The latest big scam: fakes and reproductions in the world of computer video games

The latest big scam: fakes and reproductions in the world of computer video games

The latest big scam

Collecting video games was, until a decade ago, a hobby relatively accessible to everyone. Not only was it possible to find titles on the eBay auction site, even quite sought after, for no more than twenty euros, but in the thrift shops you could easily find the treasures of someone who had finally decided to empty the attic. Maybe you could have been even more fortunate, entering a video game store a few days before its final closure, so as to take home titles for a few pennies. Those times, alas, seem a distant memory. Today the risk of fakes and reproductions in the world of computer video games is unfortunately high.

Collecting Home Computer Games Today

Ultima IX Ascension Collecting home computer titles is, in general, quite different from the console. This is because the packages have changed countless times over the years and are also different depending on the region: beyond Japan, the USA and Europe also experience many differences, even in the contents, as well as in the cardboard packaging itself. Also, do not forget the wealth of materials that were once included in the "normal" PC editions: novellas and additional manuals to immerse the player in the world, maps (sometimes made of cloth). To these were added, at times, extras of various kinds (called "feelies" in traditional Infocom adventures) such as diaries, newspaper sheets, business cards and even tea bags. Getting a complete copy, in short, is far more complicated than the general console combination of cartridge-box-manual.

In recent years, the situation in PC video game collecting has changed abruptly, not only has the value - on average - increased by 100% but availability has decreased. The latter is also a natural consequence of the passing of the years, on the other hand many of the games that seem to have been released yesterday, perhaps in '95 or '96, are actually almost thirty years old. With the 2020 pandemic, the situation has become even more complicated: bored people locked up inside the house with a lot of money to spend (especially for the American stimulus check) and few activities to dedicate themselves to, if not complete their collection. | has often been questioned, by Youtubers like Karl Jobst. As well as the various teary-eyed prices for common stocks such as Super Mario 64, which ended up at auction at one and a half million dollars.

The scandal of the fake Ultima and Mystery House

Ricciardi a a party in Miami In this difficult situation, there is also an unpleasant story that has seriously affected the credibility of the world of collecting home computer games. One of our compatriots, Enrico Ricciardi, was accused of having sold, for years, securities within the community, recently recognized as fake by those who analyzed them. He was a well-known figure within the world of computer game collecting, recognized on the Facebook group "Big Box PC Game Collectors" (currently made up of about six thousand members) as well as others, as one of the leading experts in recognizing any fakes. and reproductions. On May 30, several members of the group issued a statement directly accusing Ricciardi of having sold, to at least seven different people, reproductions of rather rare games.

The selection of titles sold by Ricciardi is of particular interest, as these are largely games originally sold by the developers themselves, not a publisher or distributor. Titles like Mystery House of the Sierra (still On-line Entertainment at the time) from 1980 and Akalabeth, the predecessor of Richard Garriott's Ultima series, of the same year. At the time, the industry was still in its infancy and games were often sold in plastic bags, so-called "zip-lock bags", packaged by the developers themselves, containing floppies, manuals and some additional content.

A fake Akalabeth Due to their "homemade" nature, they are extremely difficult titles to find in satisfactory condition and with the contents intact. Yet, due to their amateur origin, they are certainly easier to forge (and more difficult to recognize as such if you are not an expert) than a counterfeit copy of, for example, The Secret of Monkey Island or Fallout.

Apparently, Ricciardi had an almost infinite amount of rare titles at his disposal, ready for resale. As mentioned, the transactions he carried out were exclusively of a confidential nature. Kevin Ng, of the facebook group Big Box PC Game Collectors, recalls: "Ricciardi contacted us privately, offering games for money or offering to trade with other titles, making sure we didn't share the sale with anyone. He always told us to keep everything. between us, because otherwise they would have been envious ". Ng was the first to notice a possible counterfeit copy and started an investigation within the group, which soon involved other members.

How to identify a fake historian

The manual of Ultima, on the left the copy of Ricciardi Enrico Ricciardi is a fashion photographer and a fan of home computer video games, especially the Ultima series. "I am nothing more than a collector" Ricciardi says when interviewed via Facebook, "I consider myself a victim of all this history that has been created, certainly not the executioner". The collector defends himself by saying that years ago he bought a series of games from a user of the same Facebook group. Regarding this person, however, even after direct requests from some of the members of the group, Ricciardi does not seem to want to provide any other information.

"I have been selling and buying games for 25 years, and now I am being charged for a instruction sheet of a game that arrived from Japan years ago. I bought a batch of games for Apple II some time ago from a person who has now magically disappeared, he wrote me from an email address that no longer exists and sent it via a mailbox My lawyer told me that it is useless and impossible to look for him. "

Dominik's games received by Ricciardi.jpg How was it possible to identify the fakes? First of all, for the printing techniques. Clearly, sheets and labels printed in 1980 not only used different methods, compared to today, but the signs of aging are easily identifiable even if you are not an expert on the subject. In several of the cases shown by users, the signs of aging on the manuals and labels from the Ricciardi collection seem to be directly printed on the supports, not caused by time.

