The Ongoing, Painful Death of Game Preservation
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The Ongoing, Painful Death of Game Preservation

Well, the inevitable end of the PlayStation 3, PSP, and Vita generation has arrived. As of this summer, the respective storefronts for these platforms will be made defunct, with players unable to access them once the closure is finalised. While it remains to be seen how the move will affect those who have purchases made on the store that aren’t currently downloaded on their hardware, what can be said is that the closure is another stumble down the hill of game perseveration—and another win for video game piracy.

With films, the process of preservation has only become easier these past few years thanks to the success of digital platforms and the option to obtain films in physical form still being very much viable. Of course, the trepidations surrounding digital stores for the visual medium is also a slippery slope; yet for the time being, it is a fairly easy process to ensure you can watch these films you hold so close to your heart thanks to the DVD format holding such a long lifespan. Sure, Shrek 2 might come and go from Netflix month to month, yet I always have that DVD copy buried away somewhere in case the emergency rises—as well as having too many DVD-playing consoles/players to keep track of.

Now, if I were to have the same feelings towards a game from my youth, such as wishing to have a bash at some classic PlayStation 1, 2, or even 3 titles, then the process is far from simple. As I cling to my 20-something-year-old consoles for dear life, begging that they never succumb to the natural deterioration that all electronics will eventually face, hooking up a PS2 to a 4K display via some component cables hardly compares to the access I have to my film collection. 

Sadly, that is just the way things are in the game industry right now, with backwards compatibility either being non-existent or being kept behind paywalls, like Nintendo Online’s laughable attempt at a virtual console. The exceptions here include Xbox, which has been keeping backwards compatability alive on its ecosystem, as well as being able to play most PS4 games on PS5. Even with that said, none of it matters if these services one day face the same fate that the PS3, PSP, and Vita stores are currently facing, they will eventually cease to exist and force you to keep yet another console or pay up for the next one. The closure of the PS3 ecosystem of stores is a particularly sore spot, as it was one of the only places to legally access some iconic PS1 titles such as the original Spyro trilogy, as well as some other Disney classics like Hercules and Toy Story 2. Along with this is, we lose access to the huge amount of exclusive titles to these platforms in their digital form and, in many cases, these are games that will never have the luxury to be re-released on modern hardware or even have a physical copy to begin with.

It isn’t as if the clambering for classic titles to be playable is a niche idea; simply look to the reception that the rumour of the PS5 having backwards compatibility from PS1-PS4 garnered, with so many fans (like me) being more than willing to slam down some extra cash if the possibility of an ultra-PlayStation console was revealed. Of course, there were no dice, as the PS5 released to be only compatible with the previous generation, with a few select games still not being able to make a clean transition into the backwards compatibility field. Thankfully, this means I can pass on the PS4 to someone else and clear up some space, yet still I must find room for my PS2 (slim model, thankfully), PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, etc. The entire concept is obscene the more you think about it, and while Xbox has thankfully taken more steps than others to ensure the transition into a new console is as simple as possible, elsewhere it is a sad situation.

It has not always been this way in my lifetime. Going from the PS1 to the PS2 back in the early 2000s was practically seamless, with my entire collection, controllers, and memory cards all being compatible from day one. The same happened from the GameCube to the Wii too, and it was halfway there with the limited amount of Xbox games you could play on the 360. Sony initially even allowed the first model of the PS3 to work with PS1 and PS2 games, but that was eventually discarded with each remodel of the console, now making that originally-memed grill-like console a god-like backwards compatible monster. As I said though, this was in my lifetime—previous generations like the NES and SNES were stuck in the same rut as we find ourselves today, coming full circle in an incredibly tragic way as many players from those early on generations have held onto their over thirty-year-old hardware to ensure they never lose the ability to play these games.

It has to be said that there is a key difference between the idea of collecting retro games and consoles versus being forced to. If all my PS1-PS3 games were playable on my PS5, would I get rid of all those games/consoles I had collected? Absolutely not, yet what matters is that I should have the choice to do what is right for my habits. Even with that said, although it is nice to have my PS2 on hand at any point, as TVs become more and more advanced, they end up leaving behind the actual capabilities to even play older games—and if you can run them, they look awful. Things get even worse for those who wish to make video content surrounding an older title, as most capture cards these days are focussed on 4K 60fps capture—it is no small task to ensure they can handle the potato-ness of my old PS1, too.

With the closures of the PS3 and Vita stores, you can be sure that the amount of users looking to perform hacks on these consoles is going to spiral upwards in a huge spike this year, and who can blame them? Just like back in the mid-2000s, it was hardly the most seamless experience hopping on to LimeWire to try and download the hottest track from N-Dubz, only to download some incredibly cursed audio that was probably the equivalent of listening to music through a Wiimote speaker. Yet even that was, for many, the most budget-friendly way, with consumers not even considering the legal ramifications of it all. Alas, Spotify clocked on to this fact, essentially providing the same experience as LimeWire and other similar services, but with HD quality and, of course, being legal. Cut to 2021 and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who is into music that doesn’t use Spotify or some other similar product, which can also be said for the film industry with Netflix and streaming in general. Yet games are still dwindling away, hoping that some company will drag them out of their grave and plaster “HD Remaster” on the box, ready to be shipped and sold out to the world every single generation. 

For example, the Crash Team Racing remake is fantastic, but that version is now the default way for players to play that title, with the classic game now being effectively lost to time. It gets even worse with those games that do get the HD re-release treatment, as titles such as Final Fantasy X are being released on every single console imaginable which, in theory, is a great step, yet you really should be able to purchase it once and keep it forever. These multiple releases are the exact same games as one another (trust me, I own them all), yet I am still having to purchase the game multiple times to ensure I can play it on the latest and greatest hardware. Xbox’s Game Pass right now is the closest thing we have to gaming’s Spotify moment, with the platform featuring titles from a few Xbox generations, and the latest Xbox in general allowing games from every generation to be played on the latest hardware. It isn’t perfect, but it is at least a major step in a direction that the industry needs to take as one, which I know is easier said than done with the issues of licensing all being a tangled web of exclusive deals and whatnot.

It is unlikely that the powers that be behind every single major gaming company will hold hands and sing kumbaya as they merge forces to create the ultimate gaming hub for all older titles, but what is the alternative here? Corporations continue to shut down ROM sites that allow for older titles to be played, yet they equally provide no way for consumers to play these games even though they are willing to pay for them. When they do allow it, it comes in the form of a soulless cash-grab that bundles three titles together only to be murdered from the store at the end of a set time (looking at you, Nintendo).

Retro games from our past are dying, and the companies who claim to care about the industry so dearly need to step up and do something about it—otherwise, we may lose older games forever.

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