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To share an unreleased ROM or not to Share?

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So this topic is something that I do share a bit of contention about. I just read an article published in the most recent Game Informer  (Issue 318 Oct 2019) and there is a story about Frank Cifaldi and what his non-profit, Video Game History Foundation is up to and what they hope to accomplish. There are a few things he says that really angered him to the point where he woke up and realized why he wanted to focus on video game preservation. To quote a few passages in the story.

 

There was always friction between video game collectors and the people who wanted to share games online, and eventually things bubbled over for Cifaldi.

 

"The next evolution for me was anger. Being angry at the gall of people having these like, goblin hoards of games that don't belong to them that they are controlling."

 

He says.

 

"Like the biggest collector back then was at a video game magazine that had been around back then was basically pilfering their archives. But you know, I was angry at the though of a person being a gatekeeper for work that they have nothing to do with."

 

While I do understand what he is trying to say, I'm presuming Cifaldi is referring to unreleased and protos of games. Basically versions that were never released to the public.

 

Here is where I disagree. Collectors are not bad people, and I sort of got angered by his comment that collectors are just hoarding games and not sharing them with the world. Second, the version of a game released to the public is the version that the programmer, developer, etc. WANTED to share with the world. The perfected version. If I rescue a proto of a game from a trash can, and lets say it's a one of a kind version that has never been shared with the world, if I decide NOT to dump the ROM and keep it in my collection does that make me selfish?  Is proto and unreleased game ROM dumping something every collector of these sorts of things should feel obligated to do? And my next question is, if Cifaldi intends on making the history of gaming completely transparent to scholars, academics and journalists, is he going to charge a premium for this information? Because it sure looks like to me he would hope that "selfish collectors" would at least share their protos and unreleased games with the rest of the world. So if he is going to charge people for that information then I don't support what he's doing because it's hypocritical.

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A game collector, saves their money, uses up precious time and resources to track down a game, and then goes out of their way to painstakingly care for their find.

 

That is NOT hoarding.

 

If the game creators, publishers, and distributors gave away a game for free, and someone had to have as many copies of that product for the sake of having it, then that would be hoarding.

 

But to want to complete a collection.  The gaming community as a whole should be happy that there are collectors out there, or some of these games, good or bad, may have fallen by the wayside, never to even have been noticed.

 

~ Ash

 

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I am very much in camp 'release the ROM'! I feel that it's better for our understanding of how games are made, that the ROM wasn't created by the person & them claiming full ownership of it seems unfair to other fans, that many keeping ROMs to themselves are doing so for profit, etc., etc.

 

However- and this is important- no one is obligated or should be made to share an unreleased ROM. No matter how I feel about it, other people have differing opinions- and if the ROM is in their possession, they ultimately decide its fate. I can disagree & be upset all I want, but the world is not going to suffer for lack of access to incomplete videogames. It's not an important enough issue to override someone's freedom to use their possessions as they see fit.

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If a collector has a copy of a rare video game, e.g. prototype of an unreleased game, and decides not to make it available to archivists; what would be the reason?  Is it because they selfishly want to have something exclusive in their collection?  They're just video games.  They can be buried with them for all I care.

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3 hours ago, mr_me said:

Is it because they selfishly want to have something exclusive in their collection?

That's basically the only reason I can come up with. Some sort of ego booster.

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The biggest concern for me would be that these games could be lost forever. I can understand a collector being reticent if the dumping / copying process is destructive, but otherwise it feels like they just want to be the gatekeepers for something. 

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Yeah, one of a kind games - especially prototypes that are frequently, if not always, on media with a limited shelf life - should absolutely be preserved if at all possible. And Cifaldi has historically been willing to work with these collectors to back up those games to make sure that they're not at risk of being lost permanently. I know who he's referring to, and the guy has been happy to sell off these protos and such to back up. It sucks that it has come to that rather than everybody pursuing the goal of saving as much game history as possible, but collectors hoarding historical artifacts and keeping them from being properly preserved or available for research has predated video games and will undoubtedly outlast them. Easiest to just work with those folks to find some kind of amicable ground.

