No matter how great new games get, it’s always comforting to be able to wrap yourself in the nostalgia blanket and play a childhood favourite. It’s always been easy – go out and pick up the old hardware, a few cheap cartridges or discs and party like it’s 1999. But technological developments are threatening the future of retro games in a variety of new ways, and very little is being done to address this. So here are six reasons why you should start wondering if you’ll still be able to play your favourite game 20 years from now…
Publishers Aren’t Perfect
It might seem weird that in an age of digital distribution and HD remakes, where you can buy yourself The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time without leaving your house, retro games are under threat. But the simple fact is that some publishers are terrible at exploiting their back catalogues. Take EA, for example: the company published some of the most beloved games of the 16-bit era, such as Desert Strike and Road Rash. But if you want to play them now, you’ll have to either pick up a PSP and the EA Replay compilation or go and get the original hardware, because EA isn’t making those games available right now.
Even companies that are relatively good at exploiting their archives – the likes of Nintendo, Sega and SNK – leave quite a variety of games unavailable, despite having the rights to release them. That’s regrettable, but it won’t ever change, which means we’ll often have to rely on the original hardware and software. But there lies the problem.
Digital-Only Is On The Rise
The good thing about physical games is that once they’re out, it’s very hard to stop them circulating. Even if a recall is issued, games will survive. Not so in the age of digital distribution: when a game disappears, the supply is completely cut off. This is already happening, of course – if a licence agreement expires, like with Castle Of Illusion or Marvel Vs Capcom, it’ll be delisted. Same goes for if a publisher winds up bankrupt, as was the case with the Xbox Live Arcade remake of Speedball 2.
With physical games, there was always a second chance. With digital, if you miss your opportunity, that’s it. And of course even if you do buy it, if the service closes, that’s it – you’ll have to keep it on your storage device forever and hope it doesn’t break.
Even If You Have It, Backwards Compatibility Is Limited
At this point, Xbox One owners might not feel too bad. After all, their digital Xbox 360 purchases will transfer over to the new system. Of course, that’s subject to limitations – the publisher has to approve backwards compatibility, and then Microsoft actually has to get it working.
However, it’s worth noting that Microsoft only managed to get 50% of original Xbox games working on the 360, and that was after a couple of years of effort. That list was already at 279 games by launch – which is more than the 248 currently working on Xbox One nearly three years into the console’s life. We don’t know how long they’ll be committed to this, and of course, if you have another system, you might just be screwed anyway.
But this is all the tip of the iceberg – the major problems are on the next page.