Microsoft now owns Infocom and its interaction fiction classics

Microsoft finally getting to devour Activision means it gets Candy Crush and Call of Duty and other big-ticket modern game franchises—things it needs, given the slack sales of its latest-generation game console. Andrew Plotkin notes it gets another classic series: Zork!

Infocom, sold to Activision in 1986, is now part of Redmond's collection of intellectual property. While its obviously a "rounding error" in business terms, perhaps someone there will be given a free hand to do something nice with it all.

For twenty years, Infocom properties have existed in a foggy hinterland of "Well, Activision owns it, but… you know. You can find the stuff online." I don't just mean the games! It's also the manuals, the advertisements, the packaging, all the ephemera. It's all available, but… you know. Illegally.

This represents an enormous success of videogame history preservation — except when you look at those links, they're all individual hobbyists who just collect stuff. (Spoiler: one of them is me.) The lucky ones maybe got an Activision guy to say "Sure, you have permission to do that" back in the mid-90s. Everyone else is just skating by on legal obscurity.

Now, Activision has never hassled fans over this stuff. Fans have been circumspect and mostly not tried to distribute the games in playable form. It's peaceable. But it's not legal, which makes life hard for real-world libraries and universities.

Microsoft could do some kind of deluxe reissue of it all that puts it on shelves, but Plotkin has a more permanent idea: release it all, including the "feelies," under a Creative Commons license, or donate the rights to an appropriate nonprofit. The code is on Github, after all—another Microsoft acquisition.