We are approaching a bit of a crisis. We have not only reached, but also passed the point where certain games are impossible to preserve historically. When it comes to MMORPGs, like older versions of World of Warcraft and EverQuest, and even more recent titles with major online components, like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 and Metal Gear Survive, become useless if you have no access to the internet. While games on the Intellivision, NES, PlayStation, Xbox and so on have been rather easy to save for future generations to enjoy and learn from, it is not so easy for these other games that are so reliant upon an online connection, servers, and company involvement. There must be a way, right?
Of course there is! This is an age where industrious fans, libraries, and museums can come up with ways to properly preserve games. Private servers, massive backups, and other options should allow such games to be saved for future generations. Except, there is a big foe in the way. The Entertainment Software Association, the ESA, is getting in the way. It and the companies it represents are more concerned with their own possible profits than the needs of the many, and that sucks for all of us.
Here’s what is going on. The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) and other associations have successfully petitioned the U.S. Copyright Office for an exemption that would allow them to preserve online games. This means online games would never be truly gone, as had an exemption to preserve them for future generations. Now the ESA, which represents companies like EA and Ubisoft, has filed petitions to say that such preservation attempts should not be allowed. It is saying there should not be an exemption allows these institutes to tinker with DRM and services to allow these games, which are all dead and abandoned by the companies by the way, to alter and keep these games in such a state that we could look back at them. Which is utterly ridiculous.
Especially when you hear the reasons why. Now, revisiting this exemption is not unusual, as they are reviewed and renewed every three years. The ESA suggests that these “infringements” would could enable larger audiences to replicate servers and have access to code never publicly released. That by MADE charging people admission to the museum, having such online games would fall under “commercial use.” Basically, the ESA is filled with greedy jerks who can not seem to grasp that people might want to preserve an online game in a museum just so we can look back on it and have it in some form, without seeing it as a possible competitor to their current games. Which is of course ridiculous.
Especially since the ESA does not value these games at all. One of their quotes, when it comes to these games, says, “Online multiplayer gameplay is not necessary for preservation or for subsequent scholarly purposes.” It flat out says it does not believe these have any sort of worth or value, beyond what they can milk out of it. Which is absolutely not true. Forerunners, like Ultima Online, EverQuest, and the first World of Warcraft have had a major impact on not only MMORPGs, but games in general! I am sure people out there could make arguments about character creators, lore, open world mechanics, and plenty of other features dating back to these original titles.
Whether members of the ESA like it or not, games are a form of art that has historical value. They are more than means to make money. When museums, like MADE, want to preserve them, it is not so they can get rich or flout authority. They want to show what these first games were like, highlight their importance, and make it possible for people for years to come to look back and see what they were like. If companies like EA and Ubisoft use the ESA to remove this exemption, everyone loses.