Carly Kocurek has a great article over at Motherboard laying out some of the helpful points around the archiving of non-disc games. I’m sure many of us have some basic sense of this issue, but Kocurek goes into some more detail. It’s an article worth reading – let me excerpt some here.
Microsoft’s new Xbox One S launching May 7 boasts “disc-free gaming,” a feature that has already raised issues about ownership and access for players. However, the upcoming xCloud game streaming service indicates Microsoft may be moving towards streaming as a dominant distribution model. If the goal is to migrate away from downloads entirely, the new Xbox disc-less console is the harbinger of what could be a pretty grim trajectory for video game history.
According to Andrew Borman, Digital Games Curator at the Strong Museum of Play, there is currently no model for preserving playable versions of streamed games.
“Other than video, which is a key part of preservation and what we do, there is no record of the game," Borman told me. "We can’t see the files and the elements of the game including art and story. We have no means to revive the game so that it can be played not just now, but decades from now. The idea of ownership disappears in this model. You have a license to use that for as long as the company wants to let you play the game.”
There’s some useful and helpful comparisons to TV and film, particularly looking at Netflix and Disney. The former as heralding a push towards streaming (which has a deletrious impact on physical copies) in the space, while Disney uses its powers of curation over its own history to present a corporate face.
There’s an extent to which this is simply asking a further development of an existing questions. Patch iterations are hard to maintain in an archival setting, even if one had the desire to do so. The 1.00 version may be out there on a disc, but are we likely to have 1.01, 1.02, &c versions of a particular game? Even if we do, is that a good endeavour? Which games get maintained?
I think we’ve chatted about this here and there on the forums, but I think the disc-less Xbox does push the conversation a little further.