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The Playstation is Dead, Long Live Playstation: Preservation and the pursuit of New
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The Playstation is Dead, Long Live Playstation: Preservation and the pursuit of New
by Mark Filipowich on 03/05/13 07:34:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

As everybody is aware by now, Sony has officially unveiled the Playstation 4. The announcement was hardly a surprise and Sony are all but guaranteed to be rewarded with a return of investment down the pipeline. However,  as other commenters (such as this excellent piece by John Teti on The Gameological Society) have already written, the launch of a new console is not without its problems. For one, the already astronomical financial barrier for creators, writers and even players will be raised even further with another console generation. Furthermore, there were no women present to announce any of the new hyper-violent games (mostly sequels to already established franchises), suggesting that the new Playstation will only be offering more of all the problems that are associated with games now but with higher framerates. A new console generation exacerbates another growing problem in games: that of preservation.
  
The same day that the Playstation 4 was announced, Japanese game developer Kenji Eno passed away from heart failure. Eno’s death was noticed quickly and remarked on respectfully, leading to a number of warm tributes to his unique body of work. I had never heard of him before he died. Eno’s most well-known and lauded work was on the very Lynchian D (Sega Saturn/3DO 1995), Enemy Zero (Sega Saturn/PC 1996), and D 2 (Dreamcast 1999). Unless you have immediate access to hard copies of his work and the short-lived consoles he developed for, you will never have the chance to experience any of Eno’s work.

Kenji Eno, May 5, 1970 – February 20, 2013

There are video games that are “classics” (goodness knows Square-Enix are thrilled to have such a deep library to excuse the mediocre schlock they’ve thrown together in recent years) but most games released in a given year are forgotten. Often that’s for the best, most anything of a given year is unremarkable. Still, there are more than a few babies in all that bathwater. Sometimes a work of art needs time before it can really be appreciated, or even for people to discover it. You could drown in all the examples of now classic works of art that were unappreciated in their own time. There’s a reason there’s a cliché for the painting that only sells for millions after the artist dies. Sometimes, these things take time.

There is an added dimension to this in video games. Developing exclusively for one console automatically restricts the majority of a potential audience from the work. Journey is touted as a milestone for gaming, but for anyone without a Playstation 3, it’s just something abstract to read about. Moreover, as a game based on multiplayer, eventually it won’t be what it was. Players will log on less often until it’s just an empty virtual desert. If you’ve missed it, you’re running out of time.

 

A new console means another library of old games being discarded. Again, much of what’s left behind probably doesn’t seem like much of a loss: but what about the larger trends that come and go? What about the snapshots that old conventions and lost titles provide for the art form? A zeitgeist ebbs and flows and art helps capture the mindset of a time and place. All those old games provide a timeline for how things came to be the way they are. And if that doesn’t seem important, what about Kenji Eno, who’s only real mistake was betting on the wrong console three times in a row?

 

 

What hope is there for the developers that are ahead of their time? For those without the marketing budget to reach everyone at once? For those whose contractual obligations prevent them from earning the audience they otherwise would have? For those that need time to grow to find an audience? What happens to Kenji Eno now that he’s died and all that’s left is his work?

Eno’s work spoke to a lot of people and they have taken the time to write about how and why it’s important and meaningful. They should keep doing it. There are many that are disappointed that Eno never had the opportunity to release more work with his signature on it. There are many that are grateful he was able to share his vision through the games that did see the light of day. But they’re a rare bunch. Without access to his work, it’s all abstract.

 

The only games that are preserved are the biggest immediate commercial successes. Imagine a world where the only albums that are available are those that hit platinum in the year of their release, or films that reach $100 million in their opening weekend. That’s the approach to game preservation now. A work is only worth keeping if it was once—and therefore could once again be—profitable. Those that try to preserve the medium on their own terms are treated with as much hostility as criminals.

According to publishers, those that pirate, copy, borrow, share or even buy their games used are ruthlessly killing the billion dollar industry. Granted, there has always been a financial impetus for game development, and whenever those obnoxious “games are art” people start talking too much it’s easy to shut them up with the fact that games are made to make money and that’s that. Wanna stay involved with games? Pay up to keep up. But much like people, companies eventually die. Companies are sold, they change owners, they change industries, they change goals, they go in different directions, they’re buried by scandal or legislative reform or bad decisions or an unpredictable market. What happens to all the great work they did in their prime?

