New Study Exposes Vulnerability in the Work to Preserve Classic Video Games

The Video Game History Foundation and the Software Preservation Network recently published a study that reveals a critical vulnerability in the work to protect and preserve classic video games.

Survey of the Video Game Reissue Market in the United States determined that just 13 percent of classic video games released in the United States are present in the current marketplace. That means that there is little to no access to 87 percent of classic games for the purpose of play, research, or preservation.

To put that in the context of other forms of endangered media, the study shares that the availability of pre-World War II audio recordings is estimated at 10 percent or less. For American silent films, it’s about 14 percent.

“This is the moment to sound the alarms for both the video game industry and the preservation world. The study proves that it’s worse than it looks – for every Mario game that’s available, there’s hundreds of less popular games that are critically endangered.” explains Kelsey Lewin, co-director, Video Game History Foundation.

Lewin continues, “Our goal is that by exposing just how dire the state of game availability is, we can drive changes to our copyright laws that will make video game preservation stronger, and able to take on the challenges of the future.”

The study examined abandoned, neglected, and active game ecosystems to expose the complexity of the relationships between consoles, games, commercial interests, and copyright laws in a fast-moving and ever-evolving industry. While video gaming struggled in its infancy to establish credibility beyond gamers, the industry matured to prove its legitimacy and sustainability. The importance of documenting video game history and evolution became synonymous with preserving cultural history. The study underscores the important and urgent role libraries and archives play in capturing a complete history before it further erodes.

Frank Cifaldi, co-director, Video Game History Foundation, shared with Toy Tales in 2022, “ The work that we do is to make sure the stories don’t die and the people who want to tell those stories have access to the tools they need to do so.”

Survey of the Video Game Reissue Market in the United States is available online at Zenodo. A summary is available on the Video Game History Foundation’s website.