Awhile back, in The Peaceful Time, I talked about how gaming in an earlier era wasn’t beset by hype machines, lawsuits, fanboys, and various controversies. There was one thing I didn’t mention. Companies weren’t DRM-crazy back then.

Today, every game comes with pages of heavy-handed legal gibberish, the infamous EULA, the End User License Agreement. Mostly, it is filled with “Thou shalt not do this”, “Thou shalt not do that”, “Thou shalt not do the other”, until you wonder if you’re even allowed to load the game at all.

And the only obligation on the part of the company is free replacement of a defective disk, and that only within a trivial amount of time. Yeah, the typical EULA is one lop-sided contract.

During the 8-bit era, it was different. Quite different. I hauled out one of my binders with the “manuals” (a stretch, as many were just a sheet of paper or two) of old Apple games and browsed the contents.

Many had no more than the usual copyright notice for the software. One exception was Personal Software, publishers of the original Zork. They had a hefty copyright notice, which forbade not only copying, but selling, the software. It also used the word “licensed”: “…licensed only to read the program from its medium into memory of a computer solely for the purpose of executing the program.” A harbinger of things to come, perhaps.

Mostly, though, companies were pretty laid back about copyright; there weren’t any EULAs, no online activation, no limited installs. Of course, people weren’t using hard drives, either, as they cost thousands of dollars (I still miss floppies! ;), and bit torrents were still far in the future.

Naturally, free replacement was offered for defective disks, usually within the 30-90 day period. After that, it would cost $5-$10 (depending on company) for a new one.

Broderbund was more generous than most. Unless the disk was damaged, they’d replace it free, and there was no time limit. That could be handy if you didn’t have the sales slip anymore.

Yeah, the good old days, when you could play a game without feeling the heavy breathing of corporate maniacs down the back of your neck. When companies still treated you as a customer rather than a potential thief. When you didn’t have to look for a crack just to play a game you bought.

The gamers of today don’t know what they missed. Pity about that. If they did, they might be more willing to object to how things are now. Some do, but not enough. Not nearly enough.