You'll probably have heard of the term abandonware. This is a generic term referring to software which is no longer on sale, and is therefore considered to be "abandoned".
The ethics of abandonware is a hotly debated issue - some claim that once the publishers will no longer sell a piece of software, and there is no other way of getting hold of it, it is perfectly acceptable to make it available. This, it is often claimed, is both fair and sensible because, were this not to be done, people would be deprived of a perfectly good program. The fact that it is no longer being sold means that the company who wrote the software will not be losing out on any sales profits (as opposed to the warez situation, where software which is still being sold is made available to download).
On the other hand, the chances are that abandonware is software piracy, and thus illegal in virtually every country throughout the world. Another ethical problem is how to determine whether software has actually been abandoned - just because it's not sold in one particular country in the world doesn't mean that it's not still commercially available in others. What is more, just because a software company has stopped selling a particular item does not mean that it doesn't mind that piece of software being made available. That software title is that company's intellectual property - it may, for example, contain programming techniques and ideas which the company does not wish to see in the public domain.The following is quoted (with the permission of the author, who wishes to remain anonymous) from an e-mail which he sent me, and makes for interesting reading on the subject of abandonware:
As one of the founders of the Abandonware Ring in 1997 (and the first one to be shut down by the IDSA), I thought I'd offer some corrections and advice:
Abandonware in a nutshell:
Abandonware is illegal.
The IDSA is the only organization that cares, since they need to spend their members' money somehow.
If you don't post games on a website with the string "abandonware", the IDSA will not find you.
Everyone copies old games all the time privately.
Game companies that didn't start out as shareware companies (i.e. everyone in the world except for id, Epic MegaGames, and Apogee Software) will *never* release their older titles as part of a compilation, regardless of what they tell you. The first company to do this was Interplay, and they barely turned a profit; Sierra's compilations have done slightly better, but not good enough to warrant massive re-releases.
Even if the world's largest cache of pre-1990 games was found, it is highly unlikely anyone would prosecute (no matter what they write in email). Old games don't cost software companies anyway. THE REAL REASON IDSA BOTHERS PEOPLE IS TO PROTECT THE SOFTWARE COMPANY'S INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, not because it robs the company of profits. (The bitch is that if you get a cease and desist letter, you *must* comply to avoid going to jail and avoid further legal proceedings.)
So just don't call it Abandonware on your web page and you'll be all set.
BTW: You wrote Atari asking about their "DOS" games like Robotron, etc... These games were never DOS games at all; they were bootable disks with no OS that directly loaded the game. The "DOS" versions that you're seeing as .COM files are, in fact, pirated + cracked versions. www.mobygames.com has more information on them.
Without doubt, publishers are partly to blame for this situation. To not make older software - which is still perfectly functional and usable - available serves only to frustrate potential users. It is hardly surprising that abandonware sites are currently so popular.
Therefore, I decided to mail games publishers whose older games are no longer available, and see what the responses would be. Needless to say, the more people who contact the publishers, the better, so feel free to visit the sites listed below and send a message!
Unfortunately, companies' replies were far from promising. In fact, pretty pathetic would be a more accurate term. Please note than when quoting their replies, I have only quoted the important bits - needless to say, each company was normally polite enough to begin with a greeting of some sort!
Apogee gets a big thumbs up. As far as I can tell, virtually none of their games are no longer available; most can still be purchased, including older titles such as Commander Keen 4. The very oldest games are downloadable as freeware. Just a shame that this isn't a regular occurrence (see list of companies below!).
However, I managed to find one Apogee game called Rogue Runner, which wasn't listed anywhere on their site. I wrote in requesting more information about it, and whether they had any plans to make it available. This was the essence of their reply:
Rogue Runner is not one of ours. Sorry.
I had to disagree, seeing as I had played the game. I wrote in again... Maybe someone at the company would own up to it this time!
I am sorry, but once again it is not ours. I am thinking that you received that on a Shareware Disk, and maybe some of our stuff is also on there. Although We have never done a game called Rogue War's The only Text games that we did was Super Nova and Beyond the Titanic.
After sending them of a copy of their game, however, the penny finally dropped! As it turns out, the game was written by "Scott" of Apogee, apparently for a magazine, which is why it took a bit of time for it to be recognised. And, what's more, they sent me a mouse mat as a reward, presumably for re-finding their own game! So, if ever you need a new mouse mat, find Apogee one of their old games...!
There are plenty of old DOS games made by EA that I couldn't find any availability information for on their website. This is their response to an e-mail requesting information:
I am afraid these titles have now been discontinued. I would suggest trying local independent computer shops who may have a copy.
I am sorry I could not be of further assistance.
Very polite and reasonably prompt, but not much help. I sent a follow-up and got this response:
There are no plans to release these or any other of our titles as freeware or shareware to the public domain. We do not allow our games to be used freely as we may to wish to use them as part of future games or as part of a future compilation package.
The point about possibly using the titles in future compilation packs is fair enough (I'm not too sure about using an old game as part of a future game - presumably, as an "easter egg", or as a bonus game), but obviously this isn't much help if you want to get hold of them now. So, I sent another follow-up making this point, and got this is a reply:
As a computer games publisher Electronic Arts are now getting away from releasing older MS-DOS based games. This is because the majority of computer users now use the Windows 95/98 operating system.
