Wireframe

How to monetise your bad games

By Kim Justice. Posted

It’s always nice to buy into the illusion that no one would actually set out to make and sell a bad game – that every project starts with the best intentions. Of course, these days, we could easily point to the sewer of effluent that seeps out onto Steam and flies in the face of that – the achievement farmers, the crypto-miners, the titles that aren’t just bad but potentially even malicious. Faced with all of this, my mind tends to drift back to something from nearly 40 years ago, to a compilation that doesn’t represent the intention to sell a good game, but stood out in those days as a unique set of software to put on the shelves. Don’t Buy This, a 1985 release from Firebird Software for the ZX Spectrum might just be the best way of dealing with… well, games that aren’t exactly of the highest quality.

Being that Firebird was a large label with the backing of British Telecom, it naturally advertised for and received a great deal of submissions from budding coders, particularly in its earlier days. While most companies would ordinarily just throw out the poor-quality programs, someone at Firebird had the idea of picking five of the “worst” ones and releasing them.

Don’t Buy This hit the shelves with the promise that the games included were five of the worst ever made, and that they represented the end of games as we knew them. That wasn’t the end of it – the inlay said that Firebird had relinquished all copyright to the games, encouraged users to copy the tape, and that unhappy buyers could send in their most creative yet clean complaints to the label and receive an “I DIDN’T BUY THIS” sticker in return. It goes without saying that not many other software houses had taken this approach to their lousy submissions before, and not many would do so afterwards.

That last part is surprising, as Don’t Buy This actually did review and sell well, all things considered. The price point of £2.50 for five games was considered low enough for people to be curious about just what was on the tape, and the programs themselves weren’t even that terrible in the grand scheme of things. The most amusingly awful games are the pair of titles that star a badly drawn dog named Fido, and the other three are just rather basic and simple.

You’d find far worse games on Cassette 50, Cascade’s tape that was sold for a tenner in the pages of literally every computer magazine for a couple of years. Occasionally, the odd modern bundle might also test people’s curiosity with some infamous PC releases that aren’t going to infect your computer, but few have ever been quite as bare-faced as this dusty old mid-eighties cassette. Perhaps the horror at what the success of Don’t Buy This represented made other companies shy away from doing something similar, yet it’s still an amusing story to revisit today.


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