May 10, 2007 7:21 PM | Simon Carless
So, after my recent post on GameTap adding a bunch of Neo Geo titles, I got a really interesting email from Matt Matthews, he of Curmudgeon Gamer fame, and he kindly allowed me to share our email conversation here on GSW, because it's pertinent to game preservation, and he makes some good points. Opinions on the below?
Matt: "Can you please explain (in 50 words or less) why you're so hip on GameTap?I I thought you might have had an interest in making sure archives of digital works would exist far into the future. However, I assumed that you'd be on the side of making sure those archives were not purely commercial in nature.
That is, if we could be guaranteed that GameTap would be around for 200 years, then fine. We'd have time for laws and technology to change to the point that people could probably back up or reverse engineer the games on GameTap for archival purposes independent of GameTap. But as it is, once that service shuts down (and I think it's a given that it will, perhaps even in the next five years) then how are we to keep copies of [games such as] Sam & Max for future analysis and study? Or any other game that they publish in pay-to-play format?"
[Click through for more curmudgeoning!]
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).
It reminds me of the security/freedom exchange often attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Something along the lines of "He who would sacrifice essential right of ownership for a little convenience deserves neither."
I'm not asking for the games to be free -- short of a revolution overthrowing the U.S. government and then a new constitution with reasonable copyright laws, I'll never see any game fall into the public domain because it's copyright expired. I'm asking that people who study or value games as a medium be allowed to purchase copies of them -- as we do with almost every other medium such as audiovisual media and music, even sculpture -- be allowed to actually own a copy of those games.
I can do this with almost everything on GameTap, I confess. Archivists can (and should) purchase originals of arcade games and console games and Windows/DOS games and others as often as they can. But the model that GameTap and Steam and XBLA and PSN and other services represent is one in which the company always stands between you and your game, ready to exact a toll if they can work out a way to do it. That gatekeeper is one I cannot abide."
Simon: "I think it's much more of a problem for Steam (potentially) than GameTap, because the point of GameTap is that you can ALREADY buy physical versions of most of the games. The only game on GameTap that you can't get ROMs of (less than legally) or buy carts/boards/discs of is Uru Online, and that wouldn't even be running without GameTap's help at this point. I guess you say that further down your commentary, though."
Matt: "Just to be clear, this is the slippery slope we're on right now. Boiling the frog, foot in the door, whatever analogy you want to use. If we relinquish our interest in owning copies of things we *could* get in physical form, then the natural next step for a publisher is to skip the physical copy altogether (in the name of cutting costs, sold as a benefit to the consumer) and offer only virtual copies.
Those virtual copies will likely include tethers to some home server which will be justified as a means to easily, seamlessly patch the game and offer extensions to the original game. As we've seen with Xbox Live, however, the model will then be used to sell (e.g.) map packs for Gears of War. The first hit's free, to throw in yet another needlessly trite analogy.
Finally, let me say that there are other areas which have struggled with precisely this problem. Academic journals can be accessed through the web, provided your university buys a subscription. As soon as the online subscription costs aren't paid, all that knowledge is walled off. Compare with paper copies which are obviously less convenient, but permanent ownership of knowledge. You can guess which I'd prefer *in the long term*."