On Sale at eBay: Akalabeth, “Double Sticker” Version
Joe Garrity brought this to my attention, and I see that Steve Dang has also posted about it in the UDIC Facebook group. By which I mean this sale of a copy of Akalabeth at eBay. We’ve seen a lot of fake Akalabeths pop up on eBay in the past, and it’s good that people have learned to treat any claim of an authentic copy with a healthy dose of caution…but in this case, it’s actually a legitimate sale.
Or, well…it’s sort of legitimate. This gets a bit confusing, so let’s look at some history. But first, a tangent: have you ever heard of the paradox of the “trusty old axe”? The owner has replaced the head of the axe seven times, and the handle five times…and yet it remains his “trusty old axe” even so. The “axe”, and its significance, are more than just the sum of its parts, and it retains that quality even though it is no longer comprised of its original components…at least in the owner’s mind. Hold that thought.
Passionate Ultima collectors go to sometimes impressive lengths to secure Akalabeth originals, and rightly so given the game’s significance. Take Howard Feldman, for example; he put his copy of Akalabeth together from two different sources. He got the disk itself (and the label as well) from Richard Garriott in 2011, and the remainder of the package from author Lynn Abbey. The disk is technically new, but the label is from the original label stock by Garriott himself, and the disk was copied on the original computer — and using the exact same procedure — as the other Akalabeth originals…again, by Garriott himself. Technically, it’s the entire Akalabeth package…but is it an original? Paradoxically, there’s room for debate.
Now, if you have your copy of Ultima: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide handy (you do have a copy, right?), you’ll see that there are basically four recognized legitimate Akalabeth kinds floating about out there:
- The original twelve copies that were sold, each with a green numbered sticker. No authenticated copies have been put up for sale.
- Three additional “green sticker” copies that were never sold; Richard Garriott has one…or maybe had one (he may have donated it to the University of Texas’ archives)
- One additional copy from the original run, sans green sticker, with documentation stating that it was made on the same day as the originals “on [Richard Garriott’s] mother’s kitchen table” in 1979
- Between ten and twenty “double sticker” copies of the game, made between 2001 and…well, probably 2011, when Feldman asserts his copy was made
The Akalabeth for sale on eBay is one of these “double sticker” copies. Not unlike Feldman’s copy, it was made fairly recently — by Garriott, from the original game data on the original computer using the same copying procedures — on a floppy disk provided by a fan. It has a sticker from the original stock used by Garriott, which has been placed over the manufacturer’s label on the disk (hence the term “double sticker”). The cover sheet and manual are originals, and at a logical level it’s arguably no different than one of the original sixteen Akalabeth copies…it has an original label from the same stock, and its data is a direct copy of the original game data, byte for byte…just like any of the original sixteen would be. Indeed, the only really variable element is the actual physical disk itself, which is fan-provided. Maybe it’s a Memorex, whereas the originals were (let’s say) Verbatim…that would be the only empirically quantifiable difference between this version and one of the originals produced over thirty years ago.
But is it the same? Or, perhaps more correctly, is it “the same” enough to justify a “Buy It Now” asking price of $98,462.13? That’s a separate question. And not unlike the “trusty old axe”, it’s a function of something other than just the empirically quantifiable details.