Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Disappearance of Classic Video Games

Kelsey Lewin (via Hacker News):

The Video Game History Foundation, in partnership with the Software Preservation Network, has conducted the first ever study on the commercial availability of classic video games, and the results are bleak. 87% of classic video games released in the United States are critically endangered.

Imagine if the only way to watch Titanic was to find a used VHS tape, and maintain your own vintage equipment so that you could still watch it. And what if no library, not even the Library of Congress, could do any better — they could keep and digitize that VHS of Titanic, but you’d have to go all the way there to watch it. It sounds crazy, but that’s the reality we live in with video games, a $180 billion industry, while the games and their history disappear.


This is where libraries and archives should come in. Anyone should be able to easily explore, research and play classic video games, in the same way that they can read classic novels, listen to classic albums, and watch classic movies. But outdated copyright laws are preventing institutions like ours from doing our jobs.

Dare Obasanjo:

It’s amazing to think how much digitization has made it less likely content will last beyond a generation. Writing on stone tablets last hundreds to thousands of years. An Atari cartridge or Betamax tape is almost impossible to consume today if you aren’t a collector of classic electronics.

I used to think my kids and grandkids would read my blog posts and tweets. Now I doubt Medium or Twitter will still be around in ten years.


Update (2023-07-12): See also: Craig Grannell.

Update (2023-07-13): John Voorhees:

The problem extends to apps too. Craig Grannell, with the help of Internet sleuths, set out to recreate the list of 500 apps and games that debuted on the App Store as its 15th anniversary approached. Grannell’s Google Spreadsheet currently lists 355 titles, and guess what? By my count, only 43 of those apps and games have live App Store URLs, which works out to 12%, almost exactly the same results as the Video Game History Foundation’s study. Grannell’s spreadsheet may not have been compiled as rigorously as the Foundation’s study, but the point stands: we’re losing access to culturally significant apps and games on the App Store alongside the videogame industry.


1 Comment RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Fortunately there are lots of people who are doing the great work of maintaining complete archives and romsets from every major game console and platform, regardless of what the copyright laws say. Of course it's not complete, and there are plenty of games that slip through the cracks. But it at least if you go beyond the cynically and selfishly restricted "legitimate" channels for games then the number is a lot less dire than 87%.

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