Mixed Feelings on Cloanto and Amiga/C64 Forever

UPDATE: I’ve received a response from Cloanto and, after talking to a real human about this, I’m convinced that this is mostly, if not entirely, a pile of unfortunate mistakes that they sincerely want to get fixed. I’ve added notes to clarify things.

As someone who prefers to take the high ground, when I was offered the opportunity to get Amiga Forever and C64 Forever at a big discount, I jumped at it. My first PC was an original IBM PC and I’d missed out on those famous platforms entirely… here was a chance to get into them without compromising my principles.

I also loved how, as a Linux user, Cloanto seems to be walking a balance with their cross-platform support page… admitting that their digital download releases are MSI installers, but providing what I’ll call “relaxed support” for other platforms from CD/DVD versions and clarifying that users have confirmed the ability to generate them from the MSIs using Wine or equivalent.

However, after deciding to purchase, I noticed that their website design wasn’t the only thing that, to be kind, felt a bit dated.

First, their purchase process. Is it really necessary to ask users for their shipping address if they’ve selected a digital download item and PayPal payment? I could easily see that driving away some on-the-fence buyers who value their privacy.

UPDATE: We’re still talking, but this looks to me like one of those “their merchant services provider doesn’t understand this marget segment” issues… they’re already working on a new site design to help remedy that problem as much as possible.

Second, the post-purchase e-mails. Where do I start?

  1. Is it really necessary for me to receive seven e-mails in response to a successfully completed transaction?
  2. What’s the point in sending me an e-mail, just to tell me to log into my e-mail account to follow the instructions in the e-mail I’m about to receive? (No joke.) I’m not going to see it until I’ve done what it’s telling me to do!
  3. An anti-fraud measure involving them asking me to confirm my PayPal e-mail? What’s wrong with just asking PayPal if I’m a verified user. (Oh well, if Cloanto or Avangate start spamming me, I can just move PayPal to a new alias and delete the old one.)
  4. Is it really necessary to send three different confirmation e-mails for different stages of the process, rather than just waiting a couple of seconds and sending one combined e-mail?

Oh well… on to the next problem.

UPDATE: The seven e-mails are all from their merchant services provider (Avangate) and I received no argument on this side that it’s excessive. They’ve passed on my concerns via the B2B communication channels available to them.

Third, the registration keys.

As soon as I saw those, I immediately worried that maybe Amiga Forever and C64 Forever were online-activated products and the installers would stop working if Cloanto went out of business.

(Thankfully, the “Forever” in the title does appear to be accurate, as they installed without complaint on the quarantined Windows XP retro-PC that does double-duty as an online activation tester. No need to demand a refund.)

UPDATE: We’re still talking, but I’ve suggested, at minimum, that an explanation of the key’s purpose (unlocking the paid content in a multi-role offline install package) be provided either with or before showing the keys. I also made suggestions for a longer-term strategy.

Fourth, when your selling a game-related product in the era of services like Steam and GOG, this can easily trigger buyer’s remorse:

You have 50 downloads remaining.
Link expires on: November 16, 2017.

There are many reasons this is a problem:

  1. This is retro-emulation stuff with the bulk of it being more than 20 years old. It’s already easy enough and tempting enough for people to pirate it without adding an expiry message so they can’t rationalize it as paying for a booklet of 50 off-site backup coupons.
  2. In the era of cheap hosting like Amazon S3 and “re-download is better than backup” services like Steam/Origin/uPlay/GOG/etc., is it really necessary to make people with flaky connections worry about whether their download manager’s resume feature will chew up most of their redownloads?
  3. The installer acts as if the same download is offered for both trial and paid copies, depending on whether you enter a registration code. Again, why am I made to agonize over a redownload limit and expiry counter on this thing?

All in all, this screams “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” because this kind of out-of-touchness makes me worry about whether they’ll remain competitive enough in the market to avoid going under.

*sigh* Ok, I’ve paid for the damn thing and, as much as it hurts, I’ve already spent far too much money on taking the moral high ground for other platforms (eg. I use a Retrode and buy actual cartridges, rather than being locked into Nintendo’s Virtual Console.). What’s next?

UPDATE: They’ve actually been trying to get Avangate to understand this for a while and providing their own accounts system to resolve this is part of the reason they’re working on a new site design.

Fifth, the download speed.