 

And given how much of his own money he has spent on that pursuit and to make game periodicals and documents available to researchers via the VGHF (which no, he hasn't charged people for access, and he's even put a number of previously unseen press materials online for free) I don't think your argument holds up in the slightest.

Edited by ubersaurus

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If someone would take hostage a prototype of a game we own copyright and we have been trying to track down for a while; we would definitely be pissed and probably take legal action. As they don't own any interest in it. 

 

If it is dumped, I'd be pissed and again legal action.

 

I understand however that sometimes people pay high prices for these items because they are "collectibles" so in the past we've paid fair "market" value for some prototypes like Tyrannosaurus Tex, I paid 1500 bucks for the actual prototype rom. The collector paid a bit less than that on an ebay auction, so I thought it was reasonable to cover his costs and a small finder's fee. But some times people try to take them hostage and ask for exuberant amount of money for them.

 

Like we are experiencing this for Switchblade II NES and BOO!. 

 

At the end of the day, we buy them or get them to preserve them and eventually release them and make them available.

Edited by PikoInteractive

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This is one of those topics where my opinion is 'it depends'.

Collectors are not hoarders, necessarily.


I am friends/on good terms with several people with enormous game collections, one of which has tons of protos. They are some of my favorite people to meet up with at game shows. I've helped on a couple of releases for unreleased protos over the years as well. The people I am friends with are all historically minded folks who are dedicated to preserving this stuff. In some cases, they have obtained unreleased stuff with the promise not to release it. They keep those promises. This, I have no problem with. It will be saved for posterity, museums etc. Preservation is the #1 priority, not necessarily releasing it for people to have fun with.

And then there is the other kind of 'collector'. Greedy, grasping, dishonest, manipulative. Will say/do anything to get something they want, and then they'll hoard it like gollum with a ring. Met quite a few of these folks too... and I'm not a fan.

Where possible, I favor releasing stuff just to ensure it's survival, but that's not always feasible, or ethical in the case where an original dev has given a proto to an archivist only on the promise that it's not released (or whatever). So, it depends on the situation.

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This kinda came up recently with the story of the guy who went into a collectors house to work on a machine and dumped a rom from another machine without the owner's permission (at least allegedly... not sure of the whole story or what the outcome was).

 

I'm undecided on it, personally.  I've seen good arguments on both sides.  On the one hand, it does seem kind of selfish, but on the other hand, it's "their" game to do with what they want.  There's nothing saying they have to dump it or whatever.  No one is forced to be altruistic.  It depends on their view of their collection.  Is it because of a love for gaming?  Something they want to share with the world?  Or do they view it as an investment?  Are they not wanting to dump roms because it may dilute the market some and diminish the value of their item?  There are arguments that it wouldn't hurt the value any, but those are usually coming from the "dump the rom" camp, so those arguments are less likely to make an impact on someone who is against that idea.

 

I don't own anything rare like that... nothing to dump.  I have some old paper promotional materials that I scanned and put out on the internet in a couple different places, so that's possibly similar.  I mean, I still own the original, but people can read it as much as they want... and even share it I suppose.  I would say that it hasn't diminished its value, but it's not really worth anything anyway.  If it was me, and I had a way to do so, I'd dump it.  Probably...

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I have a hard time getting mad at an owner to not want to have the ROM dumped. Undumped games are generally undumped for a reason - they're either unfinished or trash. If they'd been successful there'd be a much larger chance of it having already been dumped. "Ooh, we're missing out" some might say. On what, exactly? 

 

Frankly I'd be surprised if any "legal action" taken by Piko is more than nuisance pestering to try to get someone to give up the prototype cart they bought/found. That's kinda dickish, honestly. 

Edited by derFunkenstein
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On 10/3/2019 at 10:10 AM, PikoInteractive said:

If someone would take hostage a prototype of a game we own copyright and we have been trying to track down for a while; we would definitely be pissed and probably take legal action. As they don't own any interest in it. 

 

If it is dumped, I'd be pissed and again legal action.

 

I understand however that sometimes people pay high prices for these items because they are "collectibles" so in the past we've paid fair "market" value for some prototypes like Tyrannosaurus Tex, I paid 1500 bucks for the actual prototype rom. The collector paid a bit less than that on an ebay auction, so I thought it was reasonable to cover his costs and a small finder's fee. But some times people try to take them hostage and ask for exuberant amount of money for them.

