The community of boxed PC game collectors is in turmoil over the discovery that a high-profile retailer allegedly sold fake copies of rare and expensive video games, some of which were purchased for thousands of dollars.
According to a timeline published on Big Box PC Game Collectors (opens in a new tab), a Facebook group with around 6,100 members (including myself), the issue arose when group admin Kevin Ng received copies of Akalabeth, the first game from Ultima creator Richard Garriott, the 1979 dungeon crawler, Temple of Apshai, and the Japanese edition of Mystery House by another well-known collector and now former moderator of the group, Enrico Ricciardi. Close examination of the games revealed that they were likely counterfeits. When confronted, Ricciardi allegedly “alluded” that Akalabeth was indeed a fake and suggested that it be destroyed.
Ng contacted other members of the collecting community and found that the problem was widespread: an “extensive investigation” revealed that a number of other members of the group had received what appeared to be counterfeit games from Ricciardi .
Ricciardi denies ever knowingly selling fakes.
Dominik R., one of the members of Big Box PC Game Collectors who believes he was sold counterfeit, shared images of his Ultima collection, now believed to be counterfeit, on Twitter:
It was the centerpiece of my collection. Rare and expensive old games. It now turns out that I was scammed and sold counterfeits by a well-known figure in the Ultima and tetrogames community. With many more #ultima #akalabeth @RichardGarriott pic.twitter.com/wuiAQPSuG2May 30, 2022
This is not a minor argument around a table during the local exchange meeting. Copies of rare games can fetch high prices to well-heeled collectors. In a 2013 Starter (opens in a new tab) for Shroud of the Avatar, for example, Garriott offered up to 20 copies of Akalabeth as a reward for backers at the $10,000 level. Nine have been sold.
“[Pricing] depends on many factors,” explained a Big Box PC Game Collectors moderator who requested anonymity. “Is this one of the original games that Garriott published? Is this a recent new version for the C64? Does it have all its original components in good condition or just the disc? Is it dedicated? Does it have an established provenance? The answer is $500 to infinity, depending on provenance or conditions.”
Administrators of Big Box PC Game Collectors claim to have identified at least €100,000 ($107,000) of allegedly infringing transactions so far, including complete game boxes, manuals, registration cards, inserts, labels, etc. Incidents involving alleged counterfeits date back to 2015 and, along with Akalabeth, Temple of Apshai, and Mystery House, involve advance releases from Sierra and Origin Systems.
Determining a counterfeit from an authentic game version is a tricky business, involving close examinations and comparisons of small details in packaging and media. The group said one of the biggest challenges in determining the authenticity of older games is that production quality varied widely in the early 1980s, a time when games were often shipped in ziplock bags with instructions. provided on old dot-matrix printers. “What appears to be sloppy production methods or just photocopied paper in plastic bags was indeed the very beginning of our industry,” the group said.
Garriott himself alluded to this difficulty on Twitter, saying it’s possible the games are legit, “but pirated versions”.
Before we all jump up and berate a salesperson…we should study the articles. For example: my signature looks genuine. The “shareware” could be legitimate… but pirated versions, not sold by Origin or EA. Some ziplock bags look too big, but the Akalabeth and Ultima inside look okay. https://t.co/wCjZHe7ErKMay 31, 2022
The Big Box PC Game Collectors group broke down three “alleged omens” that all of the games in question shared:
- PRINTED PARTS: Halftone dots on printed materials do not appear to match printing processes of the time. Sometimes dirt and wear seem to be imprinted. CMYK dot patterns appear in places where there should be no printing at all. Halftone patterns on Enrico’s materials often exhibit a moiré pattern, which occurs when reproducing something that already has a halftone pattern. Things that are supposed to be one-color prints often appear to be four-color prints, or they don’t have smooth edges when looked at closely. Digital manipulation artifacts are present. The colors in general are often different.
