All at once is seems like the industry is talking about game preservation seriously — for better or worse.
Since the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 there has been a significant influx of rereleases. The cynical take on this is that in the time it has taken publishers to finish building their new games, they’ve realized how much money they can make reselling their old ones at almost full price. And it’s true — they have. Remastered, collection, definitive, etc… are all monikers we’ve been aggressively acquainted with over the past year. Even more so than ever before.
But if you look a little closer there’s something much cooler happening.
Independent developers are also porting their games to the new platforms at almost full price. Aside from the monetary benefits of having your game available on a system with less overall competition, why wouldn’t you bring your game to the latest machine. After pouring two or three years into a project wouldn’t you want it to stay relevant and available.
Over the past few years the term ‘indie’ has become less and less applicable. Now games of all shapes and sizes are being made by individuals and mammoth corporations alike. Still, the burning desire to have your art viewed by as many people is a very ‘indie’ sentiment — flashback to Napster when fledgling bands were just happy that people were listening to their music and enjoying it.
There’s something very sincere about Rogue Legacy (2013), The Swapper (2013), Thomas was Alone (2012), Home (2012), etc… coming to the PlayStation 4. Small studios aren’t beholden to long archaic press cycles and promotion. These games didn’t need to be “The series that changed gaming forever” to properly transition to new machines, they just —quite simply— continued to be good games.
Even the big little teams seem to get it. TellTale’s The Walking Dead season 1 and 2 came to the new consoles quite quickly. They didn’t wait for season 3 to be around the corner so they could build a marketing campaign around: “catch-up on the award-winning series!” Double Fine also seems to rush to get its games out on iOS and other platforms so more people can enjoy them.
Now that the components inside home-consoles look so much like PCs it seems crazy that developer or publisher wouldn’t be bringing as many of their games to the new systems as possible. And you know what? A developer who isn’t needs to get their act together quickly, because whether it’s Valve, Amazon, Apple, or Sony, someone is going to make an earnest attempt in the coming years to launch ‘the Netflix’ of videogames.
I’m a big proponent of the documentation of videogames, and for the moment, I think all of this sounds great. If a company or publisher wants to come at preservation from the same angle as the Criterion Collection, then bring it on! We need a reflex list of important video games and I don’t think anyone has a problem paying money back to the people who made them. The pricing is a bit wonky, but over time as brand-new games start to be released more frequently, charging full-price for an old game won’t be as viable. That being said, preservation of any kind needs to be a two-way street. When the ESA says something asinine like: all hacking is “associated with piracy” and therefore preserving abandoned games through private servers or in museums should be illegal —as they did last week— we have every right to be outraged.
Regardless of whether you want to colour the terminology as "reverse engineering," or as "hacking,” preserving a videogame that is no longer available through traditional channels is an admirable cause. It should be obvious on its face: preserving culture is a positive force. It’s baffling that this needs to be stated, but (surprise) when you’re opposing museums —the libraries of art— you are probably the bad guys. The ESA is telling the same customers who purchased a videogame, ensuring its financial prosperity, that safeguarding abandoned games is a punishable offense; this approach is anti-consumer, anti-history, and ultimately just anti-videogames.
I love that older games are suddenly the source of so much conversation. It speaks to the legitimacy of our medium, of how far we’ve come, and where we’re going it. We’re finally at a point where referencing the minutia in older games speaks volumes about the design of newer games, and a stage where academically charting tropes and genres makes sense. Each and every game on our tapestry brings it to life. Games are worth cherishing — they need to be celebrated, not condemned.