Motherboard, 'Disc-Free Gaming Is an Archival Nightmare'

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.


This is a good article, though I wonder if it’d be better framed around the availability of games rather than archival, or around streaming services. Because a game being digital-only doesn’t prevent it from being possible to archive it. The content of the games are still stored on your hard drive, which can be copied elsewhere. Like P.T. may no longer be available on PSN’s servers, but the game has still been archived by people.

Of course, there are still big problems with archival of digital-only games. Console manufacturers will still want to prevent this from happening mainly to prevent piracy. Plus it’s still more work to archive these games than it would be if they’d just be on discs. Work that people may not actually do. And like you mentioned, there’s the different versions of those games that may not be archived. Even if they do, there’s more of a time limit on when those different versions could be archived. Is version 1.01 of a PS4 game even still available on PSN’s servers if the game has already been updated to version 1.02?

Streaming services are definitely much more of a threat to the archival of games though. With those it becomes impossible to archive the games for anyone outside of the game’s developers and whoever has access to the servers the games are on. Making it way less likely for games exclusive to those to be archived at all. The article goes more into this as well.


Ironically, even in the era of games with physical copies available, there are games we only have copies of precisely because of piracy. Streaming / digital-only copies just make this even harder (but this has already been basically impossible for any MMO style game, where the content is still mostly on servers owned by the games company).

(And this is why current copyright law + capitalism is bad for everyone, guys.)


This is a really important discussion to have. A lot of games that get released are lost as soon as funding is cut or somebody deletes the source. I think of games like Final Fantasy VIII that will likely never get a re-release because of sloppy archiving, but this article also makes me think of games that weren’t as popular but were still an important part of my life.

I’m not very good with computers (yet), and so the fact that I can’t just buy and play some of my childhood games is sad to me. I think about games like Pac-Man: Adventures in Time and Frogger 2: Swampy’s Revenge— games that I sank hours into that I would be hard-pressed to re-experience.

Seeing changes like this, which make archival harder and harder, really hurts my heart. :confused: