By closing the eShops, Nintendo is once again opposing the legacy of video games

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When Nintendo announced that it would be shutting down the eShop for the 3DS and Wii U in 2023, my reaction was simple: of course it was. The development didn’t come as a huge surprise – after all, it wasn’t too long ago that PlayStation announced its decision to shut down the PS3 and PS Vita digital storefronts (although that decision was eventually reversed ). Companies do what they want, and above all what they want is to make money, and avoid wasting it. So of course Nintendo is closing two of its old eShops. There is no money in them. But for the rest of us, that sucks, right? My first reaction was resignation, but after a conversation with my partner, my feelings quickly turned to frustration because of what we are about to lose.

My partner is on a Fire Emblem kick by the minute. In fact, they’ve only just entered the series properly after starting with Three Houses, and they’re now dipping their toes into 3DS games. But after the eShop closes next year, Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation, the conclusive resolution to both Birthright and Conquest, will be essentially unplayable unless you’re willing to shell out hundreds of dollars on eBay to get it. the physical edition very hard to find. . Our combined irritation got me thinking about all the other digital-only games on the eShop, like Attack of the Friday Monsters or Pushmo. Hell, even Pokemon Yellow will no longer be legally playable without owning a physical copy.

And so because of Nintendo’s decision, a number of games are potentially going to be lost as legal capacity, just because it’s a case. It’s clear that the company isn’t interested in making these games readily available either, as in the initial questions and answers it posted regarding the shutdown, Nintendo responded to gamers’ concerns by essentially saying that it doesn’t. was not obligated to make these games available. And unfortunately, it’s true.

Speaking to GameSpot, Iain Simons, part-time UK writer and curator National Video Game Museumsaid: “In terms of tax liability to their shareholders, they probably don’t have a responsibility to make the securities available. So why should they? As their statement suggests, it’s part of a ‘life cycle’ natural “–all must pass, games die.”

It’s not just money that gets in the way, as Simons pointed out to me. Games are in an odd position when it comes to cultural recognition and haven’t really succeeded in convincing those who don’t play games that they are an art form worth spending time on. Mediums like film have the Oscars, an institution which, while far from perfect, still does a better job of presenting the format as art, as opposed to something like The Game Awards, which sadly looks more like a E3 press conference than an awards show. To display.

There are also other complications when it comes to preserving games, such as how frequently platforms change; the materials used to make the games, such as metal and plastic, are constantly degrading; and copyright issues. All of this makes understanding games from a cultural perspective incredibly difficult.

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“From a preservation perspective, you stick your head in there for an hour and immediately realize that this is a huge problem that’s going to take vast resources and coordination to even start to make it work” , said Simons.

There are people working to preserve video game history as much as possible, even if it’s an immense amount of work, however. But with doing this job, there’s also a huge amount of exasperation that comes with it. The Video Game History Foundation is one of the most prominent organizations dedicated to preserving video game history. His statement regarding the closure of the 3DS and Wii U eShops acknowledges the business side of things but criticizes Nintendo’s other actions.

“As a paying member of the Entertainment Software Association, Nintendo actively funds lobbying that prevents even libraries from being able to provide legal access to these games,” wrote the VGHF. “Not providing commercial access is understandable, but preventing institutional work to preserve these additional titles is actively destructive to video game history.”

What the VGHF is referring to is that the ESA (better known as the organizers of E3) actively lobbied against making the games available in public libraries. In 2017, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) in Oakland applied to the United States Copyright Office for a Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption for the preservation of MMOs that their publishers no longer supported. Then in 2018, the ESA submitted a request Refusal of the MADE request, saying that “video game publishers have strong economic incentives to preserve their own games”. Fortunately, MADE succeeded and copyright exemption has been granted, but only if the assets are lawfully conveyed by the intellectual property owner. So if a company discontinues an MMO, they can choose to pass the game’s assets to custodians. But even this limited ability to back up obsolete games might not be possible, especially when we can’t even guarantee the security of video game source code.

