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Group Aims to Save ‘Critically Endangered’ Video Games

Nintendo DS classic New Super Mario Bros. is now available in the Virtual Console on Wii U. (Photo: Business Wire)
Nintendo DS classic New Super Mario Bros. is now available in the Virtual Console on Wii U. (Photo: Business Wire)
Group Aims to Save ‘Critically Endangered’ Video Games
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A non-profit group that studies the history of video games estimates that about 87 percent of classic games have been lost over time.

The estimate was recently published in a study by the Video Game History Foundation. The foundation aims to “preserve, celebrate and teach” the history of video games. It also leads public events to raise awareness about historical classic games.

The study suggests most classic video games are currently completely unavailable to people who want to buy them. This makes such games “critically endangered,” the organization said.

Other areas of pop culture – such as films, books and music – faced similar problems. But it is still easy to find those products in stores or on the internet. For example, there are many online video services that show classic movies. And major music services like Apple Music, Google Play, Pandora and Spotify offer huge collections of old music favorites.

It is much harder, however, to find places that sell classic video games. For the study, the Video Game History Foundation examined the availability of all video games released before 2010. That is around the time game makers began to sell their products digitally. Earlier than 2010, game makers usually sold physical copies of games.

The non-profit group says it used a list of 1,500 video games provided by the online information website MobyGames. The research showed that just 13 percent of those games are currently available to buy in the marketplace.

The foundation noted that the only classic games currently widely available are ones that have been re-released. This means fans of popular classic video games like Super Mario Bros., Pac-Man and Donkey Kong – which were popular in the 1980s – can still be purchased. But hundreds of others cannot.

Researchers involved in the study identified the ways fans can currently get classic games. These include searching for and buying collectible games and old hardware, called consoles. People can also travel to libraries that might lend classic games. In addition, some classic games can be downloaded online, but this method might violate copyright laws.

In a statement, the Video Game History Foundation states that “anyone should be able to easily explore, research and play classic video games” in the same way they can enjoy classic books, music and movies.

Frank Cifaldi is the co-director of the foundation. He tweeted, “Nine out of ten classic video games are no longer available…and that number is unlikely to get any better. It's practically guaranteed that something you grew up with is gone, forever.”

The foundation is calling for organized efforts to preserve classic video game products. This includes a campaign to get libraries and historical organizations to expand their work to save video games, just as they have for old books, movies and music.

Phil Salvador is the Library Director for the Video Game History Foundation. He said in a statement that since 2012, libraries, museums and historical organizations have sought new exemptions from the U.S. Copyright Office. These would ease current copyright restrictions for classic games and permit new preservation efforts.

So far, the foundation said those efforts have been blocked by groups representing the video game industry. Industry officials have said companies have already established an active, growing market for classic video games. They point to the current availability of some popular classic games.

Game makers argue that libraries might try to interfere with their own efforts if current copyright rules were changed. Such preservation efforts might hurt their businesses.

The foundation admits there are currently more classic video games being released than ever before. But it says stronger preservation efforts are needed to protect more games.

Kelsey Lewin is co-director of the Video Game History Foundation. He said the main goal of the study was to call attention to “how dire the state of game availability is.” He said his group hopes to effect “changes to our copyright laws that will make video game preservation stronger, and able to take on the challenges of the future.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story based on reports from the Video Game History Foundation.

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Words in This Story

classic – adj. describes something that has been popular for a long time and is considered to be of high quality

preserve v. to keep something the same or prevent it from being damaged or destroyed

digital – adj. relating to computer technology, especially the internet

hardware –n. equipment for a particular purpose, especially computer equipment

copyright – n. the legal right to control the use of an original piece of work such as a book, movie or song

practical – adj. relating to real situations or actions instead of thoughts or ideas

library – n. a room or building that contains a collection of books and other written material that people can read or borrow

exemption n. special permission not to have to do something

dire – adj. very serious or bad

challenge – n. something difficult that tests one’s ability or determination


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