Games that exist online, that is, your Eves and Planetsides, present an unique challenge to game preservationists. They will disappear without a trace when their popularity dies.
Glitch, a quirky MMO that shuttered in December, is very much worth remembering. (Ironically, the idiosyncrasies that made it worth remembering are the very reason it didn’t catch on and was forced to shut down.) Ever since, the game has been eulogized and remembered in prayers. Tiny Speck, the game’s developer, couldn’t afford to keep it running, but are doing what they can so that Glitch won’t be forgotten.
But they're doing so in a very unusual way.
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Recently, they have made the art assets for the game available to anyone who wants them through the Creative Commons license. You can download them from their blog.
This is a token of the team’s gratitude to the players, but of course it doesn’t resolve the issue of how to archive these monumental worlds, which are thriving environments with cultures and subcultures of their own, along with irreproducible events like the legendary assassination of Lord British in Ultima Online. A MMO isn’t so much the sum of it’s art and music assets, or even the code of the game. It is the totality of the people who are playing at any particular junction in time. There’s really no way to replicate that experience, not eve with writing, recordings, oral history, and lore.
There have been solid efforts made to prevent these worlds from being forgotten, such as one of my favorite game articles, Pimps and Dragons from the New Yorker, a sordid account of mass extinction, hyperinflation, and pimping in Ultima. And who could forget the surrealist rave clips that capture the fleeting moments of The Matrix Online? The treacherous Eve Online, recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, will be documented and historicized by curators with members of the Eve community. Still, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that the majority of these worlds will be lost to time.
However, if more creators began licensing extinct MMOs through the Creative Commons, which allows for artists and creative spirits to exchange and modify works without the threat of infringing upon copyrights, perhaps games like Glitch wouldn’t have to die. They could continue to exist on private servers ran by the people who love the games. After all, some guys have reversed-engineered Ultima. It’s a lofty thought, and I doubt it will ever happen, but it sure would be nice to see Glitch again.