Economic incentives prevent archiving of desperately needed games – The Daily Free Press



For many years, there has been an ongoing debate about the artistic value of video games. As a medium, should they be considered in the same way as films, television and music? In terms of archiving, at least, video games lag far behind these counterparts.

Video games hit the stores as soon as the technology for playing them started being invented, and as a result, the hardware was constantly evolving. The Nintendo entertainment system was released in the 1980s, with games loaded onto chips inside large plastic cartridges. Graphics got more advanced and cartridges got smaller until eventually games moved to disc formats, with developers releasing a new console every few years to keep pace.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

This makes it extremely difficult to play a retro video game on the original material. If you don’t already have everything you need, you’ll need to find the original console and the original game when new copies of either haven’t been made in perhaps. 20 years. As the founder of the Video Game History Foundation explained in a maintenance with CBC, “That would be like the only way to watch Back to the future it was having a VCR and an old cassette that you had to buy on eBay.

The simplest solution to this problem is emulation. In a broader technological context, “emulation” refers to any instance of a computer that replicates another computer. In video games, it refers to a program on a computer that simulates a game console.

Legally, emulation generally counts as piracy. Emulating the function of a video game console on a computer is inherently legal, but emulators are almost always used to play copies of older games downloaded from the Internet, and this process causes legal problems.

The point is, it’s only the developers’ fault that people turn to emulation so easily in the first place. In archival terms, ROMs – digital copies of software on game cartridges and discs, derived from “read-only memory” – are essential to preserving the source code of games because developers are notoriously bad for it. do it themselves.

Legendary game studio SEGA, for example, couldn’t even put the original games from their Ninja Gaiden franchise on a multi-installment re-release of the series because the code was almost entirely lost. It’s also worth noting that no one, not even Nintendo, knows the release date of the original Super Mario Bros. game.

Even the code from the original Super Mario Bros. may be lost in time – a reissue of the game for the Nintendo Wii was later discovered by hackers to be based at least in part on a ROM torn apart by a fan many years ago. While the exact reason for this is unknown, the game may not have been well preserved by Nintendo themselves.

Such reissues show that developers have an economic incentive not to allow easy access to their titles. Disney’s “vault” approach of restricting sales of old properties except for specific releases is quite lucrative, as Nintendo probably knows. Disney was also the group that pushed for stronger copyright laws – game developers can thank Mickey Mouse for his ability to protect his intellectual property.

The state of video game emulation is therefore strange. While not technically illegal, using emulators to read a ROM file you received from someone else – by far the most common use of emulation – is illegal, and yet it is the best way to preserve the games. Developers cannot be relied upon to preserve the code of their works, and playing legit retro games on real hardware is very difficult, and may even be impossible if consoles continue to degrade.

Instead of blaming developers entirely, we should instead focus our attention on the ways in which they are incentivized to limit the dissemination of their work: the free market economy and draconian copyright laws. If we work to reform them, the positive effects will go far beyond the sphere of gaming as well.


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