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A note on piracy

Most video games ever produced are no longer available. Copies of out-of-print games are openly shared as “abandonware” – a term used to refer to games for which copyright has not been actively enforced – and groups like the Internet Archive provide free, open access to digital game collections on the grounds of preservation as a form of fair use.

Digital game preservation efforts like this are among the few viable options for many people to play rare and out-of-print video games. However, they often operate in legally murky areas that can overlap with video game piracy. Game preservation efforts are sometimes only possible because of widespread illegal copying and modification of commercial games, and the distinction between this type of preservation and piracy can be unclear, in some cases if it exists at all.

When it comes to the weirder, obscure games featured on this blog, open digital game preservation is usually accepted because either the developers and publishers have long gone out of business or the games have been effectively abandoned. However, this is still an area with a lot of uncertainty. The most blatantly illegal sources have been omitted from this guide.

Please use your discretion when browsing these sites and downloading files, and purchase games and software from their publishers when possible.

For free

Abandonia

Abandonia is a stalwart site for DOS “abandonware” games. Abandonia has a large game collection with reviews and descriptors for all of its content. If a game is still being sold, the site provides links to digital stores.

Abandonia also includes a members-only section on its forums called The ISO Cellar for sharing full CD-ROM games. Please be advised that this section is in much messier legal territory and is probably intentionally omitted from the main site.

ANNARCHIVE

Game designer Anna Anthropy manages this small, eclectic batch of selected shareware titles. Downloads consist mostly of visitor-donated titles, and the site updates whenever new content is submitted.

Break Into Chat

Break Into Chat collects information and downloads for BBS door games – multiplayer games which connect with bulletin board systems. Given the niche format and the technical challenge of running these games, this site has some of the only downloads for them.

CD.TEXTFILES.COM: The Past on Plastic

Though its ambiguous structure makes it almost impossible for casual browsing, CD.TEXTFILES.COM contains one of the largest open archives of shareware CD files. If you’re trying to find something specific, consider looking for it via a Google search beginning with site:cd.textfiles.com.

Demu

In conjunction with the Internet Archive, Demu houses one of the Internet’s most thorough and well-organized collections of DOS and Windows 3.1 demos, shareware, and freeware. Many are available to play directly in-browser, and the site includes a supplemental YouTube channel of brief gameplay videos.

DOSGames.com

DOSGames.com’s well-tailored collection of freely available DOS games is more dependable as a download source than as a browseable database, but the site is valuable for its simple genre organization and ratings system. This is a dependable, no-frills source of freeware and shareware.

Download Central

The now-defunct Download Central is a thorough, user-friendly hub for downloading Windows 3.1, Windows 9x, Amiga, and DOS games. At its peak, Download Central hosted 1809 games, applications, and downloads, most of which are still obtainable via a cached version of the website from the Internet Archive.

“Games/Entertainment” at Freecode

Originally named Freshmeat, Freecode is ground zero for the open source game movement – and by extension the early 2000s indie scene. The Freecode database is all over the place and difficult to browse apart from genre tags available in the right-hand column, but in its troves, you can find a goldmine of historic content, odd free games, and coding exercises that never became something bigger.

Info-Mac Archive

Currently a low-traffic Apple discussion forum, Info-Mac was at one point a global hub for Macintosh shareware, including games as well as software. Info-Mac’s owners have thankfully kept the site’s original archives online for downloading. The above link goes to the raw archive directory; you can visit a secondary link to a web-friendly, searchable version of the archive as well.

The Interactive Fiction Archive

Run by the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation, the IF Archive is a long-running directory of interaction fiction games, tools, discussion and community history. The archive can be difficult to browse but contains hundreds of historical interactive fiction games, including games in multiple languages.

Interactive Fiction Database

IFDB is the most complete index of interactive fiction games on the web, all the way from traditional text-based adventures to recent Twine-based miniature games. Most entries for games include reviews and download links. In addition, IFDB serves as a social hub, hosting IF writing competitions and game-playing clubs.

The Internet Archive Software Collection

The Internet Archive is an absolutely staggeringly large archive of all sorts of information, and its software collections are among its crown jewels. Nearly all of its categories contains countless troves of software for download or use in-browser. Unfortunately, organization is often a total mess, and content tends to overlap. Like a rummage sale, you just have to dive in to find things. Use the search function for specific items.

I recommend the Historical Software Collection, Software Library, Shareware CD Archive, and the CD-ROM Software Library. For playing in-browser, try the MS-DOS Games collection, Windows 3.1 collection, and the Internet Arcade.

Macintosh Garden

Macintosh Garden’s collection can be difficult to browse (search results seem to be sorted almost randomly), but it was one of the first sites to collect huge swaths of Macintosh games and software for preservation. Since the site has been around for a while, it has years of detailed descriptions and comments left by visitors about how to run many of the games.

Macintosh Repository

This newer Macintosh software archive includes thousands of games, applications, and system files. This is especially great for ancillary software not usually collected by game sites, like productivity tools. Their site is easy to browse and breaks down the collection into a long list of subgenres, though games and programs often lack individual descriptions.

