RPG fans that go way back will appreciate this: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar has been released as freeware online, meaning you can download free and play immediately if you so please. Pheace: http://www.neoseeker.com/news/15528-ultima-iv-released-as-freeware
Word has it creator Richard Garriott aka Lord British fought for this one as it is his favourite entry in the series, and finally succeeded. Ultima IV is regarded as the first truly deep installment in the series, offering up complex puzzles and dialogue, more detailed environments, and a virtue system.
Yes it was released free but not public domain as it was only made avalable only on select sites.
Observant Dragons and Dragonettes may have noticed that there has been some…disruption in Ultima 4-related projects of late. For example, both the Master System 8 and Phi Psi Software Flash-based remakes of the game have been taken down. Additionally, both Aiera and xu4 have removed their direct download links for the PC version of the game, and Dino has removed his comprehensive listing of other sites that hosted the same download. http://www.ultimaaiera.com/blog/concerning-ultima-4-or-in-which-i-have-to-be-the-wet-blanket
Basically, after about fourteen years (since approximately 1997), Electronic Arts is finally cracking down and issuing DMCA notifications to most — not all! — sites that are hosting the PC version of Ultima 4 for download. This move is not being taken well by many, and people are wondering both why EA is wasting time enforcing copyright on an old game like this, and asking “hey, wasn’t it released as freeware?”
Back in the late 1990s, Origin arranged for the PC version of Ultima 4 — the full game — to be released for free on a CD distributed with a particular copy of PC Games/Computer Gaming World.
Late in 1997, Lady Whisper Dragon (who maintains the Worlds of Origin website along with her husband) evidently secured permission from Origin Systems to distribute the version of the game from that CD on her website. The announcement of this was made in a Usenet discussion thread.
Later on in that same thread, a person known as Boomer — AKA Mike McCoy, who at the time was Origin’s “online community manager” — dropped in to clarify, based on a question posed by Fortran Dragon, that the version of the game which was released to Lady Whisper for free download was in fact the PC version of the game, the same binary that had shipped on the PC Games/CGW CD. (Plus the usual bits about it not being for commercial distribution.)
Prior to Lady Whisper posting a version of the game for download, a couple of other Ultima Dragon-run sites were able to secure similar permission to distribute the CD verison of the game. Of these, only Contrapuntal Dragon’s site still exists. Fortran’s Hidalgo Trading Company was the other, but it is no longer online. Lady Whisper was probably the third or fourth person to host a download.
However (and this is an update and correction), I have since determined that Lady Whisper is not hosting the correct version of Ultima 4 for download. Contrapuntal Dragon’s version is the version from the PC Games/CGW CD, which is the version that Origin released. Lady Whisper, however, has posted the version of Ultima 4 that shipped on the Ultima Collection CD for download. The differences between these versions are slight, but a file size comparison tells the tale.
Just prior to these Dragons getting permission to distribute the game, however, was something that Contrapuntal Dragon refers to as the Kickass Debacle. Basically, a gaming site billing itself as Kickass Games (I have no idea if they are related to the present site with that name) was offering Ultima 4 (the version from PC Games/CGW) for download.
Which struck Contrapuntal Dragon as an odd thing since he was aware that various Ultima Dragons had asked Origin for permission to distribute the CD version of the game, and had been refused.
The confrontation with Kickass Games turned ugly and petty, but at the outcome of it Contrapuntal and other UDIC members were informed that they could offer the CD version for download on their websites. After confirming this with Boomer at Origin, Contrapuntal happily set up a download page for the game, and so did a couple of other Dragons (sadly, these other sites no longer appear to be online).
So That Means It’s Free, Right?
Well, yes…and also no. As Contrapuntal Dragon explains at his Ultima 4 download page, the release of the PC Games/CGW version of the game for download was mostly a gesture of goodwill on Origin’s part. And yes, at certain select sites, the game is indeed available for download for free.
So it’s not, as Jazzcat said in this thread at Horizons Tavern, the case that EA “won’t allow anyone to enjoy this classic RPG.” In plain point of fact, they will. But equally, it’s also not the case that “Ultima 4 was released to the public domain in 2001.” That is, sadly, a happy little fiction that the Ultima fandom has invented for itself.
And as Contrapuntal makes clear, EA still holds the copyright to the game, and has ever since the Origin acquisition. The game itself was released in a controlled fashion; the copyright holding was not abandoned at that time.
You Keep Using This Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.
Ultima 4 is available for free in a few select places online; that’s been established. Does that mean it’s “freeware”?
I suppose it depends what you mean by “freeware”, because the meaning of that word has always been a bit fluid, and in fact has shifted a few times over the years. The game is available for free from certain Ultima Dragons but, as Contrapuntal Dragon and Lady Whisper both make clear, that fact does not entitle others to download the game and redistribute it on other websites without the express permission of Origin Systems (or, now, Electronic Arts).
Ultima 4 hasn’t been released in the same way that the id Tech 2 engine has, or in the same way that Bungie released the Marathon games; it’s not GPL or some other flavour of open distribution. Electronic Arts still retains the copyright to the game, and it is still possible to commit piracy in regard to Ultima 4.
Again Freeware =/= Public Domain