The U.S. Copyright Office is considering whether or not to update the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions, which prevent the public from tinkering with DRM-protected content and devices.
These provisions are renewed every three years. To allow individuals and organizations to chime in, the Office traditionally launches a public consultation, before it makes any decisions.
This week a series of new responses were received and many of these focused on abandoned games. As is true for most software, games have a limited lifespan, so after a few years they are no longer supported by manufacturers.
To preserve these games for future generations and nostalgic gamers, the Copyright Office previously included game preservation exemptions. This means that libraries, archives and museums can use emulators and other circumvention tools to make old classics playable.
However, these exemptions are limited and do not apply to games that require a connection to an online server, which includes most recent games. When the online servers are taken down, the game simply disappears forever.
This should be prevented, according to The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (the MADE), a nonprofit organization operating in California.
“Although the Current Exemption does not cover it, preservation of online video games is now critical,” MADE writes in its comment to the Copyright Office.
“Online games have become ubiquitous and are only growing in popularity. For example, an estimated fifty-three percent of gamers play multiplayer games at least once a week, and spend, on average, six hours a week playing with others online.”
During the previous review, similar calls for an online exemption were made but, at the time, the Register of Copyrights noted that multiplayer games could still be played on local area networks.
“Today, however, local multiplayer options are increasingly rare, and many games no longer support LAN connected multiplayer capability,” MADE counters, adding that nowadays even some single-player games require an online connection.
“More troubling still to archivists, many video games rely on server connectivity to function in single-player mode and become unplayable when servers shut down.”
MADE asks the Copyright Office to extend the current exemptions and include games with an online connection as well. This would allow libraries, archives, and museums to operate servers for these abandoned games and keep them alive.
The nonprofit museum is not alone in its call, with digital rights group Public Knowledge submitting a similar comment. They also highlight the need to preserve online games. Not just for nostalgic gamers, but also for researchers and scholars.
This issue is more relevant than ever before, as hundreds of online multiplayer games have been abandoned already.
“It is difficult to quantify the number of multiplayer servers that have been shut down in recent years. However, Electronic Arts’ ‘Online Services Shutdown’ list is one illustrative example,” Public Knowledge writes.
“The list — which is littered with popular franchises such as FIFA World Cup, Nascar, and The Sims — currently stands at 319 games and servers discontinued since 2013, or just over one game per week since 2012.”
Finally, several ‘regular’ gaming fans have also made their feelings known. While their arguments are usually not as elaborate, the personal pleasure people still get out of older games can’t be overstated.
“I have been playing video games since the Atari 2600, for 35 years. Nowadays, game ‘museums’ — getting the opportunity to replay games from my youth, and share them with my child — are a source of joy for me,” one individual commenter wrote.
“I would love the opportunity to explore some of the early online / MMO games that I spent so much time on in the past!”
Header image via MMOs.com