May You Pirate In Interesting Times:
A Peek into the North American C64 Scene (circa 1983-1990), and Other Ramblings...
by The Shark of International Network of Chaos (INC)
The old North American scene... Visions of rushed releases, endless wars, and multiple intros per release all come to mind for many people part of the newer scene.
Still, despite these negative labels, the old scene was the most fascinating era on the C64 due to the mass wave of releases, the large number of users, and the technical advances occurring weekly. During this incredible time, the scene could be divided into two primary regions -- Europe and North America. Today, I'll be giving you a peek into the old North American scene...where, through the ubiquitous modems, warez moved fast and furious.
First, let's look at the birth of a pirate in the America. After all, to understand the scene, you have to know the players. It's well known that the C64 was marketed as the first affordable family computer of its time. With the primary market being middle to mid-lower class citizens, the average family could afford 1-2 software titles per month at $30-$40 per title. For your average game, this was a hard price to swallow since arcade games were still $0.25 a credit. Next, factor in that many of the C64 users were 10-18 years old -- not exactly you're most responsible age group. When a kid saves up his allowance to buy a game only to find out that he just bought a stinker, certainly there is going to be some resentment aimed at the gaming industry. Finally, and most importantly, the temptation of hundreds of free software games is too strong to resist even for a preacher's son.
This is where the rationalization comes in. You think to yourself, "What harm is it to pirate this game that I couldn't afford to begin with?" You think some more...You convince yourself that it's not as if you are taking money from the programmers because you never were going to buy the game to begin with. Nothing physical is being taken. In fact, you tell yourself, you are simply duplicating software, a harmless crime. And so you cross the line guilt free with a smile your face as if you had just beaten an unjust, greedy system. But who is kidding whom here? With the potential for all those free games, there really is no rationalization going on in a teenager's head.
Not all pirates start this way -- some are just as greedy as the software industry or have little morals to begin with. But I think the above describes how many pirates start off -- pissed at the gaming industry and unable to resist all the free games. This entry-level pirate, as you will later read, can often mutate into the hardcore scener.
When you become a pirate, certainly you'll need others to trade with. In the young 80s, many American C64 users would trade software at school, through friends, or at local C64 user groups. It seemed that nearly everyone who owned a C64 pirated at some level, and those who didn't could be detected by their personality or simply by their lack of knowledge about the pirating world. You simply didn't bring up the subject around such people, although the authorities back then really cared less. The primary targets were the mass spreaders of software or the people profiting on the sale of pirated software. And the focus was usually on the more expensive software found on other computer systems such as IBM-PCs. Nonetheless, you seldom would volunteer your piracy status to non-pirates back then just to be safe.
Much of the software at this time was "cracked" through Mike J. Henry's "Fast Hack'em", a commercial program that would remove software protection for most of the major titles. Due to this automated cracking, the cracker in this case didn't really feel like he achieved a major accomplishment. Thus, much of the early software passed around had no mention of the party responsible for initial violation. Occasionally, though, you would see text on the title screen of a cracked game stating something like, "The Bandit was here" or "Cracked by Mr. Disk". As a young pirate you would wonder who these mysterious people were but at the same time marvel at their defiant abilities.
Over time, informal trading networks were formed. Sometimes trading was done through the mail, although this was less common in North America compared to Europe. Usually your mail-trade partners were a cousin or a good friend because you needed to ensure that you would get something in return (after all, those disks were expensive for kids back then). If you had an out-of-state trade partner, you were likely considered to be "the man" among your locals since you'd often receive different games than what everyone else had already passed around. This kind of power (i.e., controlling the warez) can get to a kid's head so, like in any society, the scene formed hierarchical levels. The more games you had as well as how quickly you obtained them decided your status. And note, pirates aren't exactly full-fledged Robin Hoods -- they can be very generous, but they often do expect something in return for "their" software. If you had no warez to offer in return, eventually your contacts would cut you off until you offered something new. Cutting off a contact was almost fun. They'd call asking if you had any new warez. You'd say, "nope" or you simply wouldn't return the call.
Those who couldn't get new warez eventually got the hint.
It was at this time that you were likely labelled a 'lamer' by your former contact.
The label, though, didn't apply to everyone who lacked the latest warez. People who could show skill on the C64, such as programmers and artists, were seldom given the lamer label even when their warez collection was small/old. In addition, you could be a lamer to the people above you while being a key contact to people below you. So there was a place for everyone, and most everyone was at least partially pleased since the warez eventually flowed downward.
