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Why are 9 in 10 classic video games considered critically endangered?

Given retro gaming has never been more popular and the means of accessing those games has never been greater, it may surprise you to hear that the vast majority of games made before 2010 are considered “critically endangered”.

According to the preservationists the Video Game History Foundation and the Software Preservation Network, almost 9 in 10 games are becoming almost impossible to play in their original form because they’re out of print.

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The survey concluded 87% of games are currently made before that time period are unavailable due to digital store shutdowns, rights issues, technical issues, and the low commercial value in keeping them available.

Indeed, it seems that “piracy is often the easiest way – or the only way! – to play many classic games” and many avid fans of the classic titles are being forced into breaching the law.

The situation is dire across a number of formats, the VGHF said in a blog post (via Rock Paper Shotgun): “The results were consistently low across every time period and platform we studied. Our abandoned ecosystem, the Commodore 64, clocked in at an abysmal 4.5%, while our active ecosystem, the PlayStation 2, only managed to make it to 12%. No five-year period examined by this study rose above 20% availability.”

Chart explaining classic game availability

In the C64’s case it’s largely because there’s not much value in keeping them around, but in the case of the Nintendo Game Boy, the situation has been worsened by the gaming giant shutting down the 3DS and Wii U eShops in March this year. As a result, as of April this year, just over 1 in 20 Game Boy games (5.87%) are still in print.

While there are still ways to play these games; by tracking down old hardware versions, visiting library collections in person, or by finding them online through whatever means necessary, that’s not the solution preservationists want to see.

“Those are unreasonable asks. It’s no wonder that even academic researchers rely on abandonware sites to get access to old games,” the post adds.

“We’re lucky that these games aren’t entirely lost to time yet, but we need to do better than that. We shouldn’t accept that we have to forfeit video game history entirely to the realm of legally murky websites and secret torrents known only to the most diehard of fans.”

You can read the full report here.

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