Mac GUI Vault

Mac GUI contains a big chunk of the content from old Macintosh and Apple computer communities like Info-Mac and Usenet. The files are broken down into sub-categories based on the type of game or software; within those groups, it’s mostly sorted alphabetically, which makes it useful for attempting to find specific programs or games.

MyAbandonware

MyAbandonware has a massive catalog of abandonware games for many computer platforms, and it is among the few that includes extensive sets of Windows 3.1 and Macintosh games. The site’s browsing feature includes “theme” keywords, which are particularly useful for finding games by their subject.

RGB Classic Games

Personal favorite. RGB Classic Games preserves freeware and shareware games for DOS, Windows 3.1, and Windows 9x. Multiple versions of each game are provided when possible, and many games are playable in-browser. RGB’s collection is well-documented and officially lauded by the city of Ottowa!

Theodor Lauppert’s Game Gallery

Theodor Lauppert’s site is a selection of games that Lauppert found interesting, some well-known but primarily hard-to-find computer shareware titles through the early 2000s. He occasionally wrote histories for them and included downloadable copies.

TLGG has unfortunately shut down, but the Internet Archive hosts a mirror of the site (including the games themselves).

The U-M Software Archives

The University of Michigan hosts a big, dormant collection of old software and games for a number of classic platforms, including the Apple II and Mac OS Classic. Organization and metadata are minimal, so you’re best served just diving in and grabbing something. The site’s MS-DOS section is offline but can be accessed through the Internet Archive.

VintageAppleMac.com

This new Macintosh fan website collects a large volume of software and shareware games taken from the creator’s personal library, including many titles from British CD-ROMs. As of now, everything is unsorted alphabetically, but it’s useful for finding specific items that might not be hosted elsewhere. (Watch for this one to grow as the creator writes more editorials!)

XTC Abandonware

Another good DOS game directory, XTC hold about 2500 games from a wide variety of genres. XTC has great reverence for gaming history and directs you to legal sources when possible. It’s less flashy than other sites (and has no ratings or reviews for browsing purposes) but is a dependable collection.

World of Spectrum

This website is the single best resource for information about ZX Spectrum titles, emulators and guides to using the platform. In many cases, downloads for games and programs are available.

For sale – digital

GOG.com

GOG.com is one of the few digital game retailers that specializes in older computer games, updated to run on modern systems. The site has expanded to new-release independent games as well, but it still houses one of the largest purchasable collections of older games.

PlayStation Classics on the PlayStation Store

Sony has digitally re-released a portion of the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 game libraries for newer PlayStation consoles under the “Classics” label. Apart from obvious blockbuster titles, they’ve also chosen to release stranger ones as well. Worth a browse if you own a PlayStation 3.

For sale – physical

Amazon Marketplace

Many classic games pop up through second-hand sellers on Amazon. Fewer people tend to look here than on eBay, so you can frequently find more games here for better prices than through other channels.

CDAccess.com

One of the biggest specialty sites, CDAccess.com houses an impressive warehouse of CD-ROMs for Macintosh and PC, as well as other related vintage products. CDAccess.com is relatively low-traffic and has great customer service as a result. Highly recommended over eBay for stranger CD-ROMs.

eBay

It goes without saying that eBay is a tremendous resource for purchasing physical copies of games. Most everything should be available through here. Increasingly, sellers are listing games as Buy It Now items rather than auctions, so you can get them quicker and not anxiously wait for an auction to end.

shopgoodwill.com

If your local Goodwill doesn’t have a game selection (see below), consider looking through shopgoodwill.com, an auction site operated by a California Goodwill that collects items from other thrift stores across the country. Many of the sales tend to be bulk collections.

Yahoo Auctions Japan

Yahoo’s auction site tends to be more popular than eBay in Japan and is a great place to find rarer Japan-only games. Be aware that you will need to know Japanese to use this site, and you may need to use a middleman service like Buyee (prominently advertised on the site).

Your local secondhand store

Thrift stores and community markets often collect games from the 80s and 90s that people offload without knowing quite what the are. Schools especially tend to dump old software with these stores. Consider smaller local establishments in addition to chains like Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul store. Flea markets and rummage sales usually have a handful of games too.

Your local gaming convention

Most gaming events usually host classic game re-sellers in their vendor areas. These tend to be targeted towards console game collectors, but if you dig a little deeper, you can usually find some strange and overlooked titles.

Other

Your local library

Yes, libraries collect games! University libraries have the most extensive historical collections but may require you to be a member of their school. Many public libraries loan games, although older games have probably been taken out of circulation. If you’re looking for a specific game, search for it via OCLC WorldCat to see if a library nearby carries it.

Your friends and family

If any of your friends enjoy games – especially if they played them in the 80s and 90s – they might have odd games lying around in a drawer. Ask them to root through their stuff if you think they might have something worth trying.

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