It’s no secret that video game preservation is in a bad state, as most older titles are completely unplayable without owning an original (or pirated) copy. Although the ports have made many well-loved classics available on current consoles, niche titles often fall into obscurity and risk becoming lost media. A recent study by the Video Game History Foundation (VGHF) found that the situation is far worse than many would assume. Their research shows that 87% of video games released in the US before 2010 are completely out of print.
Even as official ports and remasters of retro games are becoming more common, the VGHF emphasizes that the game preservation crisis is only getting worse. The closure of digital storefronts like the Nintendo eShop and PSP Store has resulted in the loss of hundreds of ports and original titles that show no signs of returning to other platforms. Additionally, many studios are beginning to use remakes as replacements for ports, keeping the original versions of games the same yakuza And Resident Evil 2 increasingly inaccessible. Despite the gaming industry’s utter disregard for its own history, video game preservation is vital to the medium’s future and desperately needs more official support.
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Why Video Game Preservation Matters
Video games have evolved rapidly throughout their history. Each decade has seen major advances in technology and game design, enabling entirely new experiences that older hardware could never offer. However, it also means that classic games are becoming obsolete faster than any other form of entertainment. While the criteria for judging movies and books have remained largely the same for decades, video games continue to raise the bar for graphics and gameplay. As a result, most players ignore older titles, giving companies a reason to neglect everything but their most recent releases.
However, the constant evolution of the video game medium is the main reason that its history needs to be preserved. For game historians, the ability to access classic titles is vital to understanding how specific games have shaped the industry. games like Golden Eye 007 And Halo: Combat Evolved may not be as polished as the console shooters that inspired them, but their gameplay and level design lay the foundation for the future of the genre. Without the ability to revisit these games, historians and new developers would not be able to study them and see why they are considered genre-defining classics. Therefore, it is important that these games and other groundbreaking titles remain widely accessible to gamers.
Lesser-known games are also worth preserving for a number of reasons. Much like the monumental games that illustrate the evolution of the gaming industry, smaller titles illustrate how their respective developers have changed and improved over time. FromSoftware’s Koenigsfeld And echo night never had the same success as his later works Dark Souls And Elden ring, but they offer glimpses into the studio’s origins and presented ideas to be improved in its future games. Without proper preservation, the history these games represent would quickly fade into oblivion.
Despite all of these points, some might still be wondering why video game preservation matters in the first place. After all, given the evolution video games have made since their inception, there’s not much more modern developers can learn from early titles pong And Breaking out. However, video games are an art form (pretentious as that sounds), which means that each game is a demonstration of its developer’s talents and creativity. Whether it’s an indie passion project or an ambitious triple-A title, every game has a story behind its creation. Video game preservation strives to ensure that these stories are remembered. This recognizes the efforts of the developers and helps future developers to learn from the games’ timeless masterpieces and forgotten flops.
Regardless of these reasons, letting video games become lost media just doesn’t make sense. By accessing older classics, players can discover experiences and stories not found in modern video games. Likewise, the ability to revisit older titles allows long-time gamers to relive their favorite gaming memories. The demand for nostalgic games is high, as evidenced by the recent success of re-releases and compilations Mega Man Legacy Collection And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection. Because of this, making more classic games available seems to only benefit everyone involved. Unfortunately, wildlife conservation has been hampered by numerous complications for years.
Obstacles and Solutions to the Crisis in Video Game Preservation
Despite all the reasons for older titles to remain available, many game companies continually work against preservation efforts. Nintendo is one of the most notorious examples, having smashed numerous fan-made archive projects in the past. This even includes filing numerous multi-million dollar lawsuits against the owners of various pirated game archives. While it’s easy to see why Nintendo was legally in the right, their refusal to publish many of the retro games hosted on these sites is far more questionable.
The obvious solution to this problem would be to introduce a legal method of publicly archiving classic video games that are currently out of print. The VGHF report even suggests introducing copyright exceptions for video games to allow them to be kept in libraries. However, representatives of the Electronic Software Association (an industry body made up of major gaming companies such as Nintendo) have repeatedly campaigned against these proposals, claiming that legal gaming archives would negatively impact their profits. While this would be the case if current versions were included in libraries, that excuse doesn’t apply to retro games that can’t be played elsewhere.
If there’s a reason Nintendo and other companies remain opposed to public archives of classic video games, it’s that they’ve taken advantage of the unavailability of older titles. Before its closure, the Wii U and 3DS eShop contained one of the few official digital libraries for retro games. With the closure of the eShop again making many of these games inaccessible, Nintendo is taking this opportunity to engage Switch users in its online subscription service’s digital libraries.
The company’s ability to re-release these games suggests that it has its own archive of retro works that includes previously unreleased titles such as star fox 2. But by cracking down on public archives, companies like Nintendo are crushing their potential competition. This ensures they can remain the sole distributor for many of these classic games, even if it means the games they don’t re-release become lost media.
Even with modern ports and gaming streaming services, preservation efforts are a long way from ensuring most games are legally playable. While preserving video game history is so important to the future of the medium, game companies seem uninterested in ever fixing this problem. Video game preservation deserves much more than this lackluster treatment, but until companies decide to support this effort, archival organizations like the VGHF will be up for an uphill battle.