A comprehensive study conducted by the Video Game History Foundation and the Software Preservation Network has shed light on a significant issue plaguing the gaming industry: the diminishing availability of classic video games. The study, which focused on games released in the United States before 2010, found that a staggering 87 percent of these games are no longer purchasable.
The results of the study have far-reaching implications for game preservation and copyright reform. Libraries, museums, and archives have been advocating for exemptions that would allow them to preserve games and make them accessible to researchers. However, game industry lobbyists have opposed these exemptions, arguing that a thriving market for classic game re-releases already exists. This study debunks that claim by providing hard data on the scarcity of classic games.
The research team utilized a random sample of 1,500 games from MobyGames, a community-run video game database. The sample included games from various platforms, with a focus on three different ecosystems: the abandoned Commodore 64, the neglected Game Boy family, and the active PlayStation 2. The study meticulously determined whether each game was still in release, with a simplified “Yes” or “No” classification.
The findings of the study were disheartening. Only 13 percent of classic games released in the US were still in print, indicating a severe lack of availability. This trend was consistent across all time periods and platforms examined. Even popular consoles like the PlayStation 2 had a meager 12 percent of games still in circulation. The situation was particularly dire for games released before 1985, with less than 3 percent remaining in print.
The study identified several reasons for the decline in game availability. Technical issues, rights disputes, low commercial value, and the shutdown of digital stores all contribute to the problem. Digital distribution, while offering convenience and lower costs, is also vulnerable to closures, resulting in games becoming unavailable.
Although piracy remains an option for accessing classic games, it is an inadequate solution for preserving video game history. Libraries and archives are crucial in this endeavor, but they require better tools and favorable copyright laws to effectively preserve and share games with researchers and the public.
The study calls for industry acknowledgment of the scarcity of classic games and the need for concerted efforts beyond the commercial market to ensure game preservation. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and appreciating the broader history of video games, beyond the popular bestsellers. By addressing the challenges highlighted in this study, the gaming industry can take significant steps toward preserving the legacy of video games for future generations.