This should not be taken as a protest against change or a resistance to progress from just another grumpy underemployed critic who’s starting to feel a little less young than he used to. But for sake of argument, let’s say that David Cage—free from the burden of making games on an eight figure budget at a studio that employs nearly two hundred people—is finally able to actualize his vision on the Playstation 4. Let’s say that whatever he’s able to produce for the new console is important and meaningful to the people that play it. Now let’s say that, somewhere, Sony miscalculated and the PS4 spirals into obscurity after two years of spectacularly failed gambles. In this scenario, it is not better to just forget those outstanding games for their proximity to someone else’s failure.

Games that have value deserve the opportunity to be appreciated. But that can’t happen when a culture of “new is better,” is fostered and when the pursuit of profit becomes so aggressive that it becomes more conducive to bury past work than it is to make it accessible. Content is always going to be produced and new directions are always being taken. And yes, new technology offers opportunities that previously didn’t exist. But the tradition of games is being actively stifled every time a new console is built on top of it. What comes next does not have to come at the cost of what was there before. It’s disappointing that that’s the attitude we’ve apparently adopted.

 

Originally posted on PopMatters.


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Comments


Jarod Smiley
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I think this blog is kinda misdirected as there are plenty of people who are complaining about b/c and its something Sony addressed in there PS meeting, meaning there are a lot of gamers who do play and cherish there older games.

So again, who is this blog directed to? The entitled, "me too" gamer who only buy Madden/COD and anything that gets a 10/10 on IGN? I don't have any issue with your views, but I think it's a tad unfair to paint Playstation in the bad light when 1) they are attempting to bring all our old games back through emulation/Cloud gaming and 2) the entire presentation was about ease of development and bringing down barriers for smaller studios and indie's--which was highlighted by The Witness's debut. And if there is no game ready to appeal to woman in particular, and no woman was directly responsible (producer/director) for a game shown, then why force this on Playstation? Yeah, there should be more games open to woman, but why should Sony just USE a woman particular to fill this void that the ENTIRE industry needs to address? It seems dishonest. When there's a woman who steps up to the plate, I don't see any issue with her being represented by Playstation, but to force it is just silly.

Cool blog, but again, I think who this is addressing, is a demographic of gamers that need a lot more talking to than these issues lol...but true gamers, who have a passion for inventive ideas, and who aren't impressed just because Killzone looked pretty, but wanted to see what's NEW gameplay wise, we don't need a lecture about appreciating quality games.

Christian Nutt
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I think it's more touched off by the march of technology forward -- which PS4 exemplifies -- rather than directed at Sony as some kind of notable bad actor in this regard.

I mean, realistically, Sega should be mining its fantastic library of classics. How many Saturn games can we play on ANY platform this generation? Well, there's a nice port of Nights on PSN/XBLA/PC now. That's about it!

Kyle Redd
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"they are attempting to bring all our old games back through emulation/Cloud gaming"

No, they are attempting to allow us to re-purchase some of the games that we've already bought once or twice, in order to play them on a cloud service which can never be as faithful or as accurate as the game was initially.

And of course, many games will never be made available for us to play again, ever. Games that involve 3rd party licenses (comic books, movies, sports leagues, etc) are gone for good. This is not progress.

Josh Bycer
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I think the topic of B/C is an important one and has in a way become a line between the art vs. commercial side of our industry.

The people who are more focused on the commercial end don't care at all about game preservation as they're focused on the next big thing and constantly moving forward. While those who see the art of making a quality or unique game, want that to be preserved for future gamers.

The problem is that game preservation wasn't really an option until the PS2 allowed gamers to keep their PS 1 games, that's over a decade of games (starting with the NES) that people can't play. Now, quality of course is subjective but every legacy console has its share of gems.

While options like the virtual console are good starts, I believe in order for game preservation to work we need a third party to update and maintain legacy games similar to what Good Old Games did for the PC.