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The source code for the first Kingdom Hearts was sadly lost, so it’s a blessing that the game is even playable on modern consoles. And “blessing” is an understatement. The assets had to be recreated for the purpose of the remastered version of the game, and if Square Enix decided it wasn’t worth it, then the only legal way to play the game would be through the PS2 version.

However, according to Damian Rogers of Game Preservation Society, it is likely that at least some of the source code for games on the Nintendo eShop has been saved. “We can also be fairly certain that, thanks to modern development practices and greater foresight on the part of developers, games are also safe internally, although we wish Nintendo and all game publishers were more transparent. with details of those internal preservation efforts,” Rogers said.

Transparency is one of the biggest issues at play here, certainly with a company like Nintendo. With renewed interest in Fire Emblem, Nintendo might be working on some sort of port or remake of at least one of the 3DS games in the series, so maybe they won’t be out of circulation indefinitely. But that doesn’t make up for all the other games that don’t experience a sudden, unexpected resurgence and will be lost due to the eShop shutting down.

Sure, there are ROM sites, but Nintendo is constantly filing takedown requests from these sites, with lawsuits eventually ordering their owners to pay millions of dollars. But these sites do more work to preserve older titles than Nintendo in many cases – think Mother 3, an English-only game through fan localization. But if a company like Nintendo has no interest in making its older titles available for purchase on its digital storefronts, or for curators and historians, there’s nothing legally anyone can do about it. And so we have a situation where these games are not available both publicly and commercially. “But ultimately these [eShops] are commercial stores rather than public records,” James Newman said.

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Newman also works for the UK’s National Video Game Museum, as well as being a research professor at Bath Spa University. And like me, he’s aware of how digital sales and streaming media can have a chilling effect on preservation. “One of the important changes to consider here is that the shift to digital distribution, subscription and streaming is driving a change in the way we as consumers access our media. We no longer buy a movie, album, or game in much the same way, but instead pay to access it while it’s in the catalog and as long as we continue to subscribe.

“This has a potentially huge impact in terms of our ability to watch, listen and play, and also our ability to pass our media collections on to future generations, whether passing them on through family and friends. , or by donating to museums and archives.”

This point of conveying the media is something that touched me. Being able to easily share a game with someone just by giving them a copy is a special act. There’s something welcoming about lending a DVD to a friend, and the idea of ​​one day playing one of my favorite games with one of my children feels like an opportunity to pass on something a little funnier than my genetics.

There is not much an individual can do to combat this. But Newman provided an explanation of what people can help with preservation efforts, even if it’s not direct preservation work — which is simply documenting the existence of these works. Documentation and recordings that help understand a game’s place in cultural conversation are an important part of the process. “There is a tendency to view game preservation as a software project related to data mining and emulation of old or obsolete systems,” he said. “But game preservation is also a documentary project.

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“Being able to play a game like Super Mario Maker in the future will be eye-opening and show how Nintendo has gamified game making and focused on tile placement and organization, but to really understand the complex meanings of this game, we would also like to see the levels that were designed by the players and all those videos of people building them and reacting to them as they tried to solve the sometimes diabolically convoluted and intricate puzzles that people had devised.

Newman is right – documenting games through things like walkthroughs, games, streams, all of that is important. But that’s not enough either. While companies are more likely to be more successful at protecting their source code, there’s no guarantee that they actually are. And if Nintendo continues to successfully shut down ROM sites, it will not only affect its own library of games, but also games from other platforms hosted on the same site.

Nintendo is rightly beloved as a company that creates so many wonderful games. But as with a number of other publishers, it’s also the legitimate target of the company’s ire, which doesn’t want you to know about its rich history. When companies like Nintendo and organizations like the ESA are often the ones to have a say in how games should be made available, we are put in a position where we cannot win. So for now, the main thing we can potentially do is follow Newman’s advice in documenting these games, or at best look at how we can help groups like the Video Game History Foundation. Because until the bottom line encourages doing so, publishers clearly won’t get the job done.

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