Classic Video Games Now Less Commercially Available Than American Silent-Era Films, According to Study

classic video games

Remember the first video game you played as a kid? Chances are that the game may no longer be commercially available for purchase. In fact, classic video games (pre-2010 games) are now less available and accessible than American silent-era films, according to a recent study by the Video Game History Foundation.

Here are the key findings from the document detailing the study:

Historical video game availability is dire. Only 13 percent of classic video games published in the United States are currently in release. This figure is comparable to the commercial availability of pre-World War II audio recordings (10 percent or less) or the survival rate of American silent-era films (14 percent), two other mediums at risk.

Historically significant games with low commercial value are especially unlikely to be reissued. The reissue rate falls below 3 percent for all games released prior 1985, a period with high historical importance to the early game industry but minimal commercial activity. The Commodore 64—an important platform for the 1980s computer game industry—showed both the lowest availability rate and the lowest diversity of reissue sources out of any ecosystem we examined. This is evidence that the interests of the marketplace do not align with the needs of video game researchers.

Digital marketplace volatility threatens the availability of game reissues. While games do get reissued, the long-term instability of digital game distribution platforms means they often lapse out of release, especially in ecosystems where there is a low diversity of reissue sources. 6.5 percent of the Game Boy library was previously available only through Nintendo’s Virtual Console storefronts for the Wii U and 3DS platforms, but since those services shuttered in March 2023, those games are no longer available in any form. Other legacy digital stores that are still running, such as the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita stores, have experienced such a degradation in service quality that users are effectively unable to purchase titles that are technically still in commerce.

The study concluded that the scarcity of older video games is a systemic problem, and that the video game industry must “acknowledge this problem,” citing the benefits that could be provided by libraries and archives for games. The study did also admit that the industry’s reissue market is active, but said activity isn’t enough to compensate for the growing inaccessibility of older video game titles.

With more and more games being pumped out than ever before, it’s expected that many will be lost to the sands of time, but given current trends, we may eventually have to say goodbye to even the most popular titles of older console generations.

Source: Video Game History Foundation

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