(draft) Games That Will Be Forgotten
Scribbling out some first thoughts for this article so I have something on my site.
Video games are an interesting new art form that is still arguably in its infancy. The technology is developing quickly for sure, but I still think its potential for expression and creativity is probably still quite untapped. It is interesting to go back and check out old games from say 20 years ago. The tech were simpler then, no doubt. But at least when we talk about the high budget productions, it seems to me like there was a broader variety and experimentation in AAA games. Today I guess indie games are at the frontier of exploration more than AAA.
However, the diversity is not what I want to write about here. It is the going back and playing old games that I want to talk about. Because well… A lot of times it is not easy. And I don't think it is getting much easier.
Sure, when it comes to a lot of older console games, thanks to free software emulators we at least have a chance to preserve them. It is important that the emulators are free software since allows us to maintain them and port them to the platforms of the future. Long beyond the death of its original author.
But is emulation sustainable long term? I am not so sure. Modern games require increasingly complex hardware to run. Assuming we can preserve the operating systems and the software dependencies and everything in some form, we might be able to keep them running even after the hardware starts to die. But that is becoming more difficult, companies are making it harder for us to make digital copies of the games that we own. They are starting to get copy protection "right", encryption and all that. Reverse engineering how the hardware works to build a compatible emulator is a much more difficult task when you are locked out from the data itself. And even with documentation, it will become increasingly an effort that you can not do as an individual or small community effort. We will probably require bigger and bigger teams to build emulators, and I don't know if we will be able to get that together for future hardware. Who knows if it will even be legal in the future.
Either way, with increasingly difficult to build emulators on the horizon, I expect a sort of U shaped curve for whether or not games will be playable coming forward. As long as you have working hardware and a copy that can be installed and run offline (online only games are an abomination for game preservation) it will be in a playable state. Then when the hardware, or whatever storage medium the game executable/data lives on deteriorates, perhaps there won't be a replacement for getting the game to run. If the game data is lost I guess it turns into an L-shaped curve haha. But if we have the game data, and ongoing efforts to build emulators, then after a certain time window the game is brought back to life (hence the U shaped #curve).
A much better way to keep games alive is to release the game source code with a free software license, like id software used to do. That, including not abusing users with DRM, would give individual games a chance to live on / or be necromanced back into existence by porting to new platforms. There is a reason why DOOM, quake, et al. still runs on everything, while many games from the 2000s are difficult or impossible to get working on today's hardware / operating systems. Ironically a lot of old games seem to at least in my own anecdotal experience work better on Wine than they do on Windows.
So if you care about the survival of your game, why not release its source code under a copyleft license? Additionally, consumers should ideally start demanding it. Both for preservation reasons and for ethical reasons. But that won't happen.
So most games will be forgotten.