Old books are easy to read, old music is easy to listen to, and even old movies and television shows are easy to watch, as long as you can find them. Old videogames are a different matter. Setting aside the challenges of getting your hands on them in the first place, changing technology can render them nigh-impossible to run. Consider, for instance, the end of Flash, which threatened the existence of thousands of games that were only saved at the last minute.
That potential loss of videogame history is something that Xbox boss Phil Spencer thinks about. "I really wish as an industry we'd come together and help preserve the history of what gaming is about, so we don't lose the ability to go back," he said during a new Kinda Funny interview.
"I think about what the Paley Center did for TV. Paley early on saw the TV industry was getting ready to literally throw away the tapes that these old TV shows were on, and he said, 'Hey, I want to archive those because at some point, somebody will want to go back and watch the Ed Sullivan show or something, and those things shouldn't be thrown away.' As an industry I would love it if we came together to help preserve the history of what our industry is about, so we don't lose access to some of the things that got us to where we are today."
Committed retro-gaming hobbyists have affection for old PCs, obscure consoles, and "real" copies of games in boxes, complete with manuals, registration cards, and feelies. But for broader considerations of game preservation, Spencer believes that cloud gaming can play a much bigger role, because it eliminates the need to invest in old hardware or figure out emulators.
In a similar sense, Spencer said more recent releases benefit from online services like Xbox Live and Game Pass, not just for preservation purposes but as a way of plotting possible futures that they might not otherwise get.
"Seeing more people playing something like Prey, or Dishonored, or you can go back to Fable, you can talk about those games, and for us as we sit back as a creative organization and watch what people are interested in, it gives us more data to think about things that we might pick up and take forward with new ideas and new teams that might want to go do that," he said.
"Game Pass has definitely been a great source. It was amazing when Bethesda came in and we were able to put so many of the 'old new' games, or 'new old' games, into Game Pass and go back with the legacy that we have with some of the IP. Even thinking about things like Rare Replay was a really interesting thing for us to go do, and letting people go and experience some of the old Rare IP."
Microsoft will continue to do things like that, Spencer added, because the Xbox Game Pass business model makes it viable. "It doesn’t have to be a GAAS [game as a service] version of a game," he said. "It can just be, hey, this game sits there, and people enjoy it on the service."
The full Kinda Funny interview with Phil Spencer is below.