Older games may be converted to run in Windows but as we have found some of the older titles do not work with some new configurations of PC's, such as the new Pentium II and Pentium III chipsets. As most PC's now come equipped with the new Pentium II and III chips it is highly unlikely that any of our older titles will become available for general sale.
Electronic Arts release older games on our Classics label at a reduced price. The only firm Classics release we have at the moment is FIFA - Road to the World Cup 98 21/05/99.
Again, I would suggest trying local independent computer shops or try the local newspaper and look in the for sale ads where there may be PC's with some of the older games you may be looking for.
I hope this answers your questions.
All very polite, but if they aren't planning to sell most of their older games, which supposedly won't run on newer PC's, why keep them locked away? I wrote back (again!) and asked why. This was what I got back:
Unfortunately it is, and always has been, the companies policy not release software to the Public Domain, and it is totally out of our hands. We will however forward your comments on to our PR and our Marketing Department for their consideration and comments.
Why do I not feel optimistic that changes will be made...?
|Congratulations to Epic who, like Apogee, appear to offer all of their older titles. In fact, you can find one of them, ZZT (a text adventure), at S.U.P.E.R., ready and waiting to be downloaded! Another of their titles which works on the palmtop is the excellent shareware platformer, Jill of the Jungle, which is also available to download from this site. Many thanks to Ian Butler, incidentally, for reminding me about Epic!|
|Sadly, no mention of the old DOS titles (such as the PC version of Contra). I sent a message over half a year ago, and heard nothing in reply.|
As older Microsoft games (such as Flight Simulator 4) are no longer sold, or made available for download on the Microsoft site, I sent a message to the only contact address I could find, one marked "for additional assistance", WRHELP@microsoft.com and, after about a week of waiting, received a response which was of no help whatsoever:
Thank you for contacting Microsoft Web Response Help.
If you wish to purchase Microsoft products online, please visit... <Snip! Instructions on how to buy software deleted.>
If you have any difficulties, please let us know by replying to this email.
I sent a reply with basically the same question. This was the response:
Thank you for (etc... with an apology for the delay!)
The previous e-mail provided you with the telephone number for our Sales and Information Team. This group would be able to provide you with the information you have requested. The product you have requested is not available for download on our site. Please contact the Sales and Information Team for further information regarding your question.
Maybe it's just me, but if other, smaller companies can manage to talk about purchasing software via e-mail, why can't Microsoft? I don't really want to have spend hours on the phone to them, especially since the freephone number they gave was for the US, and consequently isn't free for those who happen to live in the wrong part of the planet! I sent them a reply asking if there was any other, possibly more suitable, e-mail address I could write to.
Thank you for (etc... with another apology for the latest delay!)
If the program you are trying to find is not located on our website, then the other option is to contact the Microsoft Sales Team to see if it is still available. Unfortunately, they do not have an email address for Product Sales, but they do have a Toll-Free phone number. That number is 800-426-9400. They are available Monday through Friday 6:30am - 5:30pm PST.
Unfortunately, I still hadn't moved to the US and so still couldn't take advantage of their toll-free number, and I was still no closer to appreciating the fact that they seemed unable to do what virtually every other company I've written to can - that is, supply a response to my question! I wrote back, asking if there was any email address to which I could write!
In general the products for retail purchase directly from Microsoft are those listed in the drop-down list at http://www.microsoft.com/products. If an older product is not listed there, that is a good indication that the product is no longer available directly from Microsoft.
This does not mean that retailers do not have the product(s) you are interested in, however. Retailers tend to be a better source of our older products because they hold on to their products until sold. Microsoft on the other hand typically discontinues a product upon the introduction of a newer version. For example, Office97 will soon be difficult to obtain directly from Microsoft, in light of the upcoming Office2000. On the other hand, copies of Office97 will continue to be available through retail outlets for some time.
With regard to the two products you mentioned specifically in your original email, Word 5.5 for DOS and older versions of Flight Simulator, I have verified that they are no longer available directly from Microsoft. Your best bet here would be to look at your local software retailers, or retailers on the web.
So there's no chance of the older products being made available?
Truthfully Mike, once software is replaced by a newer version, the older is, as in this case, no longer made or made for a very short time afterwards. If you would like to make a suggestion about this, you can do it through this link:
There is one final option you might want to try. In most cities there are places that sell use software or "rent" software. Many of those places have old copies of software for sale. Most major cities have 2 or 3 of them. You might also try a used book store, because many of these have old software for sale too.
Otherwise you can no longer get this software through us anymore.
|Sadly, Sega's site has no mention of it's older titles, such as Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom and Spy Hunter. And as with Konami, no reply to a message sent over half a year ago. How impressive.|
Once again, a lot of older DOS games are seemingly no longer available. My first mail requesting availability information was met with the following (extremely prompt) reply:
We do not have any other titles available other than the ones listed on our
web site. It is a complete listing.
I sent a follow-up mail asking whether there is any way of getting hold of the older games (such as Thexder, Goblins, the original Red Baron - all of which aren't listed on the site), and received the following reply:
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately these titles have been discontinued and are no longer available.
Not exactly chatty, are they?! I wrote back asking if they had any plans to make their "discontinued" titles available (e.g. as downloads), and asking whether downloading such a title from an abandonware site is legal or not. And, unfortunately, there the promptness ended. No reply to my message; conversation terminated. Obviously, they have no opinion on abandonware...
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