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Classic Gaming is the recent phenomenon, containing a lot of but not entirely the same thing as gaming nostalgia, in which current gamers are interested in playing older, supposedly inferior, games, often for systems and videogame consoles that are no longer in production. These people recognize that it is harder to make a good game at any time than it is to take advantage of current technology, and that looks are not everything. A person who persists in playing Ms. Pac-Man at the local arcade instead of Tekken Tag Tournament is a classic gamer, whether he claims such title or not.

Classic gamers are aided in their interests by the recent advances in emulation technology, which allow one to simulate less powerful computers completely in software on current hardware, allowing them to run the game programs without having access to the original devices, or even the original physical media. The software has, in many cases, been copied off of the original media and made available in special files that the emulation programs can read. However, in most cases it is software piracy to use an emulator to play a copy of a game if the user does not own a physical copy of the original. Classic gamers are hindered by the copyrights on the original game software, which are often zealously protected by its original holder and trade organizations, even if the game has been out of production for decades. This is because the game programs are viewed as a commodity by the company that produced them, and that the company views no responsibility towards the game other than concerning whatever profit from it can still be derived. So usually, instead of releasing it for new users to enjoy and to contribute to the game’s legacy, the owner sits on it until it is forgotten or nostalgic interest increases to the point where a re-release becomes profitable.

There are valid issues on both sides, that of the company which has invested time, money and resources in the production of the game in order to make a profit, and those of the users who enjoy and remember the game. Some companies have recognized the trend towards classic gaming by releasing compilations of their older software, often running on their own emulators, for more recent systems. For example, some time back Activision released a number of their old Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 titles running on an emulator that itself runs on Windows 95. While this is an excellent solution for the most popular older games, it is unlikely to work for more obscure titles that are simply not profitable to re-release in any form. Because of this, a large portion of our brief technological heritage is in danger of being forgotten.

(Thanks to yerricde for a correction.)

Different publishers and developers have different attitudes toward Classic Gaming, and the issues of emulation, royalties, intellectual property, etc.

David Braben and Ian Bell, the creators of Elite, have effectively put that game into the public domain as they no longer make any profit from it. Sega have a surprisingly lenient attitude to emulation. They seem to see it as no threat provided that only games that are no longer commercially available are used. They have even benefitted from the development of Megadrive emulators - when they wanted to re-release a collection of classic Megadrive games on the PC, they simply hired the coder of the most complete freeware emulator, saving themselves the effort.

Activision hold onto their own properties very tightly, as they have shrewdly stockpiled a number of classic titles and franchises which they can rerelease and port at their discretion. Sony and Nintendo are dementedly harsh over copyright, as befits a company that has a seat in the RIAA and MPAA and one that makes money out of 11-year-old hardware.

There are two small 'loopholes' that emulation enthusiasts use to ensure their legality : to only keep the game ROM for a 24 hour 'evaluation' period, or to own a copy of the original game cartridge / tape. As a rule of thumb, I think that if a game is no longer commercially available (and in many cases the hardware itself may be hard to track down), you should be allowed to play it on an emulator.

Although I am all for people playing old games as a bit of harmless entertainment / art appreciation, I get pissed off to see warez kiddies peddling rafts of recent PC titles under the misnomer of Abandonware.

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