One of the best parts of the Xbox series of consoles is the backwards compatibility feature. If someone gets an Xbox they can play almost any game that has ever been released to the Xbox before going all the way back to when it first launched in 2001. Not only is this great for anyone that wants to scratch that nostalgia itch, but it sets a great precedent in gaming. These games are never going to go away and this is becoming incredibly important as video games continue to age.
Recently, companies like Sony have been in the news because some of the decisions they have made are in direct conflict with the vision of preserving video game history. They were initially planning on closing the digital stores for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, removing some of those games forever, until public backlash made them reconsider. However, while Sony eventually made the correct call in ensuring that some of those digital-only games don’t disappear forever, it doesn’t fix the major issue. Video games don’t have a very good preservation method.
Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, recently appeared on the Kinda Funny Gamescast and he talked about some of the video game industries preservation efforts. He made it clear that while he tries to ensure that Xbox does its part in preserving video game history, he really wants to make sure that the industry itself prevents any games from being lost to time.
“I do worry a little bit about losing our art form and the history of it. When I think about old ROMs and MAME and these things of where these old games are going to go as the hardware that’s capable of running those games or kind of interpreters or emulation systems. I really wish as an industry we’d come together to help preserve the history of what gaming is about, so we don’t lose the ability to go back. I think about what The Paley Center did for TV. Paley early on saw that the television industry was getting ready to throw away literally the tapes that these old TV shows were on and he said, ‘hey, I want to archive those’. Because at some point, somebody will want to go back and watch The Ed Sullivan Show or something and those things shouldn’t be thrown away. As an industry, I would love it if we came together to help preserve the history of what our industry is about so we don’t lose access to some of the things that got us to where we are today and built this industry. That would be a cool thing.”
What Spencer is saying here is something that really everyone that enjoys video games a medium should be getting behind. The first home console, The Odyssey, came out in 1972. That is almost 50 years’ worth of video games and there is a serious possibility of losing that history to time as we move into a more digital age.
Now while it would be awesome to have the developers themselves make more efforts to preserve games, we do have industries that are focusing on making sure that games aren’t lost forever. Groups like the Video Game History Foundation, for example, spend an incredible amount of time trying to make sure that games are preserved. However, their jobs become way easier when developers help them out so let’s hope that Spencer’s feelings become shared across the industry and there becomes a stronger desire to make sure this history isn’t lost.