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What is the term for that?
A game that used to cost money but is so old that it is now available for free (though not always open-sourced).

Also, does anyone know where I can find a list of such games?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Downvote with no explanation? How does that help anyone? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28, 2011 at 19:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ That said, you're probably thinking of "public domain" (which is quite rare to find for games) or "abandonware" (which isn't really legal). \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Jul 28, 2011 at 19:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ "the license is available to use the ideas in the game to develop your own game" - I don't know of any licenses for "ideas in the game". \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetrad
    Jul 28, 2011 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ basically I mean, where I could reproduce the game myself (on anothe rplatform for example). SOME license like this must exist or all those Tetris clones or PacMan clones are in for some real trouble some day. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28, 2011 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @James: There is no such license; the fundamental assumption of the question is wrong. Those clones are either legal because the mechanics are not patented and they do not cause consumer confusion, or they are illegal but not worth resources prosecuting. I'm voting to close. \$\endgroup\$
    – user744
    Jul 28, 2011 at 20:19

3 Answers 3

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Unless what you're wanting to do falls under copyright, trademarks, or patents, you're free to do whatever. Generally speaking, mechanics aren't protected. Names are. Art is (and that includes things like music and level design). You can make a "clone" in the sense that it's a very similar game, but you can't call your Tetris clone "Tris" and not expect some lawyers to get involved. Likewise I wouldn't make a pacman clone with the same board layout and look of the characters. But you could probably do something with nearly identical mechanics and a different skin.

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The term is 'Freeware' (if the game was officially released for free by the company late in it's life), or 'public domain' if the copyright ran out. Copyrights last too long in the US, and no game has hit the 'automatic' lapse of copyright.

There is also the term 'Abandonware', which usually means "the game/software is old and no longer being sold or supported". Many people think that abandonware can be distributed legally, but that is not true. Someone still owns the copyright on those games, though in many cases the exact owner is a mystery even to the owner.

Wikipedia has a list of freeware games: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_freeware_video_games

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are also some games that have been open sourced, but not made free. The levels and media generally aren't made free. Duke Nukem 3D is an obvious case - you can legally download, read, modify and build the source, but you can't play the game (no graphics, sounds, level files...) unless you've paid for it. \$\endgroup\$
    – user8524
    Jul 28, 2011 at 21:17
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The terminology you're asking about is "abandonware" (which is a combination of elements from the words "abandoned" and "software"), but free doesn't necessarily mean the copyright holder permitted it to be free (see my final paragraph about downloads below...).

For a list of abandonware game titles, there is one famous web site that provides a fairly extensive list which is also categorized for further convenience:

  Abandonia
  http://www.abandonia.com/

A note about downloads: There are a few vendors who are known for allowing the old copies to be distributed freely (and I'm not aware of any that are [intentionally] open source), but as far as I know this is so rare that you might as well assume that any abandoned game you can download likely involves a copyright violation even if the company has gone out of business (you'll need to consult legal expertise to find out how copyright works in your jurisdiction with regard to a particular title).

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    \$\begingroup\$ "and I'm not aware of any that are [intentionally] open source" - Doom, Duke Nukem, Quake, Wolfenstein, Hexen, Sim City... even some newer games. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28, 2011 at 21:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Jeff Minter has intentionally made all his old games available free, and I even think he used the term "abandonware" doing it. Not bad for a guy who once cursed pirates with the words "May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits forever!" (scrolly message, Revenge of the Mutant Camels). \$\endgroup\$
    – user8524
    Jul 28, 2011 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Steve314: Ha ha! That seems very familiar -- I probably saw it on my Commodore 64 back in the day. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 30, 2011 at 0:19

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