The Video Game History Foundation, in partnership with the Software Preservation Network, has claimed that 87% of classic video games released in the United States are “critically endangered.
A study conducted by the two groups found that across a sample of games released prior to 2010, a small fraction of them were still in circulation from re-releases.
For example, from the sample of Commodore 64 games tested, only 4.5% of them were still purchasable on a modern digital storefront.
Across the Gameboy family of systems, only 5.8%. This figure was far higher prior to the shutdown of the WiiU and 3DS Eshop, which resulted in the only games available for those systems largely being locked behind Nintendo‘s online service.
“Imagine if the only way to watch Titanic was to find a used VHS tape, and maintain your own vintage equipment so that you could still watch it,” the study said.
“And what if no library, not even the Library of Congress, could do any better — they could keep and digitize that VHS of Titanic, but you’d have to go all the way there to watch it.
“It sounds crazy, but that’s the reality we live in with video games, a $180 billion industry, while the games and their history disappear.”
The study looked to grant further exemptions to libraries and organizations when it comes to preserving video games. Currently, most archives and permitted to digitally preserve content, but in order to play this old content legally, there is an expectation for fans to maintain sometimes decades-old equipment.
The piece of legislation that dictates how classic games are preserved and accessed, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is to be reexamined in 2024.
“We’re hopeful that this study will incite change, and that video game preservation will become stronger — before we lose more,” said the VGHF.
“I hope this study wakes people up. For years, we’ve known that the availability of classic video games in a legal, safe way has been dire, but no one has ever put a number to that,” said Frank Cifaldi, co-director, Video Game History Foundation “The results are worse than probably any other medium.”