Game companies are dumping historical video games into the dustbin of history

When Epic Games released the highly anticipated first-person shooter Not real On May 22, 1998, the game’s publisher, GT Interactive, announced its arrival with the announcement: “Not real It’s real.” With the kind of exaggeration you deserve extreme 1990s GT Interactive announced it Not real Not only will it revolutionize 3D action games, but it will reshape players’ perception of reality itself.

From a certain point of view, this happened. despite Not real Developed with Canadian studio Digital Extremes, Epic supplied the 3D technology and editing tools, and had the biggest wins. Successful launch of Not real It allowed Epic to license the game engine that powered the vast alien landscapes and cutting-edge effects to other game developers, reshaping the way games are made.

The Unreal Engine, now in its fifth incarnation, is one of the most popular software development tools in the gaming industry, powering popular series such as mass effectAnd the Doctrine killerand Epic’s hugely popular online “battle royale” shooter Fortnite. Not real It is the cornerstone of Epic’s transformation from a small shareware company into one of the world’s foremost game developers and publishers, with billions of dollars in investments from media conglomerates like Sony and Tencent.

Now, Epic is set to change reality yet again – at the expense of video game culture and history. On December 14, Epic announced on its website that the company would suspend online services and servers for seventeen games in January, including Not realits sequel, Unreal 2: The Awakeningand all entries are in Not realThe most popular competitive multiplayer episodic game series, Unreal competition. Although the games are at this point over two decades old, they are both original Unreal competition And the Unreal Championship 2004 It has active competitive scenes, and along with Not realare popular platforms for creating custom models, maps, skins, or even entire games.

Epic instantly “crossed out” all the classics Not real Games from the Steam online store for PC, making them unavailable for purchase. GOG, a digital marketplace that specializes in vintage game titles, was able to hold four games in Not real for a week after the announcement, but the games were eventually removed from there as well. Not real It has unfortunately become yet another victim of an industry that puts maximum profit extraction ahead of any historical or cultural value a game may have.

It saddens me to think that future generations may not get a chance to explore Not realMysterious Planet Na Pale, score to the soundtracks of Alexander Brandon and Michel van den Bos, or achieve a Zen-like meditative state in The Shot. Unreal tourThe famous asteroid level “Facing the Worlds”.

Still sad is the fact that Epic was closed down and removed Not real Not an anomaly. Instead, it is symptomatic of the gaming industry’s willful neglect of its own history. The gaming landscape is increasingly littered with “abandonware” — software that is no longer updated, supported, or sold to the public by its original publisher — and it’s only going to get worse. if Not real Can be written off, no game is safe.

In recent years, the game industry has used planned obsolescence, strict enforcement of copyright law, and even outright negligence to turn a large number of games into abandonware. In March 2023, Nintendo will close the digital storefronts of its older game consoles – Nintendo 3DS and Wii U – making hundreds of games unavailable. Last year, Sony also attempted to shut down the digital marketplace for its older game consoles, the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, but reversed course after sustained public outcry.

In the context of an exclusive retro video game market where prices for physical copies of vintage game titles can run into the hundreds or even millions of dollars, these closures threaten public access to gaming history. Despite technical libertarian pronouncements of a “long tail” economy where all cultures are forever available, the digital future is beginning to look very sparse.

To combat this, academic institutions and organizations such as the powerful National Museum of Play, the Museum of Digital Art and Entertainment, the Video Game History Foundation, and the Internet Archive are doing their best to preserve and make available not only the software, but also the materials—from box art to magazine ads to design documents—that The culture and context of gaming history. However, they face tough, uphill battles against an industry hostile to any form of game preservation.

In 2015 and 2018, partial exemptions were granted to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that forbids “tampering” with embedded copyright technology to academic institutions so that games can be made available locally for research purposes. These exceptions are especially important for defunct multiplayer games that no longer have active or available servers. The games industry’s main lobby group, the Entertainment Software Association, attempted to prevent the creation of even such partial exemptions, declaring that any exception to Section 1201 was a form of “piracy”, even for games that would never be resold or distributed again.

In a 2014 blog post, Felipe Pepe, editor of the Computer Role Playing Games Writers Project, correctly diagnosed why the gaming industry is reluctant to talk about its own history: “It is so important to make consumers feel that they are living in the best games ever, that there is no time like now.” Resisting the obsession with “now” is essential, especially when major industry events like the Game Awards seek to convince everyone that the sum total of gaming culture is all that multimillion-dollar ad campaigns allow.

What are the material incentives for delisting games—ones that a publisher or developer ostensibly has and could continue to benefit from making available? Sometimes a game publisher may want to put a port or rework of a popular title in their back catalog, removing older versions. Epic may want older players to move on Not real addresses. Although not officially announced yet, it looks like they will be releasing a new free version for 2007 Unreal tournament 3 Such as Unreal Tournament 3 X, designed to take advantage of the new features available through the Epic Online Services. Games may also be removed due to licensing fees for intellectual property (such as music), the expense of running outdated servers, or unexpected costs. The Federal Trade Commission just fined Epic $520 million, the largest in the agency’s history, related to the sale of digital items and privacy violations in Fortnite. Thus, Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney may be looking to cut some pennies.

There is a glimmer of hope thanks to the community developers dedicated to improving and updating classic games. In case if Not real and 1999 Unreal competition, a dedicated community called OldUnreal that offers patches that not only enhance the gaming experience on modern PCs, but also provide support for playing on community-run servers. After Epic shuts down their own servers, people will still be able to play online with each other in these two games. Currently, there is no such solution for Unreal Championship 2004 or rest Not real franchise.

There are open source projects such as DOSBox, which is an emulator that allows you to run and use a wide range of games and utilities for Microsoft’s older MS-DOS operating system. DOSBox allows anyone to play and access a wide range of PC games that may never see an official release again. Last summer, I became a bit obsessed with a free game on Steam called AQtion, which is a modern update of the action movie adaptation of Quake II. It is still updated regularly by the community development team and has small but active competitive and casual scenes. This underscores another important point: it is not enough for older games to be available for research; They also need to be game.

The best solution to the amnesia imposed by the gaming industry is to require that any game that is abandoned be placed in the hands of a dedicated and supportive community. The exemptions in the DMCA should not only extend to institutions and academics, but anyone, amateur or professional, curious enough to explore what gaming culture has to offer beyond the whims of an industry hostile to change and expression purposeful culture. Instead of waiting for the next game to reshape our reality, we should have the power to take control and do it ourselves. That would be really unrealistic.

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