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Old 25 October 2014, 04:36   #12
Mark Wright
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Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Hove, actually
Posts: 205
Why did people crack games? Well, they still do, don't they? It's to "set them free", isn't it? Y'know, to get one over on the evil corporate monoliths who seek to jealously guard their precious works of art away from those who haven't paid the admission fee. Power to the people! Etc! At least, that's the popular belief.

However, that's not how I remember the beginnings of "why people cracked games."
I've attempted many times elsewhere to put forward my own views, but have always been shouted down, partly I suspect because there simply aren't enough old timers paying attention anymore in order to corroborate my points. But hear me out for a minute.

If you were a UK or US based owner of a Commodore 64, 8-bit Atari, ST or Amiga in their heydays, you were in a priveleged position. You were able to enjoy the readily-available fruits of a pro-active, indigenous software industry that sprung up to supply a commercial demand. You had ubiquitous news-stand magazines, TV shows, high-street retailers and so on. Lucky you.

But all of these machines were popular in other territories that, for one reason or another, were slow to (or failed to) nurture their own local commercial industry in order to meet the hunger for software - yet, the demand was quickly met. How? Why, in time honoured-tradition, via the black market of course. And herein lies my first controversial statement: "cracking was invented in Europe." It was born out of necessity.

In the early years of the "home micro", the majority of major games software releases were from either UK or US companies - designed for, and released into, their home territories. Retailers in either of these markets would occasionally import games from the other, due to demand, selling them at prohibitively expensive prices, reflecting the cost of the whole endeavour while trying to make a profit. At least they were available.

Meanwhile, if you lived in the Netherlands, West Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria, even Poland - where all these machines were popular - what were your options? You might have been able to afford an imported magazine from the UK or US, taunting you every turn of the page, filled with glossy adverts for all the new games beyond your reach. What else to spend your money on? A modem and blank disks! Let's import some games! Anyone know machine code? The benefactor is born.

Back to the UK. Did you have a bunch of "pirated" software for any of the machines I've mentioned? Of course you did. Were you a legitimate member of "the scene"? Probably not. There's an easy way to tell. Did you tap your spacebar impatiently at the sight of a "Dutch USA Team" intro, or reach for your left mouse-button when a German "Red Sector" or Belgian "BS1" intro delayed playing of your latest acquisiton? If yes, congratulations, you're a "lamer". Don't tell me you paid for the disk too!

So, my second controversial statement: "the early cracked games only made it back to UK and US shores as a bi-product and were never meant for us." It was only inevitable, though. How could you control the genie now it's out of the bottle? Sure enough, before long, UK teams were cracking and releasing UK games to the UK; same with the Americans. Perhaps by this stage, cracking really was an "industry" with money changing hands between those involved. From industrial espionage to mafia and terrorism.

However. I really don't think that the likes of Mr Zeropage, Lord Blitter, Conqueror & Zike and Rob had in their minds the liberation of software, just so some pathetic British fucking pipsqueak schoolkid could parade around the playground boasting to his unenlightened friends that he'd personally ripped off some software (read: copied some cracks using X-Copy), much to their impressed amazement, and that they could buy it for 3 a disk. The wanker.

* * *

Surprise ending, there. But anyway: with the possible exception of those Yorkshire and Kent lads (not TKT) on the Atari ST, I don't think that ANY cracker would have knowingly used their very specific skills and elusive talents in order that some sweaty market-stall trader could knock out copies of Speedball 2 for 5 to teenagers. They did, of course, but only (generally) as a bi-product of some greater endeavour.
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