Near the mid-80s, the scene underwent a monumental change. An incredible device for the C64 was now affordable -- the modem. Believe it or not, at one time people on the C64 actually used 300-baud modems. Even for its time, this modem was considered slow by most, but it was bearable since now you could get software from someone 45 minutes away without leaving your chair. Although the modem was so slow that you could probably drive over and copy the game faster than the modem could transfer it, a 45-minute drive for a teenager was a tough feat if you had no car or even a driving license. But the modem wasn't just about getting games. The modem became the lifeline of the scener for tools, games, information, entertainment, meeting new people, etc. And note, most American cities had unlimited local phone calls for a flat fee, so sitting on your modem all day was not an monetary issue like in Europe.
With the popularity of the modem booming, a new problem presented itself. Unless games were properly cracked, people were unable to send them over the modem. Fast Hack'em cracks often were only suitable for full-disk copying since part of the software protection involved hiding files on the disk. Since a full disk copy would copy even the hidden files, it didn't matter if the files were hidden or not. With modems, though, the software back then could only transfer files (visible files that is). This meant that people had to get these games to a state that we called "fully cracked" (to distinguish it from a Fast Hack'em crack). (Note, eventually zipping tools were released that allowed the transferring of the semi-cracked games.)
With a cracker putting in so much effort to fully crack a game, naturally enough he would want to place his alias somewhere on the crack. But by now, with so many people trading software with each other (mostly with friends), the idea of working alone was on its way out. And thus the pirating group was formed. The first pirating groups consisted of all local members who were friends before the group formed. They'd create a group name often bolding stating what they did and where they were from (e.g., the "Philadelphia Cracking Group" or "East Side Crackers").
With the modem allowing games to be spread quicker, groups discovered that their cracks were getting spread state-wide or even to neighbouring states. With such exposure, a simple little text message in the title screen of the game was no longer sufficient. Something much more grandiose would be needed! And so the intro was created. Simple compared to today's standards -- often a static picture perhaps with the group's logo and all the member names listed. Back then, though, this was jaw dropping since here now was a group of pirates who had joined forces. More strikingly however were their brash attitudes expressed by their "look at us" intro. It was as if they were standing on a hill top shouting, "Everyone! We did this, and we dare you to stop us!"
Near the same time as this modem and cracking revolution was beginning, the Bulletin Board System (BBS) world was growing rapidly. Rather than trying to coordinate a time with your contacts for transferring files, there were now dedicated systems out there where you could upload/download software as well as post messages to all or even individual users. This hugely increased the availability of software further speeding up the distribution. Looking back, what I now find so fascinating about BBSes was that they only had a single phone line. Thus, they had the capacity for only one user at a time. (Note, there were some BBSes that handled multiple users, but those were extremely rare.)
With people now a little closer to each other on the BBSes, something interesting began to form -- competition. In order for a group's intro to be seen, that group would have to have their warez on the BBSes. But now with multiple groups all trying to use the same distribution method, only the fastest would survive. And it wasn't just a matter of who could crack the fastest. You had to buy the game quick as well or at least hope that the shipments to the store were quick. Since the production locations for the software houses were scattered through out America, one region could get the game quicker than another.
To make competition even more interesting, another big scene development was also occurring about the same time. Phone calling cards were becoming very popular with the American consumer since it allowed you to take your long distance service along with you. The security codes for these calling cards were initially pathetic. A five-digit code would be given to each paying customer. This code wasn't appended to the user's phone number; it was a stand-alone code. Thus, if a company had 5,000 customers, you had a one in twenty chance of finding a valid code! Perhaps these companies figured that not many people would manually try to hack their code pool. They were right in that regard. Sceners simple would use hacking software and let their modems do the work while they slept. You would awake with anywhere from 5-10 new codes a night that would last you a good three months. With little tracing going on back then, hacking these numbers was extremely safe. Note, some pirates, especially in Canada, could Blue Box. This involved generating a tone of certain frequency into your phone receiver causing you to get someone else's dial tone. I think the process involved calling most any 800 number and then blowing the tone. From there, you'd get their dial tone. But I should say that it was rare to meet a Blue Boxer on the C64 scene since the phone companies were pretty much preventing it from working by the mid-80s.
