras with NO DRM. And we know how much EA fucking LOVES DRM.

    For the right audience, this is a god-send. heh

  2. I agree with your article, I used to use Abandonware sites all of the time but haven't in years. Why? I have been too entrenched with either freeware or titles I bought that turned out to be more awesome than I thought.

    As far as price goes, yes, $5.99 seems high for Ultima 1-3 (especially when EA themselves give it away for free periodically, probably without the maps and such and with free DRM, but still, free). When you break it down though, $6 for 3 great titles like the original Ultima Trilogy is not that bad, that is $2 a game and how many hours will you get out of just one of them?

    I don't see games dropping below $5 to $7 often, at least in a longterm way of thinking. Why? Payment processors like Paypal charge out the butt in fees to process credit card payments and I am sure EA is not exactly giving GOG the rights to these titles for nothing. I am not sure how Apple sells stuff for $0.99 and still makes money (probably have a sweet deal with payment processors somewhere, one that companies like GOG simply don't have the volume to work with, or at a similar percentage per sale).

    As far as former Abandonware that is overpriced, has anyone seen the 3DS Virtual Store or whatever it is called? $3.99 for Alleyway on the original Gameboy? Same for most of their black and white Gameboy games. This is either publisher greed or payment processors, or both, affecting the prices.

    At least with GOG games, you can take them to a new computer if your current one dies, or you just decide to go on vacation, without lugging the original computer around. Try that with an Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii virtual purchase. Not going to happen.

  3. Very good read man. I agree with you. We talked about this allready but Ill say it again. GOG is on one hand breathing life into forgotten PC games, but is on the other hand destroying a community that has been doing that for years.

    I dont believe the Abbandonware scene will dissapear, it will only become small, and focus eventually on games that are so obscure they will be abandonned forever
    (Mythos? Arcade Volleyball?
    Stickybear Town Builder?
    Gertrudes Secrets? WTF?!!!!)

    Oh well, GOG has done some good and some bad, but Ultima 1-5 should be free and stay free in my opinion.

  4. I just recently discovered Are you saying it's illegal to download stuff from that website?

  5. Some stuff yes and some stuff no. A small few of those games have been released to the public domain, but the large portion of it is illegal. However, abandonia remains open because when a game goes back into the market, or if they get contacted by a developer, it goes off the site. For example, try to download Wing Commander from that site and I bet it wont be there now that it's on gog.

  6. This is a touchy subject to bring up, at least so far, it hasn't deteriorated to link dumping or trashing companies.

    @vintagevideogamegeek For the most part, the titles on are illegal to download. There are many companies that simply don't care and won't pursue legal action, then there are companies that seem to want to be the Metallica of gaming. It is a crapshoot as to who is going to do what and when though.

    For anyone interested, here is an interesting read:

    Old but still interesting.

    For those out there looking for legal abandonware to download (you may be surprised at what games companies have released into the public domain, or at least into the freeware "don't ask for support" area).

    And, then we have this site below that focuses a lot on shareware titles that are released as freeware (they do have many shareware demos of copyrighted, i.e. not freeware, titles like Sonic CD on PC).

    I like this part of the site though:

    Rather interesting checking out some of the licenses some titles were released under.

    If you are interested in the full list in one place (as complete as possible, I am sure):

    And finally, another site that collects commercial freeware titles:

    Shoot, someone could do a series of shows on commercial freeware titles I bet.

  7. According to this article abandon ware sites are admittedly pirate sites that are "preserving" gaming past by making games that are no longer available for retail readily available. Now that the games are readily available for retail there's a problem somewhere? And they might not be preserved somehow? Despite being more readily available?

    There's a disconnect in logic somewhere. Five dollars for a classic game is a small pittance especially if there's any pretense of abandon ware solely existing for the preservation of games that weren't readily available in a retail space. The article reads like BOO HOO ITS NOW SLIGHTLY LESS MORALLY AMBIBUOUS TO COMMIT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THEFT! NOW I HAVE TO ADMIT TO MYSELF I'M ILLEGALLY DOWNLOADING SHIT INSTEAD OF IGNORING COPYRIGHT LAW JUST BECAUSE A GAME ISN'T ON A SHELF.

  8. I don't believe that to say abandonware was never legal and always piracy is correct but I guess that would depend on what you consider the proper definition of the term. As you said, some companies released games to the public domain or no longer care for the most part. Others no longer exist so I guess the rights get turned over to someone but perhaps not. I suppose if the original copyright holder dies, the rights get passed on the the next of kin. Either way, your tone denotes contempt and sounds like you're calling everyone who ever downloaded any 'abandonware' as a petty thief. What's your stake in it that puts a wild hair up your a**?

  9. I can still own the rights to a particular work, allow the public to download it freely, and it is not a criminal act unless I choose to pursue it as such. It would be up to my discretion. I don't have to officially declare something public domain for it to be legal, I simple reserve the right to choose.

  10. I would also like to add that most of these old titles on GOG.COM are using DOSBox, which is free, I enable the running of said software on said hardware. These companies didn't create there own emulators to keep their titles relevant in most cases and without the advent of mostly freely available emulators hardly anyone would have the vintage hardware or software prerequisite to running these programs in the first place. DOSBox to my understanding is released under the GNU license which I believe means the property right owners can pull that revoke that right any time they choose. GOG.COM, EA and whoever else should be kissing DOSBox's a** and paying them royalties for making these titles relevant in the market today. Most of these titles would be truly dead and generating nothing in revenue without free software like DOSBox so in essence GOG.COM, EA and whoever else are biting the hand that feeds in a certain respect.