This article on “The Importance of Preserving Video Games” was available a week earlier via the Gamerbraves newsletter. Register free to access more articles on gaming industry and community news and trends.
Original article (06/01/22):
Video game preservation is all about preserving video games, whether keeping physical copies safe or keeping them in a digital collection, but it’s become a topic of discussion over the past couple of years. .
PlayStation announced a new branch of their company just to help preserve the games, and Embracer Group (which recently purchased Tomb Raider and other IPs from Square Enix) also said they were creating an archive to preserve the games .
Embracer Games Archive CEO David Boström Says “I have been given the honorable task of leading the work of building this unique games archive. Imagine a place where all physical video games, consoles and accessories are in one place. And think about what all that might mean for gaming culture and enable research on video games.
This seems like a good idea, although it can be difficult to get to their offices. With that in mind, why has the preservation of video games become more important than ever?
To put it simply, video games do not lend themselves well to conservation. Unlike music or movies which can easily be stored, copied and downloaded on CDs, DVDs and more recently MP3 or 4 files, video games are designed to run on very specific hardware, usually a console. Once this console is no longer in production, these games will disappear with it unless they are transferred to a new system.
The problem here is that porting a game can take time and resources that many developers or publishers may not be willing to spend on titles they believe won’t sell well. This means that a number of hidden gems can be left to rot on older machines.
It’s not just consoles either. The games themselves can be expensive, especially older games trapped on cartridges or discs without a digital version.
The best example of this is during the PS3 era. Because PlayStation designed the PS3 with such a weird architecture, porting games has become so difficult that the only thing PlayStation can do right now is let you stream certain PS3 games through PS Plus.
While huge Triple-A titles like The Last of Us or the Dark Souls series eventually saw next-gen re-releases, the same can’t be said for smaller games, and that’s part of the problem – the ecosystem of games is more than just triple-A releases, and any attempt to preserve games needs to take that into account as well.
Additionally, exclusives that took more advantage of the PS3’s hardware have remained stuck on the console to this day, including games like the critically acclaimed Metal Gear Solid 4. Due to the tenuous nature of Konami’s relationship with the Metal Gear series and its creator Hideo Kojima, the chances of anyone playing MGS4 on a next-gen console are pretty slim.
One potential solution to the preservation of video games has been the era of digital gaming. With the rise of games available from anywhere in online stores, fans are better able to preserve their games. Digital games can’t be lost, can be accessed anytime, and platforms like Steam and Xbox Live have invested heavily in backwards compatibility, allowing gamers to access their library for multiple different hardware.
But even that has drawbacks. If a game is pulled from online stores and not physically available, it’s gone for good. Silent Hill fans learned this the hard way when PT was pulled from the Playstation Store following the Konami-Kojima fallout.
While this may be a special case, games are often pulled from stores for much more mundane reasons. The Marvel vs. Capcom series, among the most influential fighting games of all time, has been eliminated from online stores, likely due to licensing disputes between Disney and Capcom.
The stores themselves are also at risk of being closed without their libraries being transferred to new platforms. Nintendo plans to close the 3DS and Wii U eshops which will capture hundreds of exclusive games on the market, including fan favorites like Pushmo, Attack of The Friday Monster and the BoxBoy trilogy. There will simply be no official way to play them. These games are subject to the whims of their publishers and licensees.
Worse still, it still only represents upcoming games. It does nothing for the games that we still need to preserve. I could name many 90s fighting games like Sailor Moon Fighters or Gundam Wing that will simply never see the light of day again, despite being perfect for their time.
So what can we do to better preserve the games? Well, there is no easy answer.
The solution as I see it is twofold: physical and digital. We need to preserve physical games and the library created by Embracer is probably the best way to start. This can help ensure that as many games as possible are cataloged and stored in a safe place where future generations can easily access them.
When it comes to digital, I think the big console manufacturers really need to implement digital backwards compatibility on their machines. They should allow gamers to purchase older digital games from older consoles on their new systems, with each game stored securely on their servers. This means that it doesn’t matter if someone owns a PS4 or a PS7, they can still access and play Persona 5 or Bloodborne.
Steam is arguably the best at this – there are plenty of games from the PS3 era still available on Steam, such as the cult classic Warhammer 40K: Space Marine or even the less acclaimed Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns.
Nintendo, however, is arguably the biggest threat to preservation, in part because of their love of litigation and the massive catalog of classic games they refuse to feature. It’s ironic considering they were kind of the first to start serious video game preservation with the Virtual Console they ditched for the Switch.
More games are being added to the Nintendo Switch online service, but it looks like they could do with more. There’s no reason Gamecube, GBA, and even Wii games can’t be playable on the Switch. I’m sure many Fire Emblem fans would love to play Path of Radiance if it didn’t cost a kidney to be on eBay.
The final potential solution are emulators – downloadable software that allows playing games on PC. These are tricky because while emulators are legal and a decent solution, allowing people to play games without the console, they are often associated with ROMs and illegal pirated copies of games.
The subject of emulators is enough for its own article, but in short all emulators are not money vampires who came to steal the profits of a game studio from the 90s. Many modern re-releases of old games are simply copies emulators of the game, i.e. a program that pretends to be its home console.
However, legal use of emulators still means you have to buy the original game, which doesn’t solve the problem of having difficulty finding rarer and more expensive titles.
Although we don’t condone piracy, many games would simply not be available without ROMs. Games like obscure Japanese exclusives or PS2 games at absurdly high prices. Gundam Wing Endless Duel for Super Famicom is one of the best console fighting games but no one could try it without emulators and ROMs.
If the publisher doesn’t give you a legal way to access the game, for many that may be the only solution.
Video games are an increasingly important part of today’s media, things we like to think of as art.
But in this case, they must be preserved in the same way as other works of art such as books, films and music. Of course it’s not easy – imagine if the instrument Beethoven’s La Fifth or Mr. Brightside from The Killer risked not existing in 5 years.
With a mix of physical and digital preservation, we should be able to keep an accurate record of the game’s media history, but that’s not of sentimental, academic value either. Sometimes older games available for purchase can see a surprising bargain.
Example: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has increased player numbers by 1000% nearly a decade after its initial release. The Metal Gear spin-off had been an underground hit all its life, only releasing on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. If that PC version didn’t exist, I doubt those numbers would be stuck on 7th Gen consoles.
People want to play older games. This is why the preservation of video games is important. It allows them to do that.