With calling cards, or codez, now readily available, sceners began phreaking (calling for free illegally). Very rapidly the idea of competing locally now turned into competing regionally (i.e., SouthWest) and then eventually from coast to coast. Initial competition wasn't too intense, and for the most part it was friendly. There were plenty of warez for everyone, and no one really took the competition too seriously. The idea of trading software long distance was still new to many so it took a while for efficient spreading of the software to become common place. But software was certainly moving faster than ever, and with games being released by the truckload, there were times where either you didn't have enough time or blank disks to download everything.
Similar to the local pirating communities, the BBSes also had a class system based on how quickly one obtained warez. The best BBSes soon advertised that they received warez "0 dayz old". Lower on the totem pole would be 0-3 dayz, 0-5 dayz, and then after that people usually just didn't mention how old their warez were. (In case you haven't noticed, pirates love z's.) The real lame BBSes that catered to mostly local callers would often front as a public domain BBS. Only if the BBS operator (SYSOP) knew you were part of the scene would they give you access to the pirating section of the BBS. Elite BBSes on the other hand were private and usually required you to have references to gain access. Another sign of eliteness on BBSes were the type of download credit systems pirates were placed on. A credit system was needed in order to prevent leeching (the art of obtaining pirated software and returning very little in trade). Many BBSes gave users two blocks of download credits for every one block uploaded. This policy varied from board to board. Mega-elite pirates, those who were members of the top pirating groups, usually received unlimited credits since they often uploaded all their new releases. Plus, Sysops loved to boast about their user lists so they would offer unlimited "creditz" to the most famous pirates.
Shortly after the mid-80s the BBS scene really started to roll when 1200-baud modems became affordable. I can't begin to tell you how pleasant it was to quadruple your transfer speed. By now, warez spreading was very organized with groups utilizing designated software runners (simply called 'spreaders') whose sole purpose was to spread warez to as many BBSes as possible. Spreaders were needed in order for groups to rightfully claim that they were the first to release a particular warez title.
Groups now counted their victories by how many 'first-releases' they had and how popular the cracked titles were. Releasing highly anticipated games such as Maniac Mansion, Defender of the Crown, Beach Head II, Winter Games, etc., were seen as massive victories to pirating groups.
With the scene quickly maturing, not only was the competition more intense and organized, but now pirating was becoming more about group promotion rather than people trying to get new warez. Group intros evolved into elaborate displays containing animated sprites, multi-colored scrolling text, music, and quality artwork. Being the #1 group on the scene was now the driving goal. In fact, some sceners weren't even playing the games they were releasing. And some sceners would download games released by other groups with the primary purpose of viewing the intro. This weird culture was now made up of what I refer to as "hardcore scener" - a mutation of a normal pirate. When a scener no longer plays the games he pirates, something is seriously wrong. (Well, it seemed strange to me!)
Considering that hardcore sceners were often immature by default, it was only a matter of time before this organized competition led to wars. Scene wars were usually started by some small act, such as one group member changing groups, and would sometimes escalate into large-scale wars involving groups not even part of the original dispute. Wars often included the following annoyances done to the enemy: spread their phone numbers, crank calling at late hours, have phone lines disconnected, ordering items to their house, and nearly anything else irritating in your bag of tricks. These wars always spilled onto the BBSes providing some of the most humorous ragging of the times. Undoubtedly these wars were very childish, but they did add a little spice to the scene. The group that would release more warez once the war started was considered the victor since actions spoke louder than words on the scene. Plus, the more you released, the bigger fan base you had backing you up helping to declare you the winner. These victories helped strengthen your group's reputation, and reputation on the scene was very important. Reputation was short lived, however. The scene has always had the mentality of "what have you done lately?"
Although winning wars helped a group's reputation, the best way to gain respect, as mentioned earlier, was to release many high profile titles. The most prolific C64 American cracking groups to do this were the following: Eagle Soft Inc. (ESI), Untouchable Cracking Force (UCF), North East Crackers (NEC), A Touch of Class (ATC), and No Frills International (NFI). Without a doubt, ESI was the most dominating and the most remembered. Not only did they release some of the hottest games during the C64's golden era, they also had a massive arrogant, elitist attitude further escalating their reputation. Think in terms of how the top 1% of the wealthiest people behave in society and you'll get the idea of their attitudes. For example, only friends of ESI could be on their BBSes (being elite wasn't enough), and only a select few were 'privileged' to speak to their cracker, Mitch (Such a boring alias for someone so famous. Actually, Mitch was his real first name). In essence, Mitch was ESI, and the other members were just riding his coattails. ESI's fame didn't happen overnight, however. It happened over a series of years as they became more and more dominating eventually controlling around 90% of the American cracks. ESI's monopoly had to be preserved at all costs. Any groups competing with them were usually targeted for no reason other than being a threat to their dominance. The only group to ever give them a run for their money was UCF, and eventually UCF fell like the others in the most famous war in C64 history. It was a battle of the two biggest groups on the scene with nearly every other group forced to take one side or the other. ESI, unlike many other groups of the time, contained many adults - men among boys, if you will, who were able to outwit or intimidate their teenage opponents. It all ended in 1987 when JJ the Breaker, UCF's cracker, graduated from high school and headed to the Navy.
