from the a-start dept
If it seems like the topic of preserving antiquated video games as art keeps coming up, that’s because it’s very much starting to become a popular topic in the gaming industry and among the gaming public. The headwinds facing the proper preservation of this ever-growing subsect of culture are fairly clear. The very tools that have been used by fans to keep these older games alive and playable have too often been viewed as a threat to some gaming companies. As with all things in life, copyright is also getting in the way, as are some industry groups coming out against vile threats like museums and curation groups looking to keep old games alive for the public. Even preserving old game manuals is a prospect that only survives because of fair use.
One recent suggestion we discussed was to make it part of the the game development culture to publish the source code for any PC game publicly. If this sounds like a bonkers idea that would risk a game developer all of its income, well, Doom did this, so no you’re wrong. But, as we also discussed recently when Sony officially announced it was ceasing support of the PlayStation Store for PSP, Vita, and PS3 owners, this suggested cure does zero for console games.
Well, I can’t say for sure that whoever is crafting PR and messaging for Microsoft’s Xbox is a Techdirt reader, but you sure might think so if you see how they’re crafting the messaging around their big backwards-compatibility push.
Backward compatibility has been a key feature of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S marketing efforts, with the company promoting the consoles’ ability to play a wide range of original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One games. And on Tuesday, Microsoft brought backward compatible titles to Xbox cloud gaming for the first time by making a number of classic games from Rare, Bethesda and others available to Android users with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
“As time goes on, it becomes more important than ever that we ensure gaming icons and classics are preserved for new and old players alike,” the official Xbox Twitter account posted on Wednesday. “Whether your first time playing Morrowind is from 2002 on your Xbox or 2021 on your phone, we’re excited to share these experiences with you!”
Two immediate thoughts leap to mind reading this. First, to be completely realistic, this isn’t a full solution to the problem of console game preservation, either. One console keeping older games from a handful of developers available by continuing to sell them on modern hardware and platforms is not in any way the same thing as making sure that curators or museums that focus on the art of video games can do the work they should be doing. But it is also certainly a step in the right direction and shows a path where developers and publishers, if they elect to put forth the effort, can work with other platforms and providers to keep aging games available and playable. It’s a baby step, but it’s a step.
But the more important aspect of this is that the chatter about game preservation is clearly building into the lexicon of the industry. When you get the Xbox Twitter account talking about it, well, it means some people within the industry are paying attention to it. And it wasn’t just one Xbox Twitter account getting this message out there.
In an Xbox Wire interview this week, Rare studio head Craig Duncan said backward compatibility is playing an “essential” role in preserving video game history.
“There are just a bunch of inherent complexities when generations and platforms change and being able to relive games you played previously and fondly remember is important,” he said. “Those games contain memories and moments you can share with others and being able to do that quickly by just selecting the game in Xbox Game Pass is easy and just works with no fuss. The alternative is firing up an older console, finding all the cables, and preserving the discs so they still work (which some collectors do as a passionate hobby),” Duncan continued. “Making the history of games available to everyone and making your game library a click away is awesome.”
Right on message, almost as though this were part of a messaging campaign at the worst, or the output of a philosophy from Microsoft at best. Either would be a step in the right direction.
Again, is this Microsoft committing to help preserve games in the museum sense? Not at all. But keeping older games available and playable is the primary goal here and any help the company wants to be to make sure this culture and art aren’t lost to time is welcome.