Oct 3, 2022 - Technology

Developer fights to save team's online games from extinction

Video game screenshot of a person in blue running across a desert toward a red tower.

PixelJunk Raiders. Screenshot: Q-Games

Developer Dylan Cuthbert has rescued one of his team’s video games from an online death before. And he’s about to have to do it again, thanks to the pending January 2023 closure of Google Stadia.

Why it matters: Online-connected games face extinction regularly now.

  • It was less of a problem in the old days, when most games ran off cartridges or discs.
  • But games that players can only get via downloads or, as is the case with Stadia, can only be played over streaming connections, can blink out of existence when companies shut off the servers offering them.

Details: Cuthbert, who runs Kyoto, Japan-based Q-Games, is hoping to salvage PixelJunk Raiders, a March 2021 exclusive for the Stadia service, and is actively seeking a publisher to bring it to other platforms.

  • Until there are any takers, Raiders will become unplayable anywhere when Stadia shuts down.
  • Cuthbert has reason to be hopeful. He is fresh off the successful salvage of Q-Games’ The Tomorrow Children, which launched as a Sony-published online-connected game in 2016 but became unavailable when Sony shut off its servers in 2017. In 2021, Q-Games announced that they’d secured the rights to the game and re-released it with updates last month.

What they’re saying: “History is littered with online games you can no longer play, and it is a shame,” Cuthbert tells Axios over email.

  • “It’s almost as if not only do you need emulators for the hardware itself to run older games, but you also need emulators for the state of the internet and server hub technology as it was at that time.
  • “I think we as an industry will need to find a way to solve this problem.”
  • Cuthbert would like to see contracts with developers include a clause that reverts the game’s rights to the studio if or when their servers are shut down. “I think this kind of guarantee should be required going forward,” he said. “I was lucky and diligent enough to get the rights to The Tomorrow Children back, but it was hard work and took many years. Other titles simply aren’t as lucky and disappear into a publisher limbo forever."

What’s next: Even if Raiders is rescued, there are a handful of other Stadia-only titles at risk of disappearing.

  • The deactivation hazards don’t end there, not even for Q-Games.
  • The studio released a wave of download-only games for the Nintendo DS in late 2009 and 2010. Those games have remained available through the online store for the DS’ successor, the 3DS, but will no longer be purchasable when the 3DS store is shut down in March 2023.

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