Vague Patch Notes: Game preservation is way more complicated than it seems


Before I say anything with this week’s article, I want to make something very, very clear right from the premise: As you have probably gathered by now, I am very much in favor of game preservation. I think that as a concept, Stop Killing Games – one gamer’s educated effort to stop companies from sunsetting games that don’t need to be sunsetted – is in the right here. Indeed, I am very adamantly in favor of creating an environment wherein more games are preserved, and I intend to highlight at least one example wherein preservation won out. Game preservation is important and it applies even with online games. That is a statement of fact.

What is important to understand about game preservation is that it is also complicated as hell. Even beyond the obvious portions.

It’s really easy to look at live-service games that could be played with just one person getting shut down for no good reason – or even outright delisted – and feel pretty bitter. Oh, sure, it makes sense for Ubisoft to say that The Crew no longer makes enough money to justify server costs, and I don’t doubt that’s the case – but I also cannot imagine that Ubisoft is not making more than enough money to eat that cost without even feeling the pinch. (Isn’t it kind of odd how that never seems to get brought up when you bring in these things no longer being profitable?) But I also want to recognize that on top of that, there’s complexity here. And it starts with Babylon’s Fall.

Did you forget all about that game? I don’t blame you. It was a live service game made by Platinum Games and published by Square-Enix. It was exceedingly poorly received, and when it became clear the game didn’t have legs, Platinum Games was quick to blame the publisher as the reason while also re-asserting that the studio is totally going to do another live service game. Fine. Not a good game and it’s gone, right?

But why does it being not good matter for game preservation?

Well, obviously no one is going to start a letter-writing campaign with any actual momentum in order to save a forgotten looter-slasher that wasn’t very fun. But the thing about game preservation is that it doesn’t just cover the games that people liked. It covers all games. Noah’s Heart is just as subject to preservation ideals as TERA, and how do you grapple with that? Who works to preserve these games?

But that’s ignoring the fact that games are often not just made from wholly bespoke assets that are brought together for that game. Pretty much every game involves several dozen licensed pieces of technology, and those have to be dealt with too.


“Well, so what? That’s true for single-player games that get preserved just fine, isn’t it?” Yes, in the abstract, but different forms of game mean different licensing agreements and terms. Remember, what ultimately tanked The Repopulation was a set of licensing agreements that enabled the engine owner to functionally yoink the game away from its own creators. These things can be serious business! It even seems to have been part of what sank Chronicles of Elyria in the end!

And let’s not forget that every step in the preservation chain here is going to cost the company money. Now, again, don’t get me wrong; I would weep precisely zero tears if Ubisoft spent money to retrofit The Crew so people could still play it after purchasing it. Oh no, poor Ubisoft. But there are a lot of smaller studios out there making games, and they might be dealing with the publisher just saying, “Hey, you make this work on your own dime.”

Strangely enough, we actually do have an example of that happening. Mega Man X DiVE was a gacha game based on the Mega Man franchise developed by a Taiwanese studio, but when Capcom said that it was no longer going to support the game, the game’s director and producer went out on a limb and asked if they could get support from Capcom to make an offline, non-gacha version of the game. They got enough that with a lot of hard work, they were able to put out Mega Man X DiVE Offline on mobile platforms and Steam, and while there are a couple things missing from that version, it is playable. The game was preserved!

But it was preserved in no small part because the developers love the franchise, wanted to keep the game around in some fashion, and had the time and the drive to make it happen. It represents an interesting potential outcome, and I think it’s inspirational… but again, look at Babylon’s Fall. Would there be a team willing to go out on a limb for a game that wasn’t good?

We’re also eliding something else that’s extremely important, and it comes up with the Pixel Remaster series of Final Fantasy titles. The Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy VI, for example, replaced the mediocre mobile port of the game that had previously been available on Steam and it preserves a lot of the game’s original SNES flavor… and it also removes a great deal of content from the game that had been included in later re-releases.

To be absolutely clear, I know that content was not in the original version that was being remastered. But… where do you split the difference? Is lacking The Answer in Persona 3 Reloaded somehow reducing its value as a more accessible version of the game? Even though The Answer was objectively awful on both a gameplay and narrative level?

Leave it alone, I'm chilling.

All of these questions are complicated, and they’re questions that film preservation has been grappling with for about a century now without coming up with decisive answers. We still don’t have actual authentic versions of the Star Wars films easily accessible without the special edition edits (although we all know there’s a far more important edit that we truly need – if you know then you know). Games have had about 40 years to answer these questions, and they’re hard to answer.

The problem, of course, is that with all of these things being complicated, it’s actually easier to get bogged down in details that don’t matter. Like, how good does a game have to be before it’s worthy of preservation? No matter where you draw that line, there’s a game just a little too bad to be considered worth it. And what counts as “preservation” in this context? If you think that Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 is worthy of preservation (which I do), which version of it do you count? The launch version? The very different just-before-shutdown version?

As I said in the introduction, it’s not that I think game preservation isn’t worth the effort. Quite the opposite. It is worth the effort. It is important. I ask these questions and shine lights on them not because I believe that this is too hard and therefore not worth bothering with but because we should do it in spite of the challenges it entails. This is important. Rather, shining a light on these questions is important because failing to address them authentically and acknowledge the difficulties of preservation does the complexities and realities a genuine disservice.

I’m not sure if we’re ever going to get it right, and we need to be aware of this. But I am certain that not trying at all is getting it very decidedly wrong.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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