Nintendo been in the news again lately, this time for getting another ROM site to take down all their ROMs under threat of legal penalties. I’ve been kind of split on this issue for a long time. One one hand, all game companies are well within their rights to defend their IP, but I’m not so sure they always should especially if they don’t provide a legal way for fans to acquire the games. So, lately I’ve been thinking that there needs to be a “public domain” option for games too. If the makers won’t provide, then there has to be a legal way for someone else to do so.
The issue of video game preservation isn’t a new topic; not at all. It’s been ongoing in some form ever since the console cycle was established, and it grows ever more important with each passing year. Games are becoming ever more complicated as the years wear on, making them more an more difficult to maintain and/or preserve without the original hardware. It can be done of course, but the development of that kind of technology is being carried out mostly by people who are simply passionate about games.
There’s no profit to be had due to trademark and copyright protections, after all. This is to be expected with new or recent games since the potential exists for them to be carried forward via remasters or features like backwards compatibility. What about the games that are going on 20, 30 or even 40 years old now though? We can’t reasonably expect publishers to maintain access to their complete libraries can we?
As convenient as it would be to have something akin to the Virtual Console on something like the Switch or the Xbox Series X, it’s unlikely to happen due to factors like sheer expense and the work needed to make sure every game worked in that environment. It’s probably why we haven’t seen a similar feature yet. This is why I think that games should enter public domain after a certain amount of time, just like other forms of media like books or movies. I’m not necessarily saying that people should be able to directly sell old Nintendo games themselves, but I think some legal protections for keeping those games available to the public wouldn’t be unreasonable.
If people didn’t have to fear Nintendo’s (or other publishers’) lawyers or even had a legal way to profit from making the games available, then game preservation wouldn’t be as much of a challenge since the games themselves would at least be out there. Emulation technology could also improve more quickly since there would be some potential financial benefit in developing it. Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue at all if makers/publishers were willing or capable of providing such a service themselves. Since they’re not though, something else has to be done. Hopefully it won’t be too many more years before it is too, games don’t last forever, after all.
How do you feel about video game preservation? Got any ideas as to what can be done?
Image © Nintendo