Even though the PS Vita has only been around for a few years, it’s already starting to fall victim to a problem that has plagued the industry for decades. While parts of the industry are eager to move over to an all-digital future, large parts of the legacy that has made the industry what it is today have already been lost and have become little more than distant memories. While much of this is in the realm of the 8-bit and 16-bit era and early console and arcade machines, it’s already starting to make an impact on the digital era as well…
Before the obsession with digital gaming, all we had to rely on for gaming were cassettes, disks and cartridge based systems. You knew where you stood with physical media. There was no risk of your games being taken offline and you could play them whenever you wanted. Once you paid for them, you owned them and that was that. While that was all well and good in theory and was fantastic at the time, no-one expected people to be playing those games today. Cartridge games for systems like the Mega Drive, Super Nintendo and other platforms have survived relatively intact (or at least physically), but cassettes and disks for 8-bit and 16-bit formats haven’t fared quite as well.
These classic games came under attack in a number of ways. Being based on magnetic media, unless looked after properly there have been many that simply haven’t survived storage since the 80s and 90s. Some were more prone to failure than others but fail they have and what once were classic games from a golden age are now little more than useless pieces of plastic and tape. Of greater worry for collectors is the attitude that was taken at the time (and to a degree even today) amongst people who came across old systems they simply didn’t want anymore. Many old computers simply had their games and computers themselves simply thrown away at the end of their usefulness to their original owners! Games that may have had reasonable production runs when first released may well have had the majority of these simply disposed of decades ago. Take the slots game Vegas Jackpot from budget publisher Mastertronic for example. When first released it sold over 300,000 copies across several formats. While it’s still relatively easy to pick up probably less than a third of the original production run still exist intact.
It’s not just software from that era though. We know about the frailties of computers and consoles of that time period, but of greater sadness is what has happened to more than a few of the classic arcade machines of the time. The arcades that we used to know and love are long gone, replaced with prize grabbing machines, slots, and a few throwback machines to keep the odd gamer happy who wanders in by accident. If we are lucky the machines we used to play in our youth have been rescued by collectors and have been lovingly restored back to full working order but that’s seldom been the case. One such instance was the Sun Centre in Rhyl, North Wales. This coastal leisure centre was earmarked for closure but keen eyes noticed that while it was still boarded up inside were countless video games and slot machines left inside abandoned and unwanted. It was never reported back what happened to the building contents prior to the Sun Centre’s demolition but if the contents weren’t rescued then thousands of pounds worth of games were lost forever.
Being a pinball fan, it was just as heartbreaking when visiting one of my nearest beaches at the South Wales coastal resort of Barry Island. Here I discovered barely a handful of arcade machines in various states of disrepair amongst the walls of slot machines, coin pushers and the like but the most saddening part was seeing an Addams Family pinball machine sitting alone and dejected in a corner of one of the arcades. It’s lights broken, a damaged flipper, the volume barely audible from age… it needed rescuing badly.
But what about the Vita? Isn’t that safe from this video game slaughter? I truly wish that were the case. We were fierce supporters of the PlayStation Mobile format since its inception and quite probably one of only a few PS Vita websites who were passionate about the bite-sized gaming platform for the Vita. With approximately 500 budget priced games released, it gave Vita owners a chance to pick up affordable games from new emerging talent but the format was never really given a chance by Sony, nor given the marketing it deserved. Ultimately when Sony Interactive Entertainment decided to cease development of games for the platform not only did they bring PlayStation Mobile to an end but they also made the harsh decision to remove all existing titles from sale and take everything offline preventing gamers from downloading titles they had previously purchased. If we hadn’t already backed them up or ever needed to, it was Content Manager or nothing from now on!
The PS3 has already seen a number of games disappear from the PlayStation Store in its lifetime. Out Run is no longer available because of licensing issues between Sega and Ferarri, Scott Pilgrim has been removed from sale and those are just a couple of examples that immediately spring to mind. From a gamers point of view, the instability of digital content does mean that we can no longer be certain that games we may buy now will still be available to us a year down the line or even further ahead. Digital gaming may be convenient but it’s certainly not reliable. If you purchase a game and for whatever reason you do need to redownload it and have no backup copy and suddenly that software is no longer available, the question needs to be asked where you stand legally. Technically, when buying any game you are only buying a license to play the game, not the game itself but at least when you own the physical media you have the chance to play it at any time of day or night. Remove the physical element and that licence can be revoked at any time without notice. It’s a sobering thought and one that doesn’t help to instill any faith in the industry.
It’s this very thought that is the reasoning behind the formation of Limited Run Games. Despite some of my reservations over some of the incidents that have taken place with them over the last few months, I am still an avid supporter of them and their work. In preserving as many digitial exclusive games as possible in a physical form is an unenviable task and one that I can only applaud them for. Lets just hope that they can save as many games as possible before more disappear from the store completely.
Unfortunately for the PS Vita, many gamers have opted to base their collections more on digital than physical releases. I only hope that more will make the move to physical games wherever possible, not only to show support for developers and publishers but also to help future-proof their own collections.