With no competition in site, ESI's reign eventually ended when Mitch decided to leave the C64 at the end of 1988. The other groups mentioned above all had brief moments of fame, especially NEC. But since NEC's domination existed in the early 90s, a time of few releases and a shrinking C64 scene, their fame could never be compared to ESI.
- Intermission -
Thus far, the focus of this article has been on American cracking scene. However, the history of the American scene certainly would not be complete with out also mentioning the European cracking scene. Although I do know quite a bit about the Euro scene from my time, I will only mention Europe from the perspective of the American importer. (It would be much more appropriate if Europeans wrote their own history for obvious reasons.)
Due to the C64 being released in America prior to Europe, America had a slight head start with creation of C64 software. The vast majority of the early major C64 titles, such as those from Epyx and Electronic Arts, were American. Most American sceners were completely unaware that Europe was making C64 software until about 1985. It was at this time the American scene began to see a few games from "unknown" software houses that would occasionally list their country of origin. But none of these games were being released on the store shelves - they were all cracks. Yet somehow they were being transferred over to America.
During this time recall that 300-baud modems were popular, and phreaking on the C64 scene was in its infancy. Although sending the games through the modem overseas would have been possible, modems like the ones used in America were not popular in Europe. Furthermore, many of the calling card companies during the mid-80s would not allow international calls. This meant that phreaking to Europe was extremely difficult unless one Blue Boxed, so people initially traded software the old fashion way - snail mail. At this time, European trade partners were found similar to how American trade partners were found. For the most part, these were close friends or relatives who could be trusted (money for disks and overseas postage added up). And if you thought having an out-of-state trading partner at this time made you "the man", then having an overseas contact made you a god. The reason: you now had games that people couldn't even go to the stores and find. Interestingly enough, European games had a different flavour compared to most American games. American games were often more strategic and involved slower game play. European games conversely were often similar to arcade style games in that they required quick hand and eye coordination. This made European games extremely popular among many of the American teenage sceners.
With both continents demanding new warez from each side, more and more mail trading was established. By 1986, the European warez were now commonly found in many American sceners' collections. And the number of European warez was growing fast. It seemed that for every one American game released, Europe released five. Part of this was due to Europe releasing budget software, but the primary factor was that the C64 was really taking off in Europe. Evidence of this could be seen in the technical advances found in much of Europe's software. Europe was really much more into the C64 than their American counterparts. And I might jealously add that Europe even had dedicated C64 game magazines unlike in America.
With so many European warez available, Americans were now commonly exposed to European crack intros. Just as with the games, Euro intros were of a different style compared to the American crack intros. Often Euro intros would display some nifty programming skills. American crack intros, on the other hand, were commonly made up of a hi-res intro with scrolling text. The two styles of intros massively differed in size since, of course, hi-res takes up a lot of memory. Unlike in America, Europeans were very size conscious with their cracks since they predominately traded warez through the mail (trying to use as few disks as possible). Again, most Europeans at this time didn't have modems, and even if they did, they still had to pay for local phone calls making the post a much cheaper option. Europeans also established organized trading networks just like in the America, but their networks were through the mail. And note that they were much bolder with their personal information compared to the Americans. They often would place their home address and phone numbers in their crack intros providing a convenient way to invite others trade partners.
This personal information would come in handy for American sceners when in late 1986 something very wonderful happened - telecommunication companies such as Sprint (with their sweet fiber-optic connections) and MCI began to handle international calls.
These were the crown jewels of calling cards, and with international calls being a little more expensive, phone companies were finally wising up. The calling cards at this time grew to about 7-9 digits in length presenting a little more of a challenge to hack. Instead of hacking 5-7 codes a night, you'd often only get 1-3 a night (three if you were lucky!). The good news was that these codes often lasted 2-4 weeks at a time depending on how much use (or abuse) they were getting. With codez becoming harder to obtain, it came to a point where they were becoming more valuable than warez in terms of trade price.
