The retro PC game collecting scene was rocked by an unexpected scandal last week when a prominent member of the community, who was also a moderator of a major Facebook group, was accused of selling people fake copies of classic games.
Enrico Ricciardi, who for years has been an active member of the community as a buyer, seller and source of advice, has been booted from the Big Box PC Game Collectors group after several members came forward with evidence they say proves that many of the boxes, floppy disks and pieces of art he has been selling people are not what they seem.
The group’s members have collected all their evidence and accusations in a public document, saying that after one member received a suspicious game—a supposed copy of 1979's Akalabeth: World of Doom, which was developed by Richard Garriott before he started the Ultima series and is one of the first RPGs ever made—they began to poke around other titles that had been sold by Ricciardi, and found many of those were a little off as well.
Comparing Ricciardi’s games to originals owned by other members, the group quickly found a number of discrepancies with the former, like game labels being hand-cut instead of machined, marks on supposedly decades-old stickers that could only have been made with modern printers and slight differences in things like fonts and logo placement. You can see these examples yourself here and here.
The most damning evidence presented, though, was that in many cases the disks that had been sold by Ricciardi were blank, something many buyers were only discovering now that they had been prompted to check. If you’re thinking to yourself “why didn’t these guys check that before?”, we’re talking about disks and tapes that are in some cases over 40 years old, which as the Big Box PC Game Collectors members explain, means doing this isn’t always the best idea:
These disks are 40 years old, and the software is widely available online via emulators at this point. The goal in getting these games is not to play them, but to collect them (people who collect baseball trading cards do not trade them much either). “Testing” a 40-year-old disk can risk damaging the disk. Further, some collectors do not have access to the computers which originally ran these games.
With multiple members having now compared the games they received from Ricciardi to other, legitimate copies, it has become clear that he has been selling these intricate fakes for years (since at least 2015, by their reckoning), covering everything from old Sierra and Origin games to “multiple copies of Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash, Akalabeth and Mystery House.”
Wildly, it’s even believed that while most of Ricciardi’s fakes were sold directly to buyers, the group says “there is at least one black box Ultima 1 that we think may be fake that was graded by WATA.”
UPDATE, June 3: A WATA representative tells Kotaku:
We take claims around our authentication standards seriously and are looking into this matter about one game that was graded several years ago. We are confident in our current authentication process and have reached out to the owner of the game so that we can receive and re-evaluate it given newly surfaced information. We are prepared to remedy the situation with the owner if needed.
It’s estimated that Ricciardi has been involved in “at least €100K in transactions of suspected counterfeit game items”, which at time of posting works out to be roughly USD$107,300. That’s...a lot of money, as you’d expect for games both this old and this important, though as the group explain in a FAQ accompanying their post, it’s unclear if any legal proceedings are underway, or ever will be, since they say “the individuals affected are choosing the best recourse for them and do not wish to discuss this publicly.”
If you’re a collector and this has you a bit spooked, or you’re just an outside observer curious about how all this works, the Big Box PC Game Collectors group have an “anti-scammers guide” that’s an interesting read.