The recent Piratebay trial has highlighted the issue of software piracy once more. The eagerly anticipated Spore from Will Wright was available to download very soon after its release, and thousands took that opportunity. Will piracy sink the industry one day?
Back in the 1980s I was a landlubber and not a pirate. I borrowed a few tapes from a friend, and one of the first games I played on my Commodore 64 was the film tie-in Ghostbusters, taken home at lunchtime and hastily loaded. (Which leaves me a little nostalgic, when 25 years later there is a new game coming out based on it – but I somehow doubt it will have the same impact on me as the bouncing ball accompanying the lyrics and the sampled speech did back then). Then I upgraded to a disk drive and the chances were there to get more games than I could afford to buy.
And yet… there was still something special about saving up my pieces of eight, going into the shop and splashing out on a new game. You got something physical to keep as well as the gaming experience. Of course, there was as high a ratio of bad to good back then as there is now. Fortunately my map and compass was the reliable reviewers of ZZAP! 64 magazine, who rarely steered me wrong. For those without a large treasure chest, budget companies such as Codemasters provided cheap thrills. (And they still remain in business, albeit without the original crew of David and Richard Darling).
With Internet access came the chance to sample more games than I could ever realistically play. The Gamebase64 collection alone has 20,000 titles in it now with more being discovered (and created – the C64 is far from a dead format). And that same Internet access can provide a perfect digital copy of any game for any format, spreading it across the waters of the world like an oil slick.
Is it a bad thing to have free access to anything you want? In many ways I would say yes, because it detracts from savouring the moment. Discovering a new game to play should be like finding a deserted island. You can see the shape of it from afar, maybe even discern a few features. As you get nearer, you can make out the trees but there is still a lot hidden from view. Plunge into the undergrowth, play the game and make your way to the top of the mountain (if you can) – you achieve something, even if it is only a little green box that pops up and awards you a hollow-sounding number of points.
Nowadays I buy second-hand games a lot, regardless of what David Braben thinks it does to the market. I am still putting money into the industry, and helping it keep a retail presence on the High Street will ensure all the software company rafts afloat.