Now that American sceners had the ability to call overseas, of course the first people they called were the top cracking groups who listed their phone numbers in their crack intros. The only problem was that the Europeans needed modems, and it had to be modems that used the same communication standards. But would the American modems work in European C64s as well as with European phone lines? The only way to tell would be to send a modem to Europe and hope for the best.
And this is exactly what some people did. It was rough going at first since there was often a small delay between the calling parties. Any delays over 0.5 seconds often made the transfer near impossible. Furthermore, international calls back then were often full of random problems such as static, echoes, tones, and cross-line problems. C64 modems were already very sensitive to begin with (no error correction and such). For example, a family member nosily picking up the phone while you were on the modem often caused a disconnection. You can see now why I called Sprint cards "sweet".
I don't know who was the first to make a successful connection to Europe, but I do know that Fucked Beyond Repair (FBR) followed by The Survivors (TS) were some of the more famous early importing groups. That's right, there were groups whose sole purpose was to import software from Europe. After all, not everyone could crack.
Cracking was very difficult task that only C64 programmers could handle. Most sceners were game players - not programmers. In addition, there was hardly enough American games to go around supporting the existing cracking groups. Thus, other sceners hungry for fame found a new niche for themselves. This was true even during the mail trading days with Europe. In fact, importing groups eventually decided to add their intro on top of the European crack intro in order to achieve recognition for their efforts. (This resulted in two intros per imported game. Fun, eh? But getting those codes and putting up was the hassle of overseas transfers was worth at least a pat on the back, right? Hehe) It's interesting to note that the idea of a group performing both importing and cracking wasn't a popular idea until the late 80s. American crack groups felt that cracking was so much more glamorous than importing that to import would be like taking a step down. Despite this view of importing groups, both importing and cracking groups coexisted on very good terms.
Anyway, modem trading with Europe suddenly shaved 10-15 days off the amount of time it took to get warez across the Atlantic. And once multiple Europeans had modems, America acted as a bridge back into Europe helping to spread the Europeans' cracks around Europe faster. Naturally, the European cracking groups who had modems were at an extreme advantage when it came to winning the warez races in Europe. But note, in Europe, although it was important to be quick, it was also very important to produce a quality crack. A quality crack in Europe meant having mega-trainers, being as small as possible, and including amenities such as the title loading picture. Such cracks were common prior to the modem days since the cracker could have all night before the mail ran the next day. Conversely, in America, being the first with the working game was primary goal. Since Americans used modems with free calls, size meant very little. Time was of the essence. Just a difference of an hour between two crackers could be enough for one cracking group to claim the "first-release" victory since the spreading network was so quick. European groups with modems eventually succumbed to the American way in order to win the race. Except for the freeze-cracks (the lamer way of cracking), most of these fast European cracks were still cracked with pride. Freeze-cracks, done with the aid a cartridge, were hugely frowned upon since they were often very large and somewhat buggy.
With the European-to-America communication hurdle now solved (well, at least tolerable), there now would be a smooth flow of warez going back in forth causing an integration of the two scenes. However, there were new problems on the horizon. The prime issue was a compatibility problem causing headaches for many importers.
Software relying on minor hardware differences between European and American C64s was causing some new European games to be unplayable on American machines. The root of this issue was caused by dimensional differences between European (PAL) and American (NTSC) TVs, which forced Commodore to make some minor variations between C64s sold in two continents. In short, Commodore wanted to utilize the extra screen space found on European TVs, which is understandable since they probably never envisioned the two continents sharing much software. Of course, any European program using this part of the screen would get that part chopped off on NTSC TVs. Another problem dealt with European games utilizing timing techniques based on the larger screen. The larger screen gave them more time per raster update to do various calculations or image movements compared to American systems. Advanced video games often require precise timing, so even minor delays caused lock-ups or garbled graphics. Lucky for Europe, it was rare that an American game wouldn't work on their European systems (unless the game had some interesting disk loader).
