A comprehensive study by the Video Game History Foundation (VGHF) has revealed an alarming statistic: approximately 87% of all classic video games are now unavailable. This comprehensive analysis that examined the availability of over 4,000 unique gaming SKUs in US from the birth of the gaming industry to 2010, highlights the urgent need to intensify efforts to preserve video games.
The VGHF, a specialized institution dedicated to cataloging, preserving and disseminating the history of video games, has been conducting this research for two years. The research team scanned various databases, from retail to legal, and included games dating back to the industry’s infancy. Worryingly, of all gaming SKUs reviewed, nearly 9 out of 10 were not available for purchase at retail from a first-party or third-party retailer.
Technological progress in the gaming industry is a double-edged sword. While offering an enhanced gaming experience, they make older games incompatible with modern systems, leading to such a high percentage of unavailability.
The study shows that video games released between 1975 and 1979 have an availability rate of 0.89%, while less than 3% of games released before 1985 remain in sale today. Among the available projects of the early 90s (1990-1994) – 19.33%, and of 2005-2009 – 17.89%.
Publishers republish historical video games in a variety of formats, services, and products, but their collective efforts amount to reselling or otherwise making available less than a fifth of all historical games. As a result, nearly 90% of the gaming industry’s historical output is not available without purchasing vintage games and hardware on the expensive second-hand market, visiting library collections in person due to restrictions imposed by the Copyright Act in the digital age, or without piracy.
Legal barriers such as expired licenses and intellectual property disputes add another layer of complexity. The study revealed that a large part of game projects are related to already defunct companies. These games have an unclear legal status, which prevents their preservation and distribution.
Video games are important cultural artifacts that reflect the societal norms and technological capabilities of their time. The loss of these games means the loss of valuable pieces of cultural and historical heritage.
The VGHF report not only draws attention to the significant cultural losses we suffer due to the inaccessibility of classic video games, but also highlights the importance of more robust and comprehensive preservation strategies. As the industry moves forward, it is important to ensure that its rich history is not left behind.