Piracy The Early Years

Gamestyle Archive intro: well I wrote this but cannot remember doing so, a real oddity pulled out. I guess the site was a constant stream of reviews and we were fully aware of that. Reviews, previews the endless debate whether we should do news and if we did, that we had to support it fully. Keeping that fun without it becoming a chore was difficult as with any hobby that slowly takes over.

This feature dates from August 2001 and was probably thrown together to break up the review production line. Plus any excuse to write about the Spectrum days!


Piracy has been around since the days of the Spectrum in Britain and has grown into our gaming culture ever since.   The lads at Gamestyle have been through it time and time again but this taboo subject is worthy of an article, as everyone seems to have a different opinion of the pros and cons.

We all have our first memories of pirate games, at school it was a blessing to have this option as pocket money was probably only enough to splash out on booze nevermind videogames.   I rarely saw an original game in my Spectrum era at school and on average for everyone sold perhaps ten copies were made.   The only original games that I can recall owning during this period were Skooldaze, Booty and Elite, the rest being spread across a pile of C10 cassettes.   Did Clive realise the ease of which you could copy games on his system?  Was a blind eye turned to the problem back then?  I would think so as it no doubt contributed to the sales of machines and blank cassettes and the problem was left squarely at the publisher’s feet.   Perhaps that is too harsh at a time when a universal and cheap format such as cassette most likely seemed the only was to release videogames.

The knock on effect of the widespread piracy was the increase in retail prices with many games rising to the £9.99 price point.  Don’t laugh kids, that was a fairly large wedge in those days.   Publishers reacted in different ways and with no universal body to represent them everything seemed hit or miss.   The only attempt that I can recall combating the problem can with Elite when it was released in 1985.  The publishers were a company called Firebrand who was part of British Telecom.  Anyone opening the box for the first time was in for a shock because they had to use the Lenslok device.   The idea was novel but the execution was very poor, from my own Elite boxset, follow these instructions complete with emphases words:

1.      Once the program has loaded, press ENTER, the screen will change and you will see three vertical lines appear on the screen – don’t worry about anything else on the screen at this time.

2. Place the UNFOLDED LENSLOK holder length ways on the screen, between the two outmost vertical lines. Using the cursor keys “5” and “8”, adjust the two outermost vertical lines until they are the same as the LE

3. Fold the LENSLOK holder back (as indicated on the holder) place the holder on the screen, (with TOP on the holder, uppermost) and align the centre line of the lens with the vertical centre line on the screen. Now by closing one eye and looking directly at the screen through the lens, you will see the letters “O” and “K” appear.

4. If you are unable to see the letters clearly, use the adjustment keys to “fine tune” the display until “O” and “K” are seen more clearly.

5. When you are satisfied that you can see the “OK” message properly and whilst keeping the holder in the same position, press ENTER. Two more characters will be displayed.   Type these in and the protected program will run as normal.

If, however you make a mistake, two more characters will be generated and you should type these two new characters in. You are allowed three attempts before the computer will reset, making it necessary to re-load the program.

Right is that clear enough?   Ask anyone who played Elite back then to name the two most annoying features of the game and it’s a cert. that their reply will include docking a ship and the Lenslok.   The lens itself was 3.5cm by 2cm, imagine trying to square it up between your much larger television and your squinting eye, with one finger on the keyboard.   More often than not you blew the three chances and had to reload the game again.  Not so bad if it was a cart or one of the recent consoles but the Spectrum was infamous for its loading times.   Clearly Lenslok was not the answer.


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