An average download speed of 80KiB/s because it gives me spikes of full speed alternated with several seconds of nothing… ’nuff said.

UPDATE: Avangate serves the files.

Sixth, the license agreement.

  1. Make up your mind. The website I can see before I pay seems friendly and willing to allow me to install on any platform I have the know-how for, but the license says that installing it on any platform other than Windows, MacOS, or GNU/Linux (eg. FreeBSD) will terminate my license.
  2. I can only install it on two machines? Dammit, I forgot to pay attention to whether that “wait at least 6 months” rule was only for the evaluation version.
    Does my “moral high ground” rule mean that I can’t install it on both my Linux desktop and my Linux handheld until 6 months after I remove it from the XP machine I used for testing?

UPDATE: I had to clarify my concerns in my response. I’ve waiting for a reply.

Seventh, the RP9 files.

Not strictly Cloanto’s fault, but there are no Google results which mention that you can get more broadly compatible disk images from an RP9 using 7-Zip. I just figured it out by accident when I right-clicked one on the test machine.

UPDATE: I’ve suggested some minor adjustments to the knowledge base page which shows up in Google and/or the “RP9 Toolbox” software to draw more attention to the link to the RP9 spec which I missed.

Eighth, the games themselves.

Ok, so, dude, I bought this pack because I want to stay legal. Ya dig? …so why am I seeing a cracking group intro when I fire up B.C.’s Quest for Tires on the C64?

I seriously doubt the rightsholder for the game got permission to use the cracking group’s intellectual property and just because it’s an unauthorized derivative work doesn’t magically cause the rights to be forfeit.

I’m now stuck in one of those BS situations where I’m only “legal” because the guys I sided with have the bigger stick, not because they’re actually in the moral right.

…so, what did I pay for then? Kickstart ROMs and disk images that would have fallen into the public domain by now if Copyright hadn’t become corrupted and the warm, fuzzy feeling of having a slightly lighter wallet?

I’m really starting to understand why the GOG.com user base considers Cloanto to be at fault for GOG.com failing to negotiate a deal for the Kickstart ROMs so they could include Amiga games in their catalogue.

I’d say “I give up”, but that might be taken as “I’m going to start pirating” when, really, it just means that I’m probably going to buy fewer retro-games. I already have

They wonder why people pirate things when, even if you spend hours and tie yourself in knots trying to stay compliant with the letter of copyright law, your upstream suppliers are unilaterally deciding that a cracking group’s IP deserves no protection because it’s an unauthorized derivative work. It’s simply flat-out impossible to enjoy early cultural artifacts in the world of gaming and retain the moral high ground in a world of bit-rotting floppy discs. 🙁

UPDATE: They’ve actually brought this “We got the rights to the games, but what about the copyright on the code the crackers wrote?” issue up with the US Copyright Office multiple times.

Also, on the “GOG failed to negotiate a deal” front, Cloanto is apparently aiming to eventually get the Amiga/C64 IP to the point where it can be spun off as a non-profit… it’s just not as simple as I make it sound.

Finally, the convenience (or lack thereof).

I can only assume that Cloanto is mostly trying to compete with pirates based on convenience (like Steam does quite well)… but does this seem convenient to you?

  1. Install both things on my quarantined XP machine so I can be sure they’re not phoning home.
  2. Ask both tools to generate the promised ISO versions (and printable covers, since I’m going to this effort anyway) because using p7zip to unpack the installers on my Linux desktop without running them produces unhelpful filenames.
  3. Put everything including the ISOs, my purchase invoice, and a text file containing the registration keys into another DVD ISO so I know everything can be kept together nicely.
  4. Run all three of the aforementioned ISOs (official C64, official Amiga, combined backup) through dvdisaster to augment the raw ISO filesystem with forward error correction in case the discs start to bit-rot after my download links have expired.
  5. Burn all three to discs from the stockpile of Taiyo Yuden T02 DVD+R media that I use for archival (which, by the way, they no longer make).
  6. Write the order number and my name on all three discs so that they won’t look pirated if Cloanto goes out of business and their records become unavailable.
  7. Write the registration keys on the official media, since they won’t have them in the burned data.

UPDATE: Already addressed as a side-effect of addressing the earlier concerns.

…and no, I couldn’t just rely on pirated copies as my off-site backup. Those bits have the wrong colour.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Mixed Feelings on Cloanto and Amiga/C64 Forever by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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