How to download video games for free, the old fashioned way

In 1998, there was no bittorrent, no Kazaa, not even Napster. But there was still piracy. Not Johnny Depp piracy, which the MPAA likes, but movie, music and software piracy, which the MPAA hates.

Are you afraid of getting one of those scary letters from the RIAA? In fact, many of the old methods still work today, and so far they are under the lawyers' radar.

Some of you are familiar with the old standbys like IRC, Usenet, and Sneaker Net. In 1998, another method (which very few people remember) was even more popular – especially outside of the United States. This method was called PoE, or Pester over Email.

First, the person desiring a video game must find a fan site. Next they find the site admin's email address and send a message such as this one below:

From: Arturo Soriano Murillo Date: 10/24/1997 7:07 PM To: Jason Subject: hi friend hi i am fanatic of simcity 2000 but my files were destroyed and the friend that have the CD he change of state I want to see if you can sendme a copy of the complete version of simcity 2000 i need play more more more yeah cool cool PLEASE PLEASE send me that at the address of [removed] Javier Bravo Camelo Thanks friend

The above may look like a normal email, but it is fact a message formatted for the PoE protocol. The protocol RFC states that each PoE message must contain:

  1. Shallow declarations of friendship;

  2. Fictional, yet uninteresting story justifying piracy of the desired item;


  4. The string “more more more yeah cool cool,� used to pad the message to the correct byte size.

I happened to have a Sim City 2000 website at the time, and I found myself constantly on the “server� send of PoE transactions. I got emails such as this every week from exotic locations such as Argentina, Costa Rica, Russia, their dad's AOL account, Canada, and their mom's AOL account.

I dutifully responded to each any every one, and since 5 MB emails did not really fly back then, that meant I had to copy disks, booklets, and box art and ship everything via airmail (PoE RFC section 2.3.5). This was at great expense to myself--do you how much it cost to send “the sim cti 2000 2me NOW PLEASE� in 1998?

In the end, I couldn't keep up with the volume, fell below five nines uptime, and was eventually stripped of my PoE credentials by Vint Cerf and Al Gore in a brutal, but efficient ceremony that left me wet, naked, and shaking.

None of that happened. Most of the time I ignored these emails and eventually too many spam bots found that email address and I dropped it like an email address that was very hot or slippery and difficult to hold. But before that fateful day, when I could be bothered, I would reply with this standard email. Instructions for downloading video games with no risk of lawsuit:

From: Brandon Date: 3/29/1998 1:19 PM To: Jason Subject: Hi, could you please tell me where I can download the full version of Simcity 2000,

From: Jason Date: 3/20/1998 2:09 PM To: Jason Subject: Re: Sure, but you're going to need to use an older method of downloading the game. Since a lot of people aren't familiar with it, here's what you do: 1) Boot up your computer. 2) Load up DOS, Windows, or the Mac OS to determine which one your system uses. 3) Determine whether you have a CD-ROM drive, a disk drive, or both 4) Type that information down in a word processor and print it out. 5) If you do not have a printer, download it by hand on to a piece of paper. 6) Turn off your computer. 7) Get in your car, put your seat belt on and turn the ignition. 8) Carefully back out of your driveway and in to the street. 9) Drive to the nearest computer, office, or electronics store. (This is much like anonymous FTP). 10) Find the video games section of the store. If you cannot find it, locate a salesperson and click on "help". 11) Locate a large icon, or "box" labeled Sim City 2000. Do not double click! 12) Using the information from step 4-5, determine which "box" you should purchase. 13) Click and drag it up to the counter. Upload your credit card number or ash to the clerk. 14) Return home.

And just in case you've forgotten, don't copy that floppy.[wmv width="320" height="240"][/wmv]

  1. How do you write about how google and such are evil copyright infringers, yet you do the same by, well, partaking in such copyright infringed material such as roms? Whatever. :)

    September 29th, 2006 at 10:18 am
  2. Says somebody who clearly did not actually read either article. :)

    September 30th, 2006 at 3:58 pm
  3. Good post. With all the download sites out there, this is a cool look into the past to show us how it used to be done.

    March 24th, 2008 at 8:38 am

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