What are your opinions on the Video Game History Foundation’s recent report that 87 percent of classic games are being lost?

I’ve written about the [preservation of games] in the past. The 87% figure doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve said it before, the main issue is a misalignment of incentives. The loss of these games is tragic, but there is currently little incentive for any of these publishers to do something about it.

Game publishers have a huge amount of money invested in their intellectual property. It holds value. They can potentially re-release these games, sell or license the rights, or any of a number of other options. Giving that away comes at the cost of all of those other options and gains them nothing except the fleeting good will of players who will happily rake them over the coals when the next set of patch notes get released. Corporations cannot give something of value away out of the goodness of their hearts, they are legally bound to operate in the shareholders’ best (financial) interests.

In order to get the publishers on board, they need a good incentive to do so, something that they can present to their shareholders to say “this will be provably better for the company than sitting on the rights to these old games” and justify giving up the value. If, for example, game publishers could obtain a significant tax writeoff for issuing a license for their old games to accredited archives and museums, they would have a reason to help out with the preservation of those games. Such a thing would require a coordinated lobbying effort by the publishers and the voters, but it is within the realm of possibility. I believe that trying to force them to give up their intellectual property is a losing proposition, since they will absolutely fight it every step of the way.

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