Finally, a little good news about digital game preservation
Welcome to a string of videos about welcome exceptions to the rule that no one cares about lost games.
For all the talk of late about corporate anti-piracy efforts suffocating the history of video games (due to publishers' collective disinterest in making their back catalogs accessible for people to explore), I thought it might be nice to explore some exceptions to the rule.
The crackdown on game ROM distribution has been a tricky topic, as the comments in the story linked above will attest. True, distribution of copyrighted code is unquestionably illegal... but copyright was never meant to last for a century. If we honored the intent of the original framers of U.S. copyright law, Super Mario Bros. and Pac-Man would be in the public domain right now. More importantly, so would thousands of other games you can't pick up easily on a modern game console or mini-clone.
Books, music, and film stay in print and circulation for decades, sometimes centuries, but old games (for a multitude of reasons) tend to be a lot more elusive and ephemeral. Curious to experience the first game Yuzo Koshiro ever composed? Want to check out Will Wright's debut creation? Sorry, neither The Scheme nor Raid on Bungeling Bay can be purchased through legitimate modern retail avenues! The games industry's mercenary lack of interest in its own history would have caused that history to have largely disappeared if not for piracy and cracking. Which isn't to say I'm in favor of people downloading, say, Sonic Mania Plus instead of buying it. But for out-of-circulation material? I won't lie: Retronauts would be a whole more difficult to create if we (and the historicans and video creators whose efforts we reference) didn't have an internet full of game material to swap.
I don't really foresee a future in which massive libraries of archival games are available with the consent of publishers, though. Thankfully, a few good eggs pop up every once in a while. Good eggs like Columbus Circle, who do weird things like publish once-lost digital-only 16-bit games through authorized avenues on physical media 20 years after their original platforms' deaths.
It's a shame last summer's physical edition of Shubibinman Zero didn't make its way to the U.S., but even so—it's out there! You can still track down a copy for a fairly reasonable price. And you can play it on a Super NES or Analogue Super Nt. It's also extremely fun and highly accessible even if you don't parlez-vous nihongo.
So, hey, publishers: More like this, please. And thanks.