NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks with Kyle Orland, Games Editor at Ars Technica, about fake copies of old PC video games discovered in the world of rare PC game collecting.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
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 close-knit world of PC game collecting was rocked by allegations that one of its most prominent figures was selling and trading counterfeits. Kyle Orland is the Game Editor at Ars Technica and detailed this whole saga there. He joins us now to talk about it. Welcome.
KYLE ORLAND: Thanks for having me.
CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. So this scandal, it involves a man named Enrico Ricciardi. And just briefly, like, explain who he is and what exactly he’s been charged with.
ORLAND: Yeah. Ricciardi is an Italian fashion photographer. He’s also one of the oldest members of this niche community of high-end PC game collectors, which has been collecting since the 90s. And he was considered something of an authority on these games – the different versions of between them, how to spot counterfeits. There are conversations where he allegedly faked other people. But recently, and completely independently, two different groups of collectors started noticing signs of counterfeiting on games they had obtained from Ricciardi.
CHANG: What kind of signs? For example, how do you know a game is fake?
ORLAND: So some of them are pretty clear. Like some discs, if you insert them and actually look at the data on that disc, there will be a cracked copy of that game where the copy protection has been broken. And there is actually on one of them, a loading screen that says presented by the Data Killer, which obviously a genuine 1981 copy wouldn’t have.
CHANG: That’s right.
ORLAND: There was another game that was on a tape that was supposed to contain game data, but instead it was just a bunch of random white noise and sounds of people talking in the background. But one of the most telltale signs of forgery is actually a watermark on one of the pieces of paper that one of the collectors received from Ricciardi who says Fabriano, which is an Italian paper company. It wasn’t exactly huge in the business world of PC game makers in the East, so a little suspicious, to say the least.
CHANG: So for people who actively collect these games, do they actually play them, or do they just keep them in mint condition and don’t touch them, like some sneaker collectors don’t actually wear the shoes they collect?
ORLAND: Yeah. If you’re spending thousands of dollars on a 40-year-old PC game, it’s not to be able to play that game. All of these games are available through emulation or other means, online or through re-releases. You don’t need to pay thousands of dollars for it. They want these games as a totem, I guess, something that reminds them of the nostalgia of when they played them when they were kids, also as something that might gain value for some of them. But as far as removing that drive and putting it in an old Apple 2 computer, some of them don’t even have that computer anymore.
CHANG: (laughs) That’s right.
ORLAND: So they just believe what they’re getting is genuine. It’s a tight-knit group of collectors. I don’t think the trust will last long after that.
CHANG: So interesting. So I know that Ricciardi has responded to these allegations. What is his defense?
ORLAND: Yeah. So I spoke to him at length on Facebook Messenger. And he basically said that he was the unwitting victim of that as well, that he took counterfeit materials and didn’t look closely enough and passed them on to other collectors. The other collectors I’ve spoken to really aren’t buying this story. They say he was, until recently, the authority on these things and should have been able to note any forgeries.
Chang: Yeah. Well, were you able to determine, for example, how much money Ricciardi would have made on these counterfeits?
ORLAND: It’s interesting because even though he was selling some of these games, a lot of them were traded in for other games. So what collectors think happened is someone would get a genuine copy of the game and then make a counterfeit and say, oh, I’ve got extra copies that I got in down. Do you want to trade? And then you trade the fake and get genuine games from the other person. And if you do it enough times, you’ll end up with a very large collection of authentic games. So it’s not clear that he was just there for the money. He was himself a collector. So, if these allegations are true, it could have been a way simply to increase his own collection more than to enrich himself directly.
Chang: Interesting. This is Kyle Orland, game editor at Ars Technica. Thank you very much for joining us today.
ORLAND: Thank you. It was fun.
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