NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with Kyle Orland, a senior games editor at Ars Technica, about fake copies of vintage PC video games that have been discovered in the world of rare PC game collecting.
AILSA CHANG, HOSTS:
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. So powerful that some people spend thousands of dollars or more collecting old memorabilia, including old PC video games. But recently the tight-knit world of PC game collecting has been turned on its head by claims that one of its most prominent figures has been selling and dealing in fakes. Kyle Orland is the Senior Gaming Editor at Ars Technica, where he wrote about this entire saga in detail. He comes to us now to talk about it. Warm welcome.
KYLE ORLAND: Thanks for inviting me.
CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. So this scandal concerns a man named Enrico Ricciardi. And briefly explain who he is and what exactly he is accused of.
ORLAND: Yes. Ricciardi is a fashion photographer from Italy. He’s also one of the oldest members of this niche community of high-end PC game collectors, who have been collecting since the ’90s. And he was sort of an authority on those games — the different versions of how to spot fakes. There are conversations in which he accused other people of forgery. But recently two separate groups of collectors, independently of each other, noticed traces of counterfeiting on games they had received from Ricciardi.
CHANG: What signs? How do you know if a game is fake?
ORLAND: So some of them are pretty clear. As with some of the discs, if you put them in and actually look at the data on that disc, it will contain a cracked copy of this game with the copy protection broken. And on one of those, there’s actually a loading screen stating that the data killer has been presented, which an authentic 1981 copy obviously wouldn’t have.
ORLAND: There was another game on a cartridge that was supposed to have game data, but instead it just had some random white noise and some noise of people talking in the background. But one of the most telling signs of a fake is actually a watermark on one of the pieces of paper that one of Ricciardi’s collectors received that says Fabriano, an Italian paper company. It wasn’t exactly very big in the commercial world of PC game makers in the east, so a little suspect, to say the least.
CHANG: So for the people who actively collect these games, do they actually play them or just keep them in pristine condition and don’t touch them like some sneaker collectors don’t actually wear the shoes they collect?
ORLAND: Yes. If you’re spending thousands of dollars on a 40-year-old PC game, you can’t play this game. All of these games are available online or as re-releases via emulation or other means. You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for it. They want these games as some sort of totem I think, something that reminds them of nostalgia from playing them as kids, also as something that might hold some value for some of them. But as for taking that disk out and putting it in an old Apple 2 computer, some of them don’t even have that computer anymore.
CHANG: (laughter) Right
ORLAND: So they just trust that what they’re getting is authentic. It’s a very tight-knit group of collectors. I don’t think the confidence will last long after that.
CHANG: So interesting. So I know that Ricciardi responded to these allegations. What’s his defense?
ORLAND: Yes. So I talked to him extensively on Facebook Messenger. And he was basically saying that he was the unwitting victim here too, that he took fake materials and didn’t look hard enough and passed them on to other collectors. The other collectors I spoke to really don’t buy this story. They say that until recently he was the authority on these things and should be able to spot any fakes.
CHANG: Yes. Well, have you been able to find out how much money Ricciardi allegedly made from these fakes?
ORLAND: It’s interesting because while he was selling some of those games, a lot of them were traded for other games. So the collectors think that someone would get an authentic copy of the game and then make a fake and say oh I got some extra copies that I got at rock bottom. Would you like to trade? And then trade the fake and get authentic games from the other person. And if you do that often enough, you’ll eventually have a very large collection of authentic games. So it’s not clear that he was only in it for the money. He was a collector himself. So if these claims are true, it could have been a way of just increasing your own collection rather than getting rich directly.
CHANG: Interesting. This is Kyle Orland, Senior Gaming Editor at Ars Technica. Thank you for being with us today.
ORLAND: Thank you. That was fun.
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