A Conversation About Video Game Preservation In The Gaming Industry Is Long, Long Overdue
from the we-need-some-speed dept
There has been quite an uptick recently when it comes to the conversation around video game preservation. There are probably several reasons for this. First and most notably, the confluence of the trend toward the gaming public primarily purchasing digital games rather than shiny disks, and the emergence of the latest generation of video game consoles has brought the question of what happens to older games into stark relief for many in the gaming public. Second, America has been in something of a love affair over the last decade or so with all things “retro”. And, finally, the concept of video games as works of creative art, rather than wastes of time to be sneered at, has found firm purchase within our society. All of this has combined to make the public much, much more interested in preserving antiquated video games. And, frankly, very disappointed at how often the gaming industry doesn’t take preservation at all seriously.
Well, it’s happening again. In the near future, Electronic Arts will be shutting down the servers and online portions of several Need For Speed games.
Today, via Reddit (while most the English-speaking world is on a holiday), it’s been announced that Need For Speed: Carbon, Need For Speed: Undercover, Need For Speed: Shift, Shift 2: Unleashed and Need For Speed: The Run will be “retired”. Which I suppose is an apposite word, given they’ll be limping off the tracks as they leave digital storefronts today, and their servers switched off come the end of August.
The reasons given are the usual: that maintaining servers for the few remaining players is prohibitively expensive, and hey, look, they’ve released loads of (astoundingly poor) NFS games since then, so you could buy those instead!
Note a couple of things on this. While the offline portions of the games will still be playable for those who have already purchased them, new buyers will no longer have a place to legitimately buy them. Also, while there is a single player component, a big draw of the games was and continues to be the ability to race against friends online. Finally, note that this announcement comes with absolutely no plan to make the game or online play available in any other way.
Which is where the preservation conversation comes in. Once again, we have a game publisher that enjoys full rights controls over its property choosing to simply deprive the public of some or all of that property. A more perfect antithesis of the concepts of the public domain and copyright law generally probably can’t be found. While EA explained away its decision to “retire” these games as the expense that comes along with maintaining servers and backend infrastructure for relatively fewer players — along with a suggestion that disappointed gamers simply by new games in the Need For Speed series — it’s not like there aren’t steps it could take to play nicely with its fans if it wanted to.
It’s always this way. “Shrug! What else could we do?!” Well, here are some other things they could do:
They could release the source code for the 10-15 year old games, and allow others to continue their development in the public domain. They could release the server code for the games, to allow enthusiasts to continue to host the few dedicated players remaining. They could offer to upgrade players to one of the many NFS games of the 2010s (although this may be crueller than just nothing at all). They could recognise that last year EA made a revenue of $5.5bn, and it’s likely they could just about afford to leave the servers on with minimal maintenance, without taking too big of a hit
Delisting them from stores just seems… petty! Sure, they don’t offer all the available features when the servers are off, but come on. Quarter the prices—hell, be decent enough to make them free—and let people buy them as single-player artefacts of the past.
In other words, either preserve the games for fans yourselves, EA, or let the fans do it for you. Either option is viable. But simply switching off the servers and making the games no longer available for purchase at any price is probably not so much a petty thing to do as it is a callous thing to do.
And when a company starts acting callous towards its dedicated fans, well, that’s not a good plan for building either goodwill or more buying fans.