Resources – Obtaining
A note on piracy
Piracy is a big open secret in classic game circles. Many older, obscure, rare, or expensive games are now available only through questionably legal downloads, and game preservation efforts are sometimes only possible because of the work already done by widespread illegal copying and distribution. Everyone depends on piracy. It remains one of the few viable options for playing out-of-print games and is necessary until digitally accessible game archives are widely accepted.
Several of the resources included in this guide provide illegal access to commercially available content; the most egregiously illicit sources have been omitted. Please use discretion when browsing these sites and downloading files. You are encouraged to purchase games from their publishers when possible.
For sale – digital
GOG.com is one of the only digital game retailers that specializes in classic computer games. The site has expanded in recent years to many indie games and gaming-related movies, but it still houses one of the largest purchasable collections of classic games. Look for user-submitted “GOGMixes” for curated recommendations.
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 or Vita console.
Microsoft’s XBLIG program for the Xbox 360, which allowed anyone to release homemade games on the console, resulted in a stream-of-consciousness marketplace of oddities and experiments. Very few XBLIG games are classics; many outright steal from Minecraft or Call of Duty. But users published over 3000 titles with extreme varying quality, and a handful of them might evoke some interest. [NOTE: Xbox Live Indie Games will be taken offline in 2017, but Microsoft plans to work with game conservationists to preserve its content.]
For sale – physical
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.
The biggest specialty site, 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.
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.
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’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
Abandonia is probably the most popular website for DOS “abandonware” games – that is, games for which copyright is no longer actively enforced. Abandonia has a massive game collection with quality reviews and descriptors for all of its content. The site stays as legal as possible; administrators respond quickly to copyright violations and provide links to storefronts for games that are still sold.
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 murkier legal territory and is probably intentionally omitted from the main site.
Developer 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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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’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. Most items on the site have detailed descriptions and comments left by visitors about how to run the games. Macintosh Garden’s content is considered abandonware, and much like on Abandonia, the administrators occasionally remove files deemed illegal to redistribute.
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.
MyAbandonware is a relatively new abandonware site that lets you browse downloadable games by content to a deeper degree than most other similar sites. Its “theme” keywords are particularly useful for finding games by their subject. The site is also among the few that includes extensive sets of Windows 3.1 and Macintosh games.
Please advise that content on MyAbandonware is not vetted for legal status. As such, the site contains many illegal downloads of titles still for sale.
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 completely legal, well-documented, and officially lauded by the city of Ottowa!
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 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.
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!)
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.
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 de-acquisitioned. 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.