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Preserving the Underdogs

It's abundantly clear at this point that abandonware is a complicated issue--how does one preserve and enjoy classic games of the past without infringing on the intellectual properties held by their rightful copyright owners? Is there a happy medium? Are these abandonware providers historians or software pirates? To address these questions, we turned to a webmaster of one of the most popular abandonware destinations on the Web.

Where the underdogs are.
By day, 28-year-old Sarinee Achavanuntakul is an investment banker in Hong Kong, but by night, she runs the infamous Home of the Underdogs, a Web site she founded three and a half years ago, and receives an average of more than 30,000 unique visitors per day.

According to Achavanuntakul, the purpose of starting Home of the Underdogs was simple: to preserve out-of-print games that publishers no longer support, to keep them from falling into oblivion, and to honor other underrated games, including freeware games and recent commercial titles that might have been poor sellers.

There are more than 2,600 games available at Home of the Underdogs, most of which are abandonware titles, although the site also carries hundreds of freeware or former commercial titles that have been made freeware (such as Sierra's Betrayal at Krondor and Caesar).

"I've been contacted by many game designers, a vast majority of whom expressed their appreciation for my effort to preserve their classic games from being lost to the public."
-Sarinee Achavanuntakul, Home of the Underdogs
Achavanuntakul acknowledges the fact that computer gamers seek out older games for nostalgia, but she also highlights two other reasons for gravitating to the oldies. "I think there are several key reasons. To recover games they have lost (disks corrupted, damaged, etc.)--ones that companies refuse or are unable to replace (and therefore cannot fulfill their warranty statement). Or there are people who, like me, are always on the lookout for good games that stand the test of time," says Achavanuntakul.

"This includes many young, aspiring game designers who didn't grow up with classic games in the 1980s," she continues. "They play old PC games to see how far the industry has come and to get inspiration from the 'classics.'" Achavanuntakul adds, "Good gameplay never dies--games don't need flashy 3D-accelerated graphics to keep us glued to the screen. Anyone who has played Alley Cat or M.U.L.E. can tell you that."

To decide what gets posted on Home of the Underdogs, Achavanuntakul says that while the definition of abandonware has nothing to do with age (it's any out-of-print game that is no longer sold or supported by a company), the older the game is, the less commercial value it usually has, and the more danger it faces of being forgotten. These are the ones Achavanuntakul seeks out.

One of many underdogs.
"That's why I try to stay away from more recent abandonware titles and, instead, link to large retailers/resellers/liquidators who usually can be counted on to carry dozens of copies of recent abandonware games in stock, even if the publishers themselves stop producing the game," she says.

The IDSA has contacted Home of the Underdogs, requesting that Achavanuntakul remove games copyrighted by the organization's members; this includes titles from Microprose and Sierra, among others. In other cases, game companies have also e-mailed the site to ask that their games be removed, as they are still sold somewhere else online. "For example, the Bitmap Brothers told me to remove their games because they are still being sold online, so we did," explains Achavanuntakul. "I've also been contacted by many game designers, a vast majority of whom expressed their appreciation for my effort to preserve their classic games from being lost to the public."


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