The PAL-NTSC problem was seldom an issue prior to 1987 since most games didn't really push the C64's technology. But by this time Europe was beginning to push the C64 abilities into new realms beyond what the original creators of the machine had envisioned. As more and more games failed to work on the American systems, American programmers finally decided to come up with ways to fix the problem. Sadly, it is unknown who was the first to NTSC fix some of these games. What I can tell you is that scene legend Mitch/ESI fixed a few of the earlier games (and he seldom took credit for it!). There was also a programmer by the name Blackhawk from Rowdy American Distributors (RAD), a popular importing group, who gained some fame as an NTSC fixer in 1987.
By 1988, it seemed that around 25% of the warez from Europe needed an NTSC fix. Importing groups who didn't have a sharp programmer who knew how to fix were soon surpassed in the standings. Plus, since the best games often used the best technology, groups with NTSC fixers were able to release some top-notch warez. Two groups who thrived at this during this time were Exodus and my own group, INC. Among Exodus' ranks was perhaps the greatest NTSC fixer of all time, Stormbringer. Keep in mind that fixing was a difficult art, to say the least, left to the more advanced programmers. And the knowledge of how to fix wasn't exactly passed around much due to the competition.
NTSC fixing wasn't the only pain for importers. Also in 1988, phone companies once again were improving their counter measures against hackers. International calling cards were now starting to be based off peoples' home phone numbers. With a four-digit pin appended to an American phone number, calling card were now 14 digits long, a length improbably to randomly hack with a C64 modem. In addition, phone companies were now using 800 toll-free numbers instead of local 950 numbers as the access point for the long distance call. Since your phone number would be logged whenever calling an 800 number, one would significantly increase the odds of being caught if they phreaked or hacked through the toll-free number. Unlike with small-scale pirating, phreaking was something that the authorities actively pursued. The reason is that the phone companies had significantly more revenue than the gaming industry giving them much more influence in America. Plus, they often could trace calls of the offender giving them at least some evidence to work with. The game industry couldn't really track pirates in a similar manner.
With overseas calling becoming increasingly difficult and risky, a new strategy had to be developed. One idea was to have Europeans call to America since these international calling cards could be used from Europe with little threat of being caught. I don't have the technical details as to why this was so, but I can imagine that it had to do with the phone infrastructures not being nicely compatible in addition to European phone systems using older technology compared to America. This option meant that the flow of warez could continue if somehow the calling cards could be obtained. Of course, where there is a will, there is a way. Enter social engineering. You wouldn't believe how easy it was to call an unsuspecting phone customer and get their calling card directly from them. With a bit of confidence in your tone, and the claim of being from "AT&T Security", people would often read their card to you with little hesitation once you explained to them "the situation".
And so the warez continued to flow from our brothers in Europe, but now they called us instead of the other way around. They also started to call the American BBSes, and to my humour, soon these European groups were setting up their distribution headquarters on American BBSes just like Americans had done in the years past.
The concept of importing was no longer what it used to be due to Europeans now being in direct contact with the American masses. Nonetheless, importing groups still survived since they were the ones who supplied the Europeans with their lifelines - the calling cards. So trading European warez for American calling cards was the new deal, and Europeans would simply snag all the warez they needed from the boards instead of their American trade partner sending them over.
Although the European C64 scene was just starting to embrace phreaking, by 1989, American sceners' own lifelines were beginning to dry up. Obtaining the basic non-international calling cards was even becoming a feat since phone companies continued to advance the technology making it very difficult to hack codez. Sceners now had to rely on hackers for help here. Don't confuse pirates with hackers, by the way. Just because pirates could use their modems to hack calling cards didn't make them hackers. Hackers were an interesting but secluded breed that didn't really care for pirates since they thought of pirates as juveniles (who bugged them for codes all too often). Despite this, hackers would tolerate pirates in order to grab some warez from them now and then. Even hackers enjoyed an occasional game. Plus sceners often tried to befriend a few hackers since they were always good to have on your side during wars. Just having a big name hacker on your side was enough to scare other groups from even considering warring with your group.
Codez weren't the only item beginning to dry up in 1989. The amount of American games released was starting to dwindle. This was understandable since the C64 wasn't really an upgradeable computer like modern PCs. Thus, here was 1982 technology competing with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Commodore Amiga. The NES had already started to slowly chip away many of the C64 freaks since 1985. By 1988, the NES had 65 titles, which was miniscule compared to the thousands on the C64, but the NES was using newer technology and drew in some big game companies. And for the Commodore enthusiasts, many began to head to the Amiga, especially with the Amiga 500 being an economical option. Even in Europe, the number of C64 releases was starting to slow a little (but not as bad as in America). And with the 16-bit Sega Genesis arriving plus the growing popularity of the IBM-compatible PCs, the writing was on the wall - the C64 was headed on its way out.
