Is game preservation a losing battle? –

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The field of game preservation has grown considerably in recent years, but it hasn’t been keeping pace with the growth of gaming itself.

“We need more people,” says Andrew Borman, digital games curator at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. “We need more support in terms of money and time to be able to do things. Just as an industry, we will always need more. As more and more games are being created, we’re going to require more people and time to preserve those things.”

Borman has been working at The Strong for almost five years now, but has been doing preservation work in games for nearly two decades. At The Strong he handles a collection of about 65,000 game-related objects, with hundreds of thousands of magazines, books, trade catalogs, and other printed material on top of that.

He is well-versed in the challenges associated with game preservation to this point, and quick to note that preservation efforts in some areas have been quite successful.

A glimpse of gaming history preserved at The Strong. (Image courtesy The Strong, Rochester, New York)

“When you look at [preservation around] retail games in the pre-Xbox One/PS4 era, they’re in pretty good shape,” Borman says. “There are plenty of people out there buying things, plenty of people backing things up. There are exceptions to those rules being that there were exclusive digital titles, but for the most part, a lot of retail games will be preserved, and I don’t think that many will be missing.”

But as the industry has increasingly moved beyond boxed products and embraced digital distribution, Borman says things get a lot trickier.

Modern complications

“Nowadays physical copies — as great as it is they exist — they either don’t have a complete copy of the game, they have an old copy of the game, or they just serve as a license key to download a copy of the game,” Borman says. “So physical copies are not going to be the magical preservation tool for much longer as time goes on.”

“Physical copies are not going to be the magical preservation tool for much longer”

Andrew Borman

That sentiment was echoed by Chris Young, librarian and curator of the Syd Bolton Collection at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The UT Mississauga preservation program hasn’t been around as long — it was kickstarted when the university acquired Bolton’s collection after his death in 2018 — but it consists of 14,000 games, 5,000 magazines and a range of other materials and is large enough that it still hasn’t been fully documented by school staff.

“For preservationists, it’s going to be a lot harder to preserve games like we’d been used to before now, which was just having access to the cartridge or disc and preserving it based on that,” Young says, adding, “The way the game environment is now, games have become very contingent in the way they’re constantly updated. Keeping track of the changes to those games over time is pretty much impossible, to a certain degree. Some of these mobile games that came out 10 years ago, they look nothing like they do now because they’ve been updated so many times with patches, new storylines, interfaces, menu systems…”

Even if a developer were to keep a copy of every update and tweak they ever make to a game, that doesn’t …….



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