I am worried about video games history preservation

Everybody hates DRM. That's a fact. I mean, the only thing player gets with DRM is problems. But I'm not here to argue that, I'm just concerned about its long-term consequences.

Video Game is an art (and if you don't believe me I'm sad for you), and it has quickly become an important one.
As much as the cinema history is a thing and people are digitalizing every old tapes they can for preservation of history, video games history will face (and is already facing) the same problems. The challenges of video games preservation are way bigger than for the movies though.

Material dependant

While the cinema only has one or two major ways of storing content at a time, and these ways change very slowly, video games have as much ways of being played as there are companies that make video game hardware or computer OS.

Someone is having fun upscaling dreamcast games in 1080p. It looks amazing btw

The current solution is emulation. Almost any old console can be emulated these days, and as every game is directly compatible with it someone just has to extract the data from the cartridge once and then it is safely stored.
While physical consoles won't work forever, as long as the code and the emulator exist the game can still be played.

Online games

But then one day came online games. These games need a server to run, and this is where it gets complicated. Sure, the most known games will have server emulator (as you can find private wow servers)

Players uniting in a last farewell to their beloved MMO. Sadly, the graveyard of closed MMOs is getting bigger each year.

The thing is:

  • Emulators generally implement only some part of the game and a the rest of the content is not playable/buggy
  • They exist only for the most popular games. And even then, as the complexity of game increases, little communities just won't be able to write X millions lines of code for emulating only a single game.

Connected games

Now it gets trickier and that's where our old pal DRM comes in.
These days, almost every game is connected to the web in some way. If it's a console game, it needs the whole network infrastructure to run properly. I'm not only speaking of multiplayer, but of the way that modern consoles are deeply integrated to the web. As you may recall, the Xbox one almost went for an always online policy.

What it means is that to emulate newer consoles, people will have to emulate the server. I don't know anything about the PS4 architecture but I guess it's way more complicated than writing a NES emulator. But considering how consoles are big these days, we can still hope there will be people able to run it.

Games stored online

But then the biggest problem comes from PC games. Now games aren't just burned on a CD for which you need a CD key, they are published in all sorts of crazy ways.

Some examples of games that we may have big problems playing once their platform is dead:

  • Steam-only games (well, an emulator will probably exist if steam dies, but what about the less known steam-likes?)
  • Facebook games (or whatever portal of this kind). You may think that farmville isn't that important, but it kinda is. And, more than that, I think gamer games in 3D and other cool stuff will come to web portals one day or another. Some of these games to come may be worth preserving

What when these shut down? And what about appstore, android store, whatever-store, and other things we have already forgotten?

I mean, the web could become anything. For example if Zynga dies, their games are lost. But don't you think 50 years from now some people will want to see the genesis of so-called "social games"? Who knows.

Maintenance

Now let's imagine the community is full of great guys that manage to write emulators for everything (who should get a job in the game industry, because reverse engineering a game server is quite an accomplishment IMO). Ok, but what happens then?

What if 50 years from now someone wants to play Everquest to see one of the first big 3D mmo success? Will the emulator written in C for windows XP back in the days be able to run on whatever machines we have these days? I mean, maybe we won't even have binary computers anymore, who knows!

Solutions?

This is not an easy problem. While the movies or music industries produces only one type of content, always playable the same ways, video games come in so many forms that we just can't have a standard player for them.

So what should we do? My only idea right now would be for some non-lucrative organization to open a big archive (like the web archive) that would store every game, console, whatever-thing source code once it's not in the market anymore.

The problem is, we don't like to show our code. Except a few companies like the guys at id software, the code for old games is just stored in archives we will never see, and that will someday be lost.

One day, archeologists will find some of these

I mean we have some examples from the past. Many masterpieces are lost because people thought they were worthless back then. Be it books, paintings or music...

So if you want to do video games history a favor: Publish your sources once your games are out of the market. Maybe one day historians will be able to use them. You don't want your work to be forgotten.


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