From Tekoa to Taiwan, computer users have adored Myst, a CD-ROM mystery game created by Spokane brothers Rand and Robyn Miller.
But some people, such as Peter Misko and his son, Bruce, liked Myst so much they decided to share it with others - about 15,000 others.
The Miskos on Tuesday pleaded guilty in Buffalo, N.Y., to counterfeiting 15,000 copies of Myst and another popular computer game, Rebel Assault, with a retail value exceeding $1 million. The conviction carries a five-year sentence and up to $250,000 fine.
Gaining popularity among computer users, Compact Disc - Read Only Memory games have joined video games and floppy disk software as victims of counterfeiters.
Earlier this week, California authorities confiscated $2 million in counterfeit Microsoft software. Last month, 10,000 pirated CD games were rounded up in New Hampshire and Indiana.
The counterfeit CD games are sold in flea markets, on street corners and even in some European department stores for up to a third of the $40 to $80 retail price.
“It’s running rampant,” Rand Miller said. “But there’s not a whole lot you can do when its on a global scale.”
Paul Moskal, spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Buffalo, which caught the Miskos, said pirated disks save the counterfeiter tens of millions of dollars in research and development. That makes black market sales extremely lucrative.
“They make pure profit,” Moskal said. “It’s a growth criminal industry.”
Myst is especially vulnerable to counterfeiting because it is designed to be played without an instruction manual, unlike some computer games. That makes Myst cheaper to copy and easier to distribute.
Myst also is a victim of its own success. As the nation’s No. 1 CD game - about 1 million copies have been sold - Myst is so popular that some people will break laws to get it.
Miller said it cost $600,000 and two years to produce Myst. Broderbund Software Inc. in San Francisco distributes the game.
Counterfeiters can stamp out forged CD games for $1.50 a copy, Miller said. They glue bogus labels on the thin disks and distribute them like Frisbees on the street corners of Taiwan for $10.
“The $10 to $20 they’re charging is too much,” Miller said. “We should start bootlegging them. We could make a lot more money.
“When they make more money than we do, we feel kind of victimized,” he said.