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Selecting Save on the Games We Make, Part 1
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Selecting Save on the Games We Make, Part 1

February 23, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[In his original three part series, John Andersen polled a variety of companies across the globe to find out about exactly how the history of the game industry and its efforts is being preserved. In this latest installment, he dives deeper into the museum issue, and also finds out what some more developers have been doing to preserve their materials. Where Games go to Sleep: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.]

In the previous three-part feature Where Games Go to Sleep, Gamasutra presented troubling stories of discarded video game production material ranging from lost source code to tossed-out production documents.

These stories included anecdotes of video game source code being rediscovered in the most unlikely locations and saved from bit-rot or the landfill. One such anecdote was how the source code of Sega's Sonic Spinball, once thought lost, was discovered in the garage of a former director of technology who had previously worked for the developer.

To save Intellivision game source code, one former programmer had to track down the hardware used to originally program the games -- which, at the time, was stored in an attic and bought at auction. The programmer was finally able to access the source code on its original magnetic floppy disk media, and then ultimately save them by copying it onto new PC-readable storage media.

Many developers and publishers also shared concerns about older video game development hardware breaking down, preventing game production assets from being accessed, and halting the potential re-release of classic games.

In the same previous three-part feature published last year, 14 video game developers and publishers discussed how they preserve their video games for future audiences. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony were among the video game developers and publishers, based in both North America and Japan, which responded with answers.

In this official follow-up, Gamasutra has reached out to the video game industry once again to ask: How important is it to preserve your video games for future audiences? The same four questions asked in the previous feature were sent to video game developers and publishers around the globe in mid-2011. The industry discussion of video game preservation for this article has been expanded to include indie developers, who were also invited to answers the same four questions.

Approximately 82 developers and publishers were emailed questions, a total of 22 responded.

An August 1990 letter from Squaresoft listing release dates and suggested retail prices for King's Knight (NES), Rad Racer II (NES) and Final Fantasy Legend (Game Boy) sent from its Redmond, Washington-based offices.

The developers and publishers that responded for this first follow-up are: D3 Publisher, Disney Interactive (Warren Spector of Junction Point, a Disney game studio subsidiary), Firefly Studios, Kemco, Monkeypaw Games, Natsume, Richard Garriott, Square Enix, Team Ninja of Tecmo Koei, and Treasure. Their answers are presented in the first part of this article.

The indie developers that also responded to the same set of questions are Bigpants, Dejobaan, Hemisphere Games, Kloonigames, Mommy's Best Games, Paradox Interactive, Playdead Games, Metanet Software, Ronimo, Semi Secret Games, Spooky Squid Games and The Behemoth. Their answers will be presented in a second separate part.

Part two of "Where Games Go To Sleep" previously explored how established museums, universities, and historical organization were preserving video games. Throughout 2011 there have been major developments with these organizations.

The ICHEG, (International Center for the History of Electronic Games) based in Rochester, NY received archive donations from Microsoft and a personal collection of material from Ken and Roberta Willams, co-founders of Sierra. The ICHEG also received financial grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Rochester's Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Other video game museums, not previously featured in the former article, are beginning to make headway in either opening up or expanding permanent museums and exhibits. The Videogame History Museum reached its Kickstarter goal and raised over $50,000 to make its collection more mobile for display at various game industry and culture events across the country. The museum is currently digitizing its archives and aims to open an actual physical museum in the Silicon Valley area.

The American Classic Arcade Museum based in Laconia, New Hampshire (also known as FunSpot, and featured in the documentary The King of Kong) is also actively seeking donations via its website to purchase new arcade games to add to its expanding collection. A recent successful online collection drive allowed the museum to acquire Space Dungeon, Solar Fox, Black Widow, Discs of Tron, and Mad Planets arcade cabinets. The same private collector who sold these arcade cabinets to the museum graciously donated an additional three games that include Minefield, Stratovox, and Armored Car.

Another museum that is making progress is Spilmuseet, a privately owned video game museum in Denmark that first opened in 2002, home to over 500 different computers and video game consoles, with a collection of over 7500 video games. It also maintains 750 original arcade machines of both American, Japanese and European games, along with approximately 3500 arcade PCB's (printed circuit boards) in their collection.

"By law, games should have been collected and preserved as cultural heritage in Denmark since 1998, but today only a few hundred games exist in the public collections, compared to millions of preserved books, movies and music recordings. As such Spilmuseet has been working for several years with members of the Danish parliament and government to be designated as an official cultural institution with the notion that video games should be treated equally as cultural media. If an official cultural designation is given then the entire collection of Spilmuseet will be secured for the future and publicly available as originally intended by the law," says Rune Keller, owner of Spilmuseet.

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George Geczy
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Having started developing software in 1980 for the TRS-80 (and later the Atari ST), I've seen issues with preservation of software as being very significant. Developers and publishers die or disappear, and products are left to fend for themselves.

The biggest challenges recently have been the DMCA (in the US) and proposals such as copyright Bill C-11 in Canada that make circumvention of DRM or digital locks illegal, even in "abandonware", and make circumvention tools to permit preservation and format-shifting also illegal. Exemptions in both laws are insufficient to allow legally protecting and recovering old games, esp when publishers no longer exist, and relying on the "illegal" protection of culture seems both short-sighted and haphazard.

-- George Geczy, BattleGoat Studios (and previously JMG Software International, 1980-1992)

Keith Nemitz
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Act locally. In Oakland, CA, there is a fledgling game museum that needs more love.

Judith Haemmerle
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The Digital Game Museum in Silicon Valley is attempting to do just this. Founded by a group of museum professionals and game developers, we have had curated exhibits at PAX Prime 2011, Maker Faire, and the Sunnyvale Library, Our collections are cataloged and conserved using archival materials and practices, and we have added a security specialist to our group so that as we develop electronic storage for code we will be able to guarantee dark archives where copyright protection is at stake. Why haven't you heard of us? Because all our resources have gone into our collection this year, and we need a website re-design and enough funding to get into a physical location. Want to help? Find the contact us form on the site and - contact me! All our collections policies are there so that you can see exactly what we're like.