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Friday, May 11, 2007

Of Curmudgeons And GameTaps

The old Curmudgeon Gamer set his target on GameTap, this time around having an email exchange with Simon of GameSetWatch about the potential loss of gaming history:

Simon "I just like them because they make old, interesting games available legally. It's as simple as that. There will still be ROMs and standalone copies of these games (Sam & Max is coming out as a standalone digital download too, and at retail, don't forget). Sure, there are some exceptions like Uru, but that needs a server to exist anyhow.

Are you being a Curmudgeon? :) What do you think they are doing wrong? It's not possible that old games would just be available for free, because companies can monetize them. We have to wait for the public domain to kick in for that."

Matt: "Perhaps a bit of a curmudgeon, but more importantly a person who likes being able to purchase copies of media. Do we know that [all the games GameTap offers exclusively on their service] will be untethered? The lesson of Half-life 2 and other Steam-linked products is that you may find yourself dependent on the service for authentication -- either now or in a few years when you want to revisit a game -- even if the game itself doesn't require anything online.

That's what my friend/co-blogger Ruffin calls the virtual rare book room, and it's a reasonable analogy I think. There is a gatekeeper who stands between you and things that you (think you) own (in the instance of, say, a public university where the people ostensibly own the library's holdings).
-- Preservation, GameTap, and Curmudgeoning

Matt's got a point - well they both have points which is why it's a decent read. My problem with the online services is even less historical and more about fears as a consumer. When I buy a game and it downloads to my hard drive - I like to think of that as my game on my hard drive. But it's not really my property if I have to login to a remote server to access my own local files.

I actually wonder why the model didn't work out better. Treat games as rentals. I mean - that's what Steam and GameTap are more similar to than physical media sales. You don't really own the content outright, you've just negotiated some terms to use it for a while. My only problem with was that their library was usually small, out of date and was slow to get new titles.

For my money, a model like Steam where you can buy a physical disc in the store, install it - and then not be able to use it if something goes wrong with a remote connection - is just no deal at all. If that becomes the mainstream, it will be the nail in the already mostly built coffin of my PC gaming life. Yeah, I get piracy is a huge issue for PC games. That doesn't mean I want to be unable to finish my game when your buggy software won't let me play it.

When it comes to the preservation of games, we've got a pretty thorny issue. Matt's line of thinking is correct that the GameTap/Steam/etc approach isn't a safe method for the future. It's not really a preservation model at all - there's no guarantee the games will be around for prosperity. Yet - as one of the commenters note - this is something of a problem for games in general. They aren't like books which simply need a good room for storage. They're worse than even those old VHS tapes you probably can't watch anymore because your player went for $20 at a garage sale. Games are really only reliable on the platform they were designed to play on. DOS games are becoming harder and harder to keep around. There are Amiga games I was quite fond of which I doubt I'll ever be able to properly play again. Emulators, sadly, can only go so far (and even emulators, well, only run on the platform for which they are designed). Backwards compatibility on consoles is becoming more and more contentious, it seems, with every generation.

This is precisely the reason I'm unlikely to part with a cartload of aging console hardware. No, I'm not likely to bust out Defender any time soon - but I feel I need to keep the ability to do just that anyway.

And I think it's very easy to underestimate this issue or dismiss it outright. We need to acknowledge this as a bad thing. Games are part of our culture and as a medium they build on themselves. Where would we have gotten Wing Commander if it weren't for Defender? I'm a big proponent of the theory that old games still have plenty to teach modern game design - but they can only do that if someone can boot them up.


Thomas said...

Where would we have gotten Wing Commander if it weren't for Defender?

For a second I thought you were talking about the movie, and I felt a distinct flash of irritation at Defender.

Josh said...

in a word: lol