Are you like Indiana Jones saying "It belongs in a museum" or are you like ze Germans?
There are two disconcerting trends in gaming, and, to some extent, both are bred to combat piracy:
1. Games often need a persistent online connection to play. This if often combined with a digital distribution platform like Steam, has a number of reasons (and even some benefits). It can allow people to buy games online, which in turn allows a number of smaller game developers (indie developers) to create and market games on these platforms. It also allows for purchasing and downloading of these games through these platforms, and stops people from pirating them. On the other hand, it stops gamers from re-selling games, something which has been fought for and become law for things such as video and music.
2. Games often come with significant downloadable content. Often, this is free content, but sometimes there are small payments for it. This is notably a tactic to stop re-selling and pirating a game, because the pirater / re-buyer will not have access to this (often significant) downloadable content. The advantage, of course, being that you get more mileage out of your investment in the game. The downside being that certain games, as shipped, don’t even work without a patch.
There’s a whole discussion around whether it’s fair for publishers to have their cake and eat it too, effectively stopping the re-selling of a game (which, according to copyright law, is supposed to be treated as a physical good), but still stop people from copying the game (which comes from copyright law that you should treat games as a physical good). However, this post isn’t about that.
This post is about various video game and computer history museums, as well as the few nostalgic gamers. You see, the museums and nostalgic gamers as they stand currently can just plug in the game consoles and games and just start playing. Even PC games have a variety of emulators and such to allow such games to be enjoyed today. However, in 10 years time, all of the games released today will be as dust. If you listen to Lessig’s talk on books, only instead of talking about a legal barrier we’re talking about a physical barrier with games, you can see the problem.
In short, you might have a copy of, say, little big planet, but do you have its various updates? Do you have the extra free downloadable content? What about the paid-for downloadable content? I’m not even going to go into the community generated content! Is that going to be on the internet forever? Maybe Sony is going to be around forever, but are they going to continue having web servers serving the content for this game in 50 years? Is anyone going to have a copy? When you’re talking about games as having a lasting impact on society, you cannot ignore the fact that games from the year 2000 onwards may not even be playable in another 10 years time. You can talk about how Ico was an excellent game, and get a PS2 and a copy of the game and play it, but will you be able to play flower? How are you even going to talk about it to your contemporaries, when they don’t have the ability to play it themselves?
It’s like describing, in words, movies such as Casablanca or Psycho, or having to read plays, such as those by Shakespeare. If you are a games publisher, you probably won’t give two hoots. In fact, you may even be revelling in the idea that someone might create a remake, which you can sell for even more money, or you could somehow port the game to whatever platform you’re pushing on the day, if the game is popular enough. However, if you’re a creator of these games, are you willing to let these games languish and then disappear?
We’re just talking about keeping gaming history alive, however. I haven’t even begun to ponder the idea that, as a gamer, you’re now no longer paying for a lasting good, like a DVD or music or a table, but one which rots and becomes worthless after a time, like food or electricity. Under that view, are you willing to pay as much for a game as it used to cost?
Even then there are issues. For a number of games now, there have been launch day problems. Sometimes it’s just in the multiplayer, but other times the volume of people purchasing the game has overloaded the servers which keep watch. On those days, we’re all yelling things like "I’ve got the fucking game, I paid for the fucking game, why won’t you just let me play the fucking game!", all the while with the knowledge that the zero-day pirates are all playing the game that you paid for because their copy doesn’t have to pay a tithe to some master server.
These sins are too quickly and too easily forgiven, and we gamers are far too ready to go drop a hundred on the next piece of trash.