According to a study by the Video Game History Foundation (VGHF), as of April this year, only 13% of video games that came out before 2010 in the United States are available in today’s market. Whether this is through remasters, remakes, or ports, the likelihood of you being able to access some of your favorite video games growing up is very low.
In recent years, you have likely heard quite a bit about how important game preservation is. At the same time, you might be in the group that thinks there are too many remasters and remakes these days. Wherever you stand on the issue, we now know that those efforts have not been enough, with 87% of games released before 2010 not being readily accessible these days.
As the VGHF notes, if you want to play many of these games, you either need to spend a lot of money to own the original hardware or illegally pirate them. Every time Nintendo brings back a game with a remake or adds to its Switch Online libraries, there are many more instances of games left behind or various online services shut down. The Wii U and 3DS eShops are the most recent examples.
Re-releases are common enough, but the games represented are very few and far between. Metroid Prime Remastered was a very welcome return this year, but how many other Nintendo GameCube games can you think of that are no longer available commercially?
At the end of the day, what does this study mean? The video game industry and current copyright laws are not doing enough to preserve video game history. The current rate of availability for video games released pre-2010 is about the same as your chances of finding audio from before World War II. American silent films from the late 1800s and early 1900s are more readily available than the PlayStation 2 library, the highest-selling gaming console of all time. You can easily buy a new DVD for the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain from Wal-Mart, but your only hope of getting Chrono Trigger is a stranger putting it up on eBay.
The most worrying part about this study is that the VGHF found that, even with all of the incoming re-releases of games, game preservation figures are expected only to worsen as video game companies shut down more services and lock away games in their vault. Marketplaces like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 seem to be the next on the chopping block. We highly recommend looking into the Video Game History Foundation study and their explanation of the numbers.