New study finds 87% of classic video games are unavailable to buy amid pivot to digital storefronts
A new study by the Video Game History Foundation finds 87% of classic video games are unavailable to buy as publishers largely pivot to digital storefronts and archiving laws all but exclude video games.
The video game industry is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, however as it rapidly grows, the industry has all but forgotten its past. Some older games may survive through remasters or even backward-compatibility on certain platforms, but many aren’t so lucky.
In a study published by The Video Game History Foundation (VGHF), they conclude that 87% of classic video games are now “critically endangered”, with very few means of purchasing them.
In their study, VGHF found that nearly 9-10 classic games released before 2010 were hard to come by or even outright inaccessible. Many needing players to rely on vintage hardware, or even piracy, in order to access them.
The study randomly picked from MobyGames, a community-run database of video games, and used their massive database as the source for their data. And they say the results look “grim”.
Across the board, only 13% of video game history is being represented, and no era of games ever cracked the 20% mark. The numbers are even worse for games on consoles with very little interest, such as the Commodore 64.
And even for consoles like the PlayStation 2 with higher public interest and activity from the community, only a small portion of its games remain easily accessible for players today.
One of the prime examples the study gives is the original 2005 version of Yakuza, now no longer purchasable. Yes, there is Yakuza Kiwami which is a faithful remake of the game on contemporary hardware, however, since it is a complete remake, it is considered a completely different game, and its original title is no longer easily accessible.
The study pinpoints two main reasons for this being the case in 2023. Firstly, the Entertainment Software Association, a video game industry lobbying group, has consistently found against expanding video game preservation within libraries and archives.
And secondly, because of the lobbying, libraries are restricted to only being able to share video games to on-premise access only, despite being able to archive them. This is despite other forms of media having no such restrictions.
As for how damaging it can be for game lovers, VGHF gives an example, “Imagine if the only way to watch Titanic was to find a used VHS tape, and maintain your own vintage equipment so that you could still watch it.”
“And what if no library, not even the Library of Congress, could do any better – they could keep and digitize that VHS of Titatinic, but you’d have to go all the way there to watch it. It sounds crazy, but that’s the reality we live in with video games.”