 

Like we are experiencing this for Switchblade II NES and BOO!. 

 

At the end of the day, we buy them or get them to preserve them and eventually release them and make them available.

 

I'm not too sure that Switchblade II would look or play that great on the NES versus the Amiga version.

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On 10/4/2019 at 2:22 PM, derFunkenstein said:

I have a hard time getting mad at an owner to not want to have the ROM dumped. Undumped games are generally undumped for a reason - they're either unfinished or trash. If they'd been successful there'd be a much larger chance of it having already been dumped. "Ooh, we're missing out" some might say. On what, exactly? 

 

Frankly I'd be surprised if any "legal action" taken by Piko is more than nuisance pestering to try to get someone to give up the prototype cart they bought/found. That's kinda dickish, honestly. 

It's like unplublished books or music; they're not released for a reason.  But you won't know unless you play it.

 

Prototypes are often stolen hardware and current ownership could be illigitimate.  They would be a hard asset that transferred ownership with any asset sale.  At the same time, if the prototype wasn't stolen, it would probably have been thrown out and lost.

Edited by mr_me
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I'd disagree with this statement:

 

"Second , the version of a game released to the public is the version that the programmer, developer, etc. WANTED to share with the world. The perfected version"

 

The amount if coders, artists, designers, project managers etc over the years that have explained how games were released unfinished or very different from the original vision they had in mind, counters this viewpoint. 

 

Commercial games development was an utter nightmare for many.

 

People found themselves out of their depth, facing strict deadlines, being brought in to salvage others work. 

 

 

Budgets and cartridge space cut..

 

Project managers changing a games direction multiple times during development. 

 

Publishers suddenly aquired a licence and an existing W.I.P game having graphics etc changed to suit.

 

 

The retail versions of so many games out there were released simply to have product on the shelf, sadly.

 

 

Many Coders and Artists etc happily admit they could of done things very differently or earlier versions of game code had been of higher quality,  but management forced them to make changes.  

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On 10/4/2019 at 11:22 AM, derFunkenstein said:

Frankly I'd be surprised if any "legal action" taken by Piko is more than nuisance pestering to try to get someone to give up the prototype cart they bought/found. That's kinda dickish, honestly. 

Piko's got a very different take on this stuff for a very good reason- as an actual publisher specializing in retro, they actually have a proper legal claim to the data, as opposed to the physical cart/disc/whatever. If said data is in a finished or near finished state, it could impact the sales of Piko's version if it's released freely to the public. Basically, we've switched from collectors who happen to have unreleased material that will never surface without the collectors releasing it, to distributing a bootleg of a game owned and being released to the public by another entity.

 

In Piko's case, it's less being dicks and more asset protection.

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7 hours ago, Shawn said:

 

I'm not too sure that Switchblade II would look or play that great on the NES versus the Amiga version.

Based on the Lynx version if I recall correctly

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18 minutes ago, HoshiChiri said:

Piko's got a very different take on this stuff for a very good reason- as an actual publisher specializing in retro, they actually have a proper legal claim to the data, as opposed to the physical cart/disc/whatever. If said data is in a finished or near finished state, it could impact the sales of Piko's version if it's released freely to the public. Basically, we've switched from collectors who happen to have unreleased material that will never surface without the collectors releasing it, to distributing a bootleg of a game owned and being released to the public by another entity.

 

In Piko's case, it's less being dicks and more asset protection.

Exactly Asset protection, is not being dicks, and everybody gets paid anyways. If they behave like a jerk and won't play ball, then yeah legal time!

 

 

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If your claim is for the software IP and not the hard assets of an unreleased prototype then someone sharing a copy might be the only way you'd get a copy.  Without a claim of ownership of the hardware I don't see how you can legally make someone provide you a copy of the rom.

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5 hours ago, HoshiChiri said:

Piko's got a very different take on this stuff for a very good reason- as an actual publisher specializing in retro, they actually have a proper legal claim to the data, as opposed to the physical cart/disc/whatever. If said data is in a finished or near finished state, it could impact the sales of Piko's version if it's released freely to the public. Basically, we've switched from collectors who happen to have unreleased material that will never surface without the collectors releasing it, to distributing a bootleg of a game owned and being released to the public by another entity.

