Software piracy in 2016 is so ubiquitous that we expect games to leak ahead of release. Back in the 20th century, though, it was a lot harder for pirates to get hold of video games before they hit retail shelves. As evidenced by this crazy old story about how the classic TIE Fighter got out a week before its release in 1994.
Via Games Man Simon Carless’ Twitter yesterday, here’s an old LA Times report from 1994, detailing how a US piracy group, a rogue Lucasarts employee using a code-jacking modem and a Russian programmer worked together to get bootleg copies of the blockbuster space shooter into fans’ hands ahead of its commercial release:
In November of the same year, Lucasarts’ General Counsel Robert Roden spoke to the LA Times about the leaks and piracy in general, giving a very 1994 response to the practice:
“If they’re stealing ‘TIE Fighter’ because they love the game, the irony in all of it is that they’re harming the thing they love,” he said. “They’re making it more difficult for software companies to make these products and survive in the market.”
A pirate interviewed for the same story had a different, more personal take on his early pick-up of the game:
On July 14, a 20-year-old pirate nicknamed Drizzit took a morning drive from his home in the San Fernando Valley to the Babbage’s computer retail store at the Glendale Galleria. He wanted to check if Lucas-Arts’ “TIE Fighter” game had come in yet.
Glancing inside, Drizzit could see the game had not arrived. On a shelf near the front of the store stood empty “TIE Fighter” boxes, gaily decorated with ribbons that said “coming soon.”
Drizzit recalls laughing at the sight of those empty boxes. “The funny thing was,” he later told a reporter, “I’d been playing that game for the last seven days. I’d downloaded it off the Internet, I didn’t have to pay for it, I was up to the sixth mission and it worked great.”
The dates may change but throughout video game history the story remains the same.