Joe E
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I'm surprised there's no mention of emulators. I never had access to an NES or SNES growing up, yet somehow I managed to enjoy the best experiences those platforms had to offer years after, without access to the original hardware. Go figure. 100% Legal? Probably not, but I'm comfortable with it ethically, and solves the underlying issue. Maybe the best way forward is to push for the legality of emulators and ROMs after X years, in the name of preservation?

Josh Bycer
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A "friend" of mine used to have a NES and Snes emulator before but hasn't used one in awhile. I'm of the opinion that emulators or abandonware sites are fair game if there is no other legal way for your to acquire a game and at the same time provide a sale to the developer or company that made it.

That's one of the things that I loved about Good Old Games: No more having to spend triple the price on an old used game I want to play on the PC.

Christian Philippe Guay
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Maybe the current business mentality of the biggest players in our industry right now is what we should really be worried about.

Those big players want to make money, more than anything, right here, right now. They don't care if their games are still going to be playable in 10 years from now, they need the money right now.

When Microsoft shut down the servers of the first Xbox. Or what about all those MMOs that just died in a matter of weeks or months, games that we'll never have the chance to experience and learn from.

And we are worried about the preservation of past generations of games, and we should, but a lot of games recently released didn't even learn from the ones released during the past 10 years. The damage already started. That's one of the reasons why we hear some small studios or indie devs stating that they are trying to fix the damage done by the AAA business.

And I'm convinced that those small studios will grow up a bit and eventually replace what we know now as the AAA studios and that far more employees will leave them for the smaller (healthier) ones.

Jonathan Jennings
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I hope you're right Christian!

matthew friday
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B/C has an established pattern: people moan about it when consoles are vapour, then ignore it when the shiny new thing comes out. At least *some* back catalog items now end up being released, even if it does feel like money for old rope. I enjoyed Doom again more on the 360 than I ever did on the PC, and it is gratifying to see games like Okami/ICO/SotC getting some level of re-release.

Game preservation has at least registered on the radar now of museums.

The British Library receives a copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland- I think there should be a similar archival requirement for digitally released software in some way, and that, as a society, we will be kicking ourselves 50 years down the line when culturally relevant stuff is simply gone.

Eric Pobirs
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There is always going to be a problem with games dependent on external functions or properties. Multiplayer dependent on a server run by the platform maker, or a game based on a licensed property. (Perhaps it is fortunate that games driven by licenses have been mostly awful.) It's possible a company may release the info to allow someone to independently run their own server.

For the most part, it's the pursuit of profit that I look to save most properties from dead platform obscurity. People may complain about being asked to pay again for a game they already bought many years ago but they are just a subset of the market. The big sales are to be had among those shoppers who were too young or not even born when the game was last widely available. The PS3 has received a nice range of HD remakes. The Jak & Daxter Collection, for example, is a great buy for $20, especially for someone who is new to the franchise.

In general, if there is no great and/or expensive obstacle to overcome, any game publisher should be deeply interested in keeping their existing IP available for new players. Like the backlist of a longtime novelist, the small but steady flow of revenue can make a big difference in sustaining a company while new products are developed.

The Sega Saturn is a bigger problem than most dead platforms because it is a haphazard, complicated design that is a big challenge to emulator developers. The one emulator that was showing real promise got bought by Sega for use in Japan and allowed to die off. Most of the notable Saturn games were also on other platforms or have been ported to newer platforms such as XBLA but a few very notable items remain unavailable. Most prominent of these is Panzer Dragoon Saga. This was released almost simultaneously with the Saturn's demise and very few units were produced. It's a mystery why such a critically acclaimed title hasn't been ported to a more successful platform to finally reach a wide audience. The cost would be significantly lower than an entirely new project. Given an update on the art assets to make use of HD and modern polygon counts, it would be competitive with any recently released RPG, albeit on a somewhat less epic scale.

Kevin Fishburne
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Maybe the U.S. government could spare a small slice of its defense budget and require that all U.S. game studios submit their "gold" source code and compilation instructions to the Library of Congress for permanent preservation. The code would not be available to the public until certain conditions were met, such as the unavailability of the game commercially or when the code and derivative algorithms were no longer being used in new games or game libraries. It would essentially act as a legally mandated backup mechanism in the event of codebase loss or public unavailability.


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