 

In Piko's case, it's less being dicks and more asset protection.

I get that, but if I came into possession of something cool (bought it on eBay let's say) and then someone else takes ownership of an IP...I dunno, I guess I'd need to go into hiding because I wouldn't want to give it up. I'd feel like I paid for it and any ambulance chaser looking to make money off of it can pound sand. 

Edited by derFunkenstein
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17 minutes ago, derFunkenstein said:

I get that, but if I came into possession of something cool (bought it on eBay let's say) and then someone else takes ownership of an IP...I dunno, I guess I'd need to go into hiding because I wouldn't want to give it up. I'd feel like I paid for it and any ambulance chaser looking to make money off of it can pound sand. 

There's no reason you have to give it up unless what you bought happens to be stolen property.

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Just for the sake of definition, dumping a rom doesn't necessarily mean sharing it with the world. Even if someone doesn't want to share a game with the world, it should be dumped and saved in a way that it is safeguarded against disappearing forever. The original cart can go bad due to bit rot, the hard-drive the lone collector dumps and saves it on can be bricked. It's not the end of the world, should it be lost, but I believe the possessor should have the decency to maintain and safeguard the games structural integrity.

 

And, I just think it's really, really weird for someone to sell an old game to someone with the requirement that they not dump it or share it.

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2 hours ago, derFunkenstein said:

I get that, but if I came into possession of something cool (bought it on eBay let's say) and then someone else takes ownership of an IP...I dunno, I guess I'd need to go into hiding because I wouldn't want to give it up. I'd feel like I paid for it and any ambulance chaser looking to make money off of it can pound sand. 

'Ambulance Chaser' isn't really appropriate for describing Piko in this hypothetical scenario. That would be more along the lines of a deep-pocketed collector forming a shell company to buy game rights solely to hoard protos taken from other collectors. This is more like if you found an early review copy of a game that was pulled from release, then Piko started up preorders becuase they acquired the game rights & are prepping to release it, and you pop and go 'don't spend your money! I'll get the ROM out so you can have it for free!' You're gonna get lawyered on in that case since now you're pirating their game.

 

If you have the game & haven't made it public in any way, I can't imagine they'd immediately seek legal action to take it from you... it would be so much easier to just pay you for it, or have you sign some legal-ese allowing them to sue the pants off you if your copy gets dumped. As long as you're not being a stubborn jerk, insisting your physical copy somehow equates to distribution rights for the program, I can't imagine they'd go the legal route.

 

Ironically, the companies most likely to throw down with a lawyer are the big guys (ala Nintendo) who are doing it mostly to set a precedent for the games they do care about being pirated, instead of whatever obscure old rom you've got. I'm more OK with messing with those guys than a small operation that is, in essence, a game preservation business.

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18 hours ago, HoshiChiri said:

If you have the game & haven't made it public in any way, I can't imagine they'd immediately seek legal action to take it from you... it would be so much easier to just pay you for it, or have you sign some legal-ese allowing them to sue the pants off you if your copy gets dumped. As long as you're not being a stubborn jerk, insisting your physical copy somehow equates to distribution rights for the program, I can't imagine they'd go the legal route.

This, and if somehow that collector's version is better/more finished we'd probably offer more money to get our hands on it.

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3 minutes ago, PikoInteractive said:

This, and if somehow that collector's version is better/more finished we'd probably offer more money to get our hands on it.

 

If you tried to take someone to court over owning a prototype of which they have legally obtained a copy and you don't but you have the IP ownership of, you would loose badly. They could counter sue at that point as well. 

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1 minute ago, Shawn said:

 

If you tried to take someone to court over owning a prototype of which they have legally obtained a copy and you don't but you have the IP ownership of, you would loose badly. They could counter sue at that point as well. 

Well if you offer them money and they do not want to sell it or are being difficult (there is proof you tried a reasonable means to acquire that prototype), a prototype is Illegal to sell. It is even against ebay and other marketplaces TOS.

 

I don't think I would lose, and I would be ready any time to prove anybody wrong.

Edited by PikoInteractive

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