Where do digital video games go when they die?

A digital video game based on a license is condemned to death from its own birth. At some time, within a few months or years, the license agreement will expire, and then the publisher can no longer sell the game. It will be removed from digital stores – sometimes with little or no prior notice – and will probably not appear later unless the publisher is willing to re-negotiate the license agreements.

Last December, several games from the Transformers franchise were suddenly eliminated from Steam and the PlayStation Network (and shortly thereafter the Xbox Live bazaar) without any prior notice from its American Activision publisher. Among them were Transformers: Devastation, an action game developed by PlatinumGames that was only published a few years earlier. The titles of Activision based on the Ninja Turtles or characters of the popular editorial Marvel have previously suffered a similar fate.

Players who have previously purchased and downloaded the games can download them again. But this exception may not last forever. The bottom line is that you don't actually have the games you download. The PSN terms of service explicitly state that "when you buy a product, you accept that you acquire a license to use that product and that you are not the owner of that product." Microsoft and Nintendo have similar provisions. By buying a digital game, you just buy a license to play it, and the manufacturer has the authority to revoke that license at any time. For example, if Sony in the future decides to eliminate all PlayStation 3 games from the PSN, they can do it perfectly. I'm not saying they're going to do it – they can open the servers until the end of time, if they want to – but legally there is nothing to prevent them from doing so.

Fortunately for Transformers and PlatinumGames fans, devastation in a physical format has been published except digitally, which is still possible to buy second-hand. But there are many licensed games available only in downloadable format that have disappeared in a haze of digital smoke. One of the best known cases is the OutRun Online Arcade, a good conversion developed by Sumo Digital from the classic OutRun 2 from Sega, which was withdrawn in 2011, two years after the launch, when the deal with Ferrari expires has. . Other examples are Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, GTI Club +: Rally Côte d & # 39; Azur (another Sumo conversion from an excellent racing arcade) or The Simpsons Arcade Game, eliminated when their respective licenses expire has. And then there are the free-to-play versions of popular franchises, such as SoulCalibur: Lost Swords or Tekken Revolution, lost in digital limbo. In total, dozens of digital console games have disappeared forever.

Phones with Flappy Bird installed, significantly increased their sales value when the App Store was removed.

I talked about the hypothetical example of Sony that erases all the digital titles of PlayStation 3, and deletes a whole generation of games. But Nintendo does it now after the WiiWare service is closed. It was the first initiative of the Japanese company in the digital games market in the Wii era and closes on January 31, 2019. The possibility of buying points for the Wii store – the only way to buy games in the Wii. service – ending much earlier, on March 26, 2018. Unless you had enough funds before that date, you won't be able to buy something new in the service.

The quality of WiiWare games is quite variable, but there are still important titles that can no longer be reached when the service is closed next year. The Rebirth series of Konami – Gradius Rebirth, Contra Rebirth and Castlevania Rebirth – will disappear, and this review of classic titles will be lost with the death of WiiWare. Other interesting retro titles, such as Blaster Master Overdrive or Excitebike World Rally, will also disappear. And then there are dozens of original titles that are exclusive to this service, such as the Art Style saga of the creators of Chibi-Robo, the Bonsai hairdresser of the GoldenEye designer or Tomena Sanner, a strange Konami runner. . Everyone will soon be lost.

The LostWinds or Frontier Developments, the creators of Elite Dangerous, were probably the best-known title of WiiWare, which even appeared in the Edge magazine. Designed from the ground up to take advantage of the features of the Wii control system, the game was successful enough to generate a successor, but within one year it would no longer be available for the system it was designed for. no.

NES games with very limited runs, such as Stadium Events or Bonk's Adventure, are now being sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Perhaps in the future someone with enough sight to download all of these WiiWare digital titles will find that their Wii & # 39; is a fortune for collectors, with titles like the Doc Louis & # 39; Punch-Out exclusive Club Nintendo for WiiWare what the stadium events are. of the future. In fact, something similar has already happened in the mobile sector.

An attempt to recreate the classic World of Warcraft will surely lose the context of the era in which it was created.

In 2014, Flappy Bird became a global phenomenon, which was the latest in mobile download services. But suddenly his creator, Dong Nguyen, withdrew the game and argued that he was convicted of his addictive nature. Overnight, cell phones with the installed game started selling for ten thousand dollars or more, and even today when the fever for Flappy Bird has passed, you can continue to get up to two thousand dollars in Amazon. phones installed with the game.

Although Flappy Bird may be the best-known case, the games are removed from the iPhone and Android stores with an alarming regularity. Many titles become unplayable with the latest versions of the operating system. Regarding the preservation of video games for future generations, the question is not only access to the games themselves, but also the problem that the game itself can change.

"Think of games like Angry Birds or Minecraft, for example," explains James Newman of the National Videogame Arcade (NVA) in Nottingham. "The ecology of the updating and content of games after their release means that games can evolve during their lifecycle, new features are added to the games, while old ones or bugs are eliminated, which is almost different games compared to the version. that digital distribution is not only accessible, but how it changes our idea of ​​what a canonical level game is, it's a game, we started finding out what Minecraft is, given the amount of changes the game over time and how these changes have influenced the way we play it, maybe it's a better question today when it is Minecraft. "

When it comes to securing digital games for future generations, "we really understand the scale of the problem," James says. He explains that there are several groups working on technical solutions, such as emulation or even the design of server architectures to reconstruct old games, such as the Nexon computer museum of South Korea for the MMO Kingdom of Winds.

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Against Rebirth I will no longer be available when I quit WiiWare.

But since digital games change so much over time, adding content, retouching and eliminating things, it is perhaps impossible to preserve them correctly. After all, what version of the game do you keep? Perhaps it's better to think about the history of the video game in a similar way to the story itself, as a series of documents, interpretations, and memories that capture moments in time, all in context. of their day. James goes on, wondering if the oldest aspect of conservation can be an old game.

"I wrote a book about the preservation of games in which I asked if they were playing in the long run, the inevitable goal, which is contrary to what a game is, because it is definitely characteristic that they are playable, in fact, it's hard not to think that people get the opportunity to play a video game in the future, the ultimate goal of conservation, but another way to Thinking is to consider what sense that game might have in the future, at a certain level eliminating the game from its social, cultural, political context or the expectations of the time, for example, out of Monty Mole playing the context of striking miners in England in the eighties, giving the game a different sense. "

"It is important to think about the journey the games make and how it changes its meaning over time. We need to collect a lot of contextual material and documentation to see how their interpretation changes, things like oral history projects, in which they collect memories of designers, players, journalists and others are critical in this aspect, such as the collection of analyzes, guides, tricks and others. "

"Think of an online multiplayer game like World of Warcraft. There are great projects that are trying to create something that comes close to the vanilla & # 39; version that is no longer available," but many that make WoW interesting have already happened because it is the Conversations, Interactions, Viruses … Restoring the game, even if done faithfully, does not necessarily help us appreciate those attributes and meaning. are blog posts, articles, web pages and video recordings of the game very useful. "

James insists that the work of the NVA documenting the way games are played is complementary rather than an alternative to the learning and preservation of playable versions of old titles. But if we get closer to the domain of digital distribution, which can eliminate access to a game by just pressing a button, the closest future generations can play a current digital title, just watch a video or read what it was like to play it right now.

Translation by Josep Maria Sempere.

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