Even more difficult to deny, however, is what was inside the floppies and cassettes. Many of the copies sold by Ricciardi apparently featured floppies with no content and, in one case, even a blatantly cracked copy of the game itself. All signs that they were reproductions. Apparently, moreover, at least one forged copy of Ultima I would have been positively evaluated by the VGA and WATA and returned to the user.

Akalabeth Ricciardi believes that much of the evidence shown is of little consequence. "Some of the photos of what they say are fake seem far more true to me than what they call original!" The photographer also accuses the members of not contacting him before publishing the results of the research done by the group. On this, Kevin Ng and Dominik Reichardt recall, however, how Ricciardi was contacted several times, after the first discoveries. "Actually, Enrico admitted that one of the games was fake and, if I sent it back, he would give me my money back," says Ng.

On this, Ricciardi confirms "I'm behaving like a correct person, anyone who contacts me with a problem will be fully refunded or can have another game in return. But we're talking about less than ten people! it's not an admission of guilt, I just want this story to end as soon as possible, because I know that even if, in the end, my extraneousness to the facts is proven, the damage is now irreparable. "

A Crumbling Myth

A GameRepublic article What makes Ricciardi's version of his total alienation from the circulation of fake titles hard to believe, community members say, is that he is one of the leading experts in recognizing them. How come one of the gurus in recognizing fakes, especially titles that he knows very well, that he has identified several times over the years with certainty of the reproductions, would not have noticed that he had so many? And most importantly, what chance would he have led him to sell reproductions to (at least) seven different people in the community over the past five years?

The entire value of the transactions carried out by Ricciardi is still not identified with certainty, but it is certainly more than one hundred thousand euros. The number should not surprise, on the other hand - as already specified above - these are very rare titles and which, in good condition, can easily reach figures of over a thousand euros each.

A suspicious copy by Ultima The Milanese collector could boast, moreover, several contacts with the videogame industry that confirmed the seriousness of his reputation. Scrolling through some of his posts on Twitter, it's easy to find photos of John Romero, of ID Software, visiting Ricciardi's home or Richard Garriott autographing a title from the Ultima series, also provided by the same collector.

Several members of the industry, after being informed of what happened, said they were amazed by what happened. Garriott admitted to recognizing several fakes in the photos that circulated, while Ken Williams - founder of Sierra Entertainment along with his wife Roberta - said he was shocked and never suspected anything. It is not clear, at the moment, if some of these will want to further defend their name in the legal seat, but all have distanced themselves from what happened and from Ricciardi.

Hitchhikers guide to galaxy How is it possible, however , that someone has been able to sell fake securities for years, without anyone noticing before? Certainly trust between the members was an essential factor, but there are other elements to consider. Creating such a fake requires a certain technique and knowledge of the material. On this, intervenes Carlo Santagostino, secretary of RetroCampus, an association that has collaborated several times with Ricciardi and that, after the incident, has distanced himself from it. "I met Ricciardi in 2016 and I remember that he was very interested in the techniques of duplication of floppies and cassettes. At the time I didn't give much importance to his insistence on him, but thinking about it now ...".

The relationship between Santagostino and Ricciardi was abruptly broken last year, "I commented on a title he said was the first computer game ever sold, showing him that it was not a correct definition. Instead of answering me , he blocked me and we no longer interacted. In light of today's events, that behavior made me think he wanted to avoid expert attention on some securities he was planning to sell ... ".

Recovering trust in others

An article in the Giornale di Brescia Ricciardi concludes our conversation by saying that he wants to leave collecting forever, as he is tired and now too old. "Enrico has distinguished himself, over the years, as one of the top experts in the community, a friend of everyone, always ready to help you understand how much you could trust or not what they had sold you. For me, it was a bad blow and personally I just want to get back the money I threw away and get it out of my head "Kevin Ng closes. In fact, the biggest problem for the community seems to be the apparent loss of trust between people. It is certainly no coincidence that, in the days following the publication of the investigation results, many members turned to the group to verify the authenticity of some games bought in the past. Moreover, it is not even the first case of a community member (and moderator) who has turned out to be a person not to be trusted.

Enrico Ricciardi and Richard Garriott After a media bombing on the affair, on which they have even some national newspapers contributed (which cited the FBI, although it has nothing to do with the case), the community closed in silence. The members try to start from the basics, the moderators have also compiled a series of guidelines on how to recognize fakes more easily. Evaluating the consequences of this scandal on the world of computer video game collecting is not easy today. Surely, the most difficult thing to rebuild will be the trust in the community itself after having lost a person of reference in such a painful way.

Collectors will have to go back to rediscover what they are really passionate about, to rediscover the joy that led them to want to recover the titles of their childhood. Certainly, in order to overcome this difficult moment, it will be necessary to remain united as much as possible, waiting for time, as they say, to heal all wounds.

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