Anyone who grew up playing games from the yesteryears of the PC scene knows a thing or two about abandonware. A lot of abandonware is hosted on the Home of the Underdogs, a website with a very extensive catalog of games that helped shape gaming in the past, mostly given that these titles are no longer available from traditional retailers and e-tailers. However, abandonware has often fallen victim to copyright notices, preventing gamers from acquiring or playing them, despite the fact that some of the games are no longer available for sale. One group wants to change this… at least for games with online multiplayer.
Games Industry is reporting that the EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is aiming to challenge the status quo when it comes to copyrighted material and the implementation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that prevents some gamers from having available access to abandonware games, especially those with multiplayer components that are no longer functioning.
According to the EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry…
"The DMCA was supposed to help protect against copyright infringement, but it's been abused to interfere with all kinds of lawful activities that have nothing to do with infringement," … "Software is in all kinds of devices, from cars to coffee-makers to alarm clocks. If that software is locked down by DRM, it's likely that you can't tinker, repair, and re-use those objects without incurring legal risk."
The EFF wants to help absolve any kind of penalties levied against communities or groups who attempt to circumvent DRM measures in abandonware titles. A lot of games that are no longer available for sale or supported by publishers may also have multiplayer components that communities will resuscitate using private servers or cloned networks.
The EFF wants the DMCA to provide leniency to groups who want to allow gamers to revive these old titles and play them, especially ones where the official servers no longer support their functionality.
The EFF requests states…
“As games deactivate and servers shut down, the ability to modify authentication controls and start new servers is vital to preserving player communities," ... "Communities can disperse quickly once gameplay becomes impossible. Removing the barriers of the anti-circumvention provision will allow players to continue to explore and play games they already own, and help preservationists remove authentication mechanisms in order to format shift games so that future gamers may enjoy and learn from them."
The preservation of gaming is something I’ve always felt publishers don’t adequately take into consideration (or have done so and abandoned the idea in favor of pushing for disposal products for the sake of sales).
A lot of games with DRM-laced multiplayer and server-tied functionality (even for single-player content) puts a limited life-span on the game, forcing players to purchase when the game releases instead of having the option to buy it years down the road, in which case the game’s servers or DRM authentication may be shutdown.
GamesIndustry.biz writer Brendan Sinclair makes it known that the EFF is only interested in non-MMO games that become abandonware, writing…
“The EFF wants to make a specific exemption allowing lawful owners of a game that requires authentication checks to circumvent those checks once the original manufacturer takes its servers offline. It would also protect players setting up their own matchmaking servers for games after the publisher shuts the official servers off. However, the EFF request specifically does not apply to persistent worlds that exist more on the server side, such as World of Warcraft or Wildstar.”
This will be an interesting situation to follow, no doubt. I’m also curious how the DMCA committee and the U.S., Copyright Office will respond to the EFF’s requests?
I’ve always felt that communities that aspire to retain the presence and preservation of abandonware are doing the historical value of gaming a huge favor. Blanketing those efforts with copyright infringement blockades and DMCA notices will only further erase the potential for future generations to enjoy or experience some games from various eras… especially the era of DRM.