- MEDIA: Discs were tested and many did not include game data. Disc labels appear to be hand cut, various sizes and printed on modern technology. The tapes did not contain game data, had actual audio, or had data patterns that were not what they should be. Cassettes often had glue residue from removing old labels. Some record labels had indents from a corner pattern which looked a lot like someone tracing the rounded corners above the labels.
- PACKAGING: Packages often had all four corners bent consistently. The holes for the flying legs appear to have been cut by hand. Stickers appear to have been hand cut or are not exactly round. The packaging is often scratched in a way that appears to be consistent with using something to roughen it up. The boxes that were supposed to be sealed had the hanging tabs inserted into the slot. Boxes sealed with glue showed no trace of glue. The boxes appear to have hand-drilled holes that would normally have been made with a machine (not sure what to call them). Game-specific security features were not present or were not simulated correctly.
He also shared an array of visual evidence of alleged counterfeits, comparing them to known legitimate copies and illustrating the different ways he has examined alleged counterfeits. Some examples from the archives:
Image 1 of 9
Speaking to PC Gamer, Ricciardi denied knowingly selling tampered copies of rare games to anyone. He said he had been collecting since the late 1990s, when rare games could still be bought relatively cheaply, and although he amassed his own sizeable collection, he only sold a very small one. number. Any games he has sold that are believed to be counterfeit were acquired and passed on by other collectors, he added, although he no longer has their contact details.
“I never shipped games knowing they were knockoffs,” Ricciardi said.
Ricciardi admitted he asked his buyers to keep their transactions secret, but said he did so because he was selling below market prices to help other collectors build their libraries and he didn’t want to make any noise.
“Many dealers requested these items and I refused to sell to them, knowing that they would have used them to make money,” Riccardi said. “And I didn’t want them to know that I sold them for less.”
A rep for Big Box PC Game Collectors said the group’s “first consideration” when the forgeries emerged was that Ricciardi was not directly involved, but ultimately couldn’t accept his claims based on the evidence.
“Ricciardi notes that he simply passed on what he received to others, apparently without inspection. We find this extremely unlikely,” the rep said. “During negotiations for these products, most of which were in the $1,000+ range, photos were exchanged, details were discussed, and notes were shared showing the product in question.
“In virtually every discussion, details of the condition of materials were noted and photos exchanged. Buyers were assured that they were genuine parts and were further shown photographic proof of the item in question – the one being sold – to assure them why it was the deal.”
The representative also alleged that Ricciardi sent messages to several people claiming to have detailed records of the origins of the games he sold, establishing their provenance, and added that the group’s administrators had evidence of much more recent transactions. One member of the group, for example, reportedly received alleged counterfeits of two Ricciardi games just two weeks ago.
“All of the cases we investigated occurred within the past five years, with the most recent being two weeks ago,” the representative said. “There are more than 20 items in just the initial three-person investigation, not counting those we have since become aware of. That total is growing rapidly.”
It’s not yet clear whether legal action will be taken against the alleged infringements: the Big Box PC Game Collectors group said individual members are determining their next steps and wish to comment no further. The group has also released a new guide to how to avoid getting scammed by unscrupulous salesmen, and disavowed any official connection with Ricciardo, who was removed from the group.
“Enrico acted as a private entity and happened to be a member/moderator,” one admin said. “Big Box PC Game Collectors takes no responsibility for transactions between members. We do not facilitate any such thing. We are only a forum for conversations.”
Worryingly, the group also suggested in its statement on Facebook that the investigation could expand to reveal that the damage caused by these counterfeits is even more widespread than currently known: “There have been others who have investigated the same, but since we’re dealing with an amount of alleged fraud that will likely involve police and litigation, they’ve asked to remain confidential at this time. Their evidence supports ours.”
Collectors who suspect they have received counterfeit copies of games are encouraged to contact any administrator of the Big Box PC Game Collectors group on Facebook, or by email at [email protected]