Nearly 90% of Old Games are Unavailable
A new study from the Video Game History Foundation has revealed that nearly 90 percent of games made before 2010 are “out of print”.
Only 13 percent of games from before 2010 are still available to purchase today, with that number dropping to a pitiful three percent when looking before 1985.
This isn’t good enough.
Doesn’t it just perfectly frame the constant battles with the likes of Nintendo over old games? The community protects and preserves thousands of titles that would be sat in the vault without them.
This study by Phil Salvador also only looks at the US market. Add areas where there were traditionally additional releases – Japan – and the situation may be worse.
That 13 percent covers your Final Fantasy and your Marios. All the big hitters. It probably goes some way into the niche – stuff like Alex Kidd. Popular, but not still seen on buses.
But that’s obviously not enough. And while nobody expects these big video game companies to work out complicated retro rights to games that’ll sell two copies, something has to be done.
Part of this has been – I guess – the long grey area of retro “piracy”. There aren’t many companies battling to have their 30-year-old game taken off Rom sites. That’s a very different outlook to other forms of piracy, where, for instance, there are websites I can’t even visit in the UK because they’re blocked at an internet provider level.
I’ve never been unable to find a game I wanted to download. And part of that, I suppose, is down to a lack of effort by the rights holders in most cases. Fair enough.
Old Games – Returning to the Past
But it’s still not making it easy or accessible. I learned how to do this stuff before I was a teenager. The way you played SNES games in 2001 was to download the ROM and emulator. Or you dug out your console. Or you bought the rare re-release for the Gameboy Advance. This hasn’t been a problem for kids for two decades. They didn’t have the nostalgia of that system, and most the big hitters are available through the Switch.
As those who weren’t born when these systems were out stop being as interested in the games we used to play, those who are willing to give their time for preservation may decrease. You’ll never necessarily lose these massive archives of roms, but still. The goodwill of fans is a finite resource. The likes of Retroachievements can breathe new life into these games – but the interest must be there first.
And so we must look for another, more legal solution.
And, as the study says, that means companies accepting that their efforts aren’t enough, and turning to those who really care about the medium to officially catalogue and preserve these works. With help, support and funding, we can ensure that our industry doesn’t go the way of television and film – with huge, tragic gaps in history just because nobody cared enough to see past the fleeting commercial benefits. It doesn’t feel like a lot to ask.