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Game Preservation SIG Roundtable

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The SIG in the IGDA I put the most time into – the Preservation SIG. I also put these notes up here, and are just basically mirrored here.

Notes

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These are notes from Andrew Armstrong, taking into account both the more private (~6 person) meeting, and public Preservation SIG roundtable at GDC 2009.

Immediate takeaways/to do points are listed below (summarising the meeting), along with general notes from discussion points raised in the meeting.

Takeaways

Meeting:

  • Possibly draw up a standard legal form for donations
  • Contributions/Donations could have some Asian entries added, and will be then publicised. Kyoto and check with Jo Barwick.
  • News will be likely altered to better fit the SIG. Will call for some ideas on this.

Roundtable:

  • Get onto the SIG emulator creators.
  • IGDA Standards and effort to get frontdoor archivist roles at companies, to prevent “Locked door” scenarios.
  • Information for the legal issues involved – for donations, bankruptcy, ownership, when companies are dead, digital copies.
  • Standards of preservation – run off the virtual world methodology.
  • SIG collaboration:
    • SIG Histories – area-specific histories (such as the “History of Accessibility”) or the SIG’s own history. Example: Women in Games SIG – women in early videogames.

    • Creating a canon list of games, and a set of resources, for education (of developers and for educational people with students)
  • White Paper 2009 – standards for preserving things.

Roundtable Details

~15 attendee’s to the roundtable.

Some of the different parts of the SIG and it’s work were detailed:

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  • White paper released and hard copy shown

  • Memorials project run by Devin Monnens
  • News and updates of external projects – KEEP Project in Europe, the Strong Museum of Play opening it’s Videogames exhibit, the National Videogame Archive opening in the UK.
  • New SIG logo, wiki and site progress

The discussion of the roundtable then varied between projects, concerns and a few ideas of things to do. This is basically a cut down transcript and set of notes mainly in chronological order.

The KEEP Project was detailed by a member of the European Game Developer Federation (I think) – there’s an event on the 19th of May in Sweden to do with it. The KEEP Project was a culturally motivated project, which is how the funding was put together from the EU.

Japan was brought up – there are a few places, at Ritsumeikan and the East of Japan National Library. Not much in the way of progress recently news-wise.

Preservation via. emulation was discussed – a point about getting into the SIG the emulator creators was put forwards as a way to get them in contact with archives and developers.

From a developer – there is a lot of material developers want to hang on to – but a lot to donate too. Hard time whittling it down. Legal and tax implications are interesting. Had Jason Scott offer to scan 1-3 3” binders for each game made. Less need from the developers POV to keep the original paper documents once it is scanned and they have a digital copy, this making it available to archive. This was echoed by a few others, who want to have copies but not necessarily physical copies.

There are also legal barriers to donating things. “I’d like to but it seems like it is illegal” – do laws like that apply to university collections? Can the legal guidelines be outlined?

  • Silicon valley archives would be empty if people don’t donate things – not much going to companies and asking them. One area which is a problem is source code and is when companies are necessary for permission.
  • Keeping some things illegally due to contacts saying not allowed to keep copies. Leaving it up to the companies is not a good idea of course (coming from developers!).
  • Hal says he got contract clauses for copies of items, even against trade secret clauses – the clauses for that is just there to make sure the law is followed.
  • Can come down to a moral argument versus a legal argument. No one at the Stanford archive has had legal action taken against them.
  • Counterpoint to that is even having a policy based on breaking the law is impossible for European government based Libraries, so they can’t do that.

Very few of the companies that die are able to provide permission of course. Are we chasing companies that look like they’re going under? How do you get permission for legally providing games for companies who went out of business?

  • It becomes an issue when a long term project involves copying. Some exemptions for cultural uses, and DCMA exemptions – on a 3 year cycle, perpetually! Fair use is very unexplored territory around this. No test cases for any of this stuff. Only way to test things is in court. Fair use for literary material is cannot copy more then part of the work…

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On the issue of getting digital copies of games – the copy protection of Apple II was very physical based – and is a nightmare (different floppy drives for different games, using physical things known about the drives to authenticate, and things on the media to authenticate such as storing data on the disk when it is loaded for the first time to prevent it being copied to a hard drive). The psychotic copy protections if not cracked would not be playable now.

A good story from this – out of 9 copy protections only the first 8 stopped the game (a developers own game) – and these 8 were removed, and the standard of the game was then created, based on the flawed cracked copy. How can you be sure you are archiving the original version of the game? The answer is: there is SPS and some other places working on the issue, standards are required.

Some news on the closing/funding front: Microsoft Game Studio withdrawn from the IGDA (reason seemed to be it “cost too much”). Also, of course Ensemble shut down too. The IGDA could have a role in this – some process or something. A way to initiate dialogue with someone at the company before it is shut down. Becoming increasingly common. Doors locked and no one coming in! (Such as Free Radical in the UK).

Even when things are inevitably sold off (the physical property more then the papers or disks), no offer to archives – like the Acclaim auction in 2004, where papers and filing cabinets went hand in hand on sale.

Remedy this with two obvious avenues – backdoor and frontdoor methods. Some kind of standards for this for companies like the IGDA credits. An IGDA position to have an official archivist at every company – a role in the IGDA. Need to do because of companies like Free Radical going nearly dead – but the debtors come in and it is technically theft to take anything.

Situation in the US just closes it’s doors, or goes through Chapter 11 process – which means going to court. Can do rescue operations for companies doing this. It is entirely random and contact driven. Would maybe nice to have something more formalised or at least less random. Getting more people in the know is important.

Best practice for individuals too would be useful (may come up in the next white paper).

Maybe having the SIG being a coordinator like the IEEE History Centre. We can also go to the other SIG’s and get the history of their area of history covered.

One of the first projects could be working towards a project on women in early videogames.

A final point on how much it costs to preserve one game – the cost can be from zero to who knows. Say $50,000 if just being asked to preserve something – a big number to do it, just because people like numbers!

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