The boxed PC game collector community is in an uproar over the discovery that a prominent dealer is selling counterfeit copies of rare and expensive video games, some of which were purchased for thousands of dollars.
According to a timeline published in Big Box PC game collectors (opens in new tab), a Facebook group with around 6,100 members (of which I am one), the problem came to a head when group admin Kevin Ng received copies of Akalabeth, the first game from Ultima creator Richard Garriott, the dungeon crawler 1979 Temple of Apshai, and the Japanese edition of Mystery House by another well-known collector and now former moderator of the group, Enrico Ricciardi. A close examination of the games revealed that they were likely fakes. When confronted, Ricciardi allegedly “alluded” that Akalabeth was in fact fake and suggested it be destroyed.
Ng contacted other members of the collector community and found the problem to be widespread: an “exhaustive investigation” revealed that several other members of the group received what appeared to be counterfeit Ricciardi games.
Ricciardi denies knowingly selling fakes.
Dominik R., one of the Big Box PC Game Collectors who believes it was sold counterfeit, shared images from his Ultima collection, which is now believed to be counterfeit, on Twitter:
This used to be the centerpieces of my collection. Rare and expensive old games. Turns out I was scammed and sold fakes by a well-known figure in the Ultima and tetrogames community. Along with many others #ultima #akalabeth @RichardGarriott pic.twitter.com/wuiAQPSuG2May 30, 2022
This is not a minor argument on a table at the local exchange meeting. Copies of rare games can sell for big money to well-heeled collectors. in a 2013 kickstarter (opens in new tab) for the Shroud of Avatar, for example, Garriott offered up to 20 copies of Akalabeth as a reward to supporters at the $10,000 level. Nine were sold.
“[Pricing] It depends on many factors,” explained a Big Box PC Game Collectors moderator who requested anonymity. “Is this one of the original sets that Garriott released? Is it a recent new version for the C64? Does it have all the original components in good condition or just the disc? Is it autographed? Do you have provenance? The answer is $500 to infinity, depending on provenance or conditions.”
Big Box PC Game Collectors administrators say they have identified at least €100,000 ($107,000) of suspected counterfeit transactions so far, including complete game boxes, manuals, registration cards, inserts, labels and more. Incidents involving suspected counterfeits date back to 2015 and, along with Akalabeth, Temple of Apshai and Mystery House, involve early releases by Sierra and Origin Systems.
Determining a fake from an authentic game release is a tricky business, involving close examinations and comparisons of small details on packaging and media. The group said one of the biggest challenges in determining the authenticity of old games is that production quality varied greatly in the early 1980s, a time when games were often shipped in ziplock bags with instructions on old dot-matrix printers. “What appears to be sloppy production methods or just photocopied paper in plastic bags was in fact the beginning of our industry,” the group said.
Garriott himself alluded to this difficulty on Twitter, saying it’s possible that the games are legitimate, “but pirated versions”.
Before we all jump in and admonish a seller… we should study the items. For example: my signature looks authentic. “Shareware” may be legit…but pirated versions, not sold by Origin or EA. Some ziplock bags look too big, but the Akalabeth and Ultima inside look like correct fronts. https://t.co/wCjZHe7ErKMay 31, 2022
The Big Box PC Game Collectors group detailed three “suspects” that all the games in question shared:
- PRINTED PARTS: Halftone dots in printed materials do not appear to be in line with the printing processes of the time. Sometimes dirt and wear appear to be imprinted. CMYK dot patterns appear in places where they should not be printed. The halftone patterns in Enrico’s materials often feature a moiré pattern, which happens when playing something that already has a halftone pattern. Things that should be one-color prints often appear to be four-color prints, or don’t have smooth edges when viewed closely. Digital manipulation artifacts are present. Colors in general are often different.
- MEDIA: Discs were tested and many did not include game data. The disc labels appear to be hand-cut, of different sizes and printed using modern technology. Cassette tapes didn’t have game data, had real audio, or had data patterns that weren’t what they were supposed to be. Cassettes often had glue residue from removing old labels. Some record labels had indentations of a corner template that looks a lot like someone was tracing the rounded corners on top of the labels.
- PACKING: The packaging generally had all four corners bent consistently. The flap holes appear to be hand-cut. Stickers look like they were cut by hand or are not exactly round. The packaging is often scratched in a way that appears to be consistent with using something for roughing. The boxes that were supposed to be sealed had the clips inserted into the slot. The boxes that were sealed with glue had no evidence of glue. The boxes appear to have hand-drilled holes that would normally be made with a machine (I don’t know what to call this really). Game-specific security features were not present or were incorrectly simulated.
It also shared a series of visual evidence of suspected counterfeits, comparing them to known legitimate copies, and illustrating the different ways in which it examined suspected counterfeits. A handful of examples taken from the archive:
Image 1 of 9
Speaking to PC Gamer, Ricciardi denied selling counterfeit copies of rare games to anyone. He said he has been collecting since the late 1990s, when rare games could still be had at relatively low prices, and while he has amassed a significant collection, he has only sold a very small number of them. All the games he sold and allegedly counterfeited were acquired and passed on to other collectors, he added, although he no longer has his contact information.
“I never submitted any games knowing they were fake,” Ricciardi said.
Ricciardi acknowledged that 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 didn’t want to cause trouble.
“Many dealers asked for these items and I refused to sell to them, knowing they would use them to make money,” Riccardi said. “And I didn’t want them to know that I had sold them at a lower price.”
A representative for Big Box PC Game Collectors said the group’s “first consideration” when the forgeries surfaced was that Ricciardi was not directly involved, but that he ultimately could not accept his claims based on the evidence.
“Ricciardi notes that he only passed on what he received to others, apparently without inspection. We find this extremely unlikely,” the representative said. “During negotiations for these products – most in the $1,000+ range photos were exchanged, details discussed and notes shared showing the product in question.
“In virtually every discussion, details about the condition of the materials were noted and photos exchanged. Buyers were assured that they were authentic pieces and, in addition, showed photographic evidence of the item in question – what was being sold – to ensure them why that was the case.”
The rep also alleged that Ricciardi sent messages to several people claiming to have detailed records on the origins of the games he sold, establishing their provenance, and added that the group’s admins have evidence of much more recent transactions. One member of the group, for example, reportedly received suspicions of forgeries of two Ricciardi games just two weeks ago.
“All the cases we’ve investigated have happened within the last five years, the most recent being two weeks ago,” the rep said. “There are over 20 items in the initial investigation of three people alone, not counting the ones we’ve learned about since then. That total is growing rapidly.”
It’s not yet clear whether legal action will be taken on the fakes: Big Box PC Game Collectors said individual members are determining their next steps and don’t want to comment further. The group also released a new guide on how to avoid being deceived by unscrupulous sellers, and denied any official links to Ricciardo, who was removed from the group.
“Enrico acted as a private entity and happened to be a member/moderator,” said one administrator. “Big Box PC Game Collectors assumes no responsibility for transactions between members. We don’t facilitate any of this. We are just a forum for conversations.”
Ominously, the group also suggested in its Facebook statement that the investigation could grow to reveal that the damage done by these fakes is even more widespread than is currently known: they are dealing with a quantity of alleged fraud that is likely to involve the police. and litigation, they asked to be kept confidential at this time. Your evidence confirms ours.”
Collectors who suspect they may have received counterfeit copies of games are invited to contact any admin of the Big Box PC Game Collectors Facebook group or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.