The Sad State of Video Game Preservation
The issue of preserving the history of media has always been a difficult prospect. Unfortunately, video games pose numerous complex factors that make preserving their history more problematic than other types of media. Despite video games’ relative youth, the medium has been suspected to many of the same issues that other mediums face while attempting to showcase their older titles.
The foundation of video game consoles has made the process of playing older titles very arduous. Consoles are designed with the idea of becoming obsolete after their given life cycle, only to be replaced with newer consoles to play more recent games. This perpetual cycle lasting for decades has led to many consoles and their respective games falling to the wayside in favor of the more financially successful consoles.
After the production cycles inevitably end on these consoles, they can be purchased on resale websites such as eBay. These are often sold at prices that are prohibitively expensive for normal people. This isn’t a viable option due to multiple games and consoles becoming unusable after the passage of time. The degrading reliability of physical games has led many people to become reliant on digital purchases.
The advent of digital purchases causes more problems than it means to solve. While it eliminates the issue of degrading discs and cartridges, this is only a short-term solution. When digital storefronts like the Playstation Store or Steam inevitably get shut down, all of the purchases made there will be rendered null and void. Unfortunately, this problem extends to multiplayer-centric games and downloadable content. Games such as World of Warcraft and The Elder Scrolls Online can’t be played properly when their respective servers are shut down. Even offline games can be hindered due to being reliant on large downloadable patches that fix large issues or even add sizable amounts of content to the game. In rare cases, such as Asura’s Wrath in 2012, the storyline couldn’t be fully completed unless DLC was purchased afterwards. That leaves thousands of people discovering these games in the far future with an incomplete experience.
Even with all these potential shortcomings, various sites attempt to keep older titles alive via emulation. Though these aren’t all perfect renditions of their respective games, they try their best to replicate the experience that players had. However, the questionable legality of this process often draws the attention of larger companies with the most notable one being Nintendo. Earlier this year, Nintendo sued LoveRetro and LoveRoms.com and forced them to take down all of their available roms. This resulted in Emuparadise taking their roms down as well in fear of similar actions being taken against. Nintendo actively disrupts the distribution of their older games with the Virtual Console being the only legal digital alternative. The Virtual Console provides more of a showcase of the more popular games of Nintendo’s past rather than a vast collection of the numerous games that embodied the life cycle of a console. Nintendo and numerous other companies are more interested in reselling their older titles than actually ensuring the history of video games is passed onto future generations.
These dubious issues have not hindered the efforts of extremely passionate gamers. Sites like GOG allow for older games to be played in their original format without DRM and the UK National Videogame Arcade hosts a number of arcade machines that increases with every passing year. At the current rate, video games will struggle to exist for more than around 30 years. Hopefully, the video game industry will take more efforts to ensure the history of video games can be properly experienced by as much people as possible.