[Disclaimer: I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that this would make a great piece and excitedly jotted down some notes. At some point between then and now, perhaps following an ill-advised browse of some comments sections, I lost the will to try and write anything decent, or to try and generate, or participate in, any kind of discussion on the subject.

I’m adding it now because I still think it’s relevant to our area of interest, and I sort of want to get it off my chest, but if I were you I’d just scroll down to the links at the end.

Oh, and in case it doesn’t go without saying, the views expressed below are my own and do not represent those of the FFG board.]

I once wrote on FFG (article now deleted) about feeling conflicted when LucasArts re-released The Dig and Full Throttle for £15 apiece (this was in about 2004 I think). I was glad you could buy them again, but thought that £15 was pretty steep. In the end, I came down on the side of being pleased – I didn’t want to say that copying games was justified if you thought they were overpriced.

Having said that, while I love what GOG do, and accept that by no means are their prices prohibitively expensive, I’m not sure how I’d feel if each and every game currently left in the wilderness was made available to buy for $5.99 or $9.99. There comes a point when you stop being delighted at the fact that old games are being made available again and start to question, as you would with any other financial decision, whether buying a fairly crappy old game (let’s take our most recent review, Guilty, as the sort of thing we’re talking about) was worth paying more for than comparatively modern flash-whizzo ones.

Without abandonware to sustain interest in old titles, there would be no market for anybody to come along, exhume and monetise them. Yet I accept that abandonware is a murky area, and though I support it, there has always been an element that treats it as an excuse to get something for nothing. There are probably hundreds of games released in the last fifteen years or so that could be called ‘abandonware’ but for a variety of reasons, and to my immense relief in my capacity as Abandoned Places updater, no-one is looking out for these and putting them on their websites for download.

If more recent games are becoming harder to source, then that is of course a problem, and you could argue that they need to be preserved too. I guess I just feel more comfortable applying the term to really old games, just to distance myself from anyone who wants to use it to justify torrenting newer titles, and making it more likely that no-one involved with making the game will be morally or financially put out by it being freely circulated on the internet.

On that point, there are those who claim that the chances of the original developers ever seeing any money from old games are slim to none, and so anyone who gets too pious about copying games might want to think about why they are defending publishers’ rights to cream off some more profit, with no further effort, many years after the fact. That’s an area that I’m personally reluctant to get into: generally, I like to buy stuff legitimately, but when I do, I don’t worry about where the money goes – life’s too short.

This kind of talk inevitably leads the discussion to intellectual property, copyright law, and comparisons with the film and music industries. Frankly, that’s not somewhere I want to go. I’ll link to some articles that prompted this post, and advise you to read them, but not the comments. I wish I had the wit and motivation to parse a longer and more intelligent piece, and to participate in any ensuing discussion, but I don’t.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun (January 29, 2014) – in which John Walker reveals some conflict regarding GOG (which are similar to my own thoughts above) and casually mentions that he thinks old games should enter the public domain.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun (February 3, 2014) – having sparked some kind of comments-frenzy with his earlier remarks, Walker follows up with a lengthier editorial piece on the topic. Another comments-frenzy ensues (don’t read it).

Here, indie developer Simon Roth lists some games for which the developers no longer receive payment.

And finally, veteran games journalist Stuart Campbell writes about how piracy and emulation are essential for preserving gaming history.