Despite the slowdown, there was still enough warez being released to support an active scene - at least for another year. What's interesting though is that some groups were now trying to find ways to acquire more market share. This lead to some importing groups attempting to enter the cracking market as well as some cracking groups trying to enter the importing market - in essence, groups were becoming "super groups". This wasn't particularly amazing, but it showed that the rules were changing in the American scene where tradition had previously been hard to break.
Another example of changing times was seen when American crackers began to train and crunch their games. It was a case of the European scene influence now rubbing off on America.
By 1990, the scene was really starting to hurt. Commercial C64 releases in America was now ridiculously low, and Europe was hit hard too but at least they had some good activity around summer and the Christmas season. At this time, I think there were only 2-3 American cracking groups left, and these groups were usually much smaller than the cracking groups from the 80s. As for importing groups, there were probably around 5-7 serious groups. Phreaking was now primarily done on risky 800 numbers of smaller phone companies since 950 numbers were pretty much gone. Times were changing.
It would be safe to say that any American scener hanging out on the C64 at this time was more of a casual scener. This differs from the hardcore scener found in eighties in that the causal scener spent much less time with scene activities. The idea of competition still existed, but just on a smaller scale. The scene would now begin to undergo a metamorphose adopting a new philosophy. Instead of catering to warez races, the new scene was leaning more towards a playground for hobbyist who enjoys pushing our dear machine further. More precise details about the scene from 1991 to the present will have to be presented by someone else since I've now run my course.
Now for some final thoughts on piracy and the C64 scene. I am not an advocate of piracy, but I think that there is a reason for it. Primarily, people feel as if they are being overcharged, and all indicators say that they are. The software industry is one of the most profitable industries in the world, yet they act as if piracy is going to put them out of business. Well, you can believe them or you can believe the revenue statements. And I'd like to note that the estimates they give for loss of revenues due to piracy is grossly inflated. Their estimates are based on how many people they believe are pirating their software. As I mentioned earlier, there are people who pirate software who would of never bought the software to begin with, so that must be factored in. Furthermore, these companies have incentive to inflate the numbers in order to influence lawmakers to make stricter penalties for piracy. They argue that such strict policies would scare pirates out of piracy further increasing their profits to an even more absurd level. And finally, blaming piracy always serves as a good excuse to have in their back pockets whenever companies fail to make their projected profits.
I am not saying that because the software industry is profitable that they should be exploited. What I am saying is that they are grossly profitable and therefore they set themselves up to pirates who attempt to defeat what they feel is an unjust system. This is no different from people phreaking to stick it to the phone companies for, again, absurd profits and monopolistic practices. If your phone company undercharges you, do you call them up to let them know of their error? Unlikely. However, if a restaurant undercharges you, do you let them know of their error? Well, depends on the service and the food you received, but most likely you will. The difference is that one may not be trying to stick it to you. It doesn't matter the industry - as long as there are people who feel as if they are getting raped, they will attempt to counter one way or the other. This is basic human nature.
Now, to address the myth that the C64 and Amiga were the most pirated computers of all time. Nah, the IBM-compatible PC wins that hands down, and look how well it's doing. And how about the myth that piracy killed the C64/Amiga? This was likely started by Commodore or failed software companies on Commodore machines in order to blame others for their own business miscues. Piracy didn't kill the C64. Obsolete technology killed the C64 market. Period. It was 1982 technology trying to survive in 1989. Everyone knows computers have a short life span, especially static computers. Let's not forget that many C64 companies made millions of dollars with C64 software and spawned into major software gaming companies that exist to this date. Companies that didn't survive were likely their own worst enemies. Epyx comes to mind with their reckless business plans in the late 80s. As for the Amiga, it is well documented that Commodore failed to market and support the machine correctly.
One reason why PCs did so well is because they could do business applications nicely.
So could the Amiga, but Commodore never thought about pumping money into business software. Software sells hardware, not the other way around.
So there you have it. piracy and the C64. Happy times. The C64 was a great machine surrounded by a fascinating but strange sub-world that we called "the scene". This scene was at the dawn of piracy and during a time of key technical breakthroughs. Although there will always be pirating scenes, they'll likely never again be one quite like the one on the ole' Commodore 64.
On behalf of Recollection,