Retro Hardware
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

A new study by the Video Game History Foundation has revealed the shocking state of video game preservation.

The study – conducted in partnership with the Software Preservation Network – has determined that a staggering 87% of classic video games released in the United States are critically endangered.

According to the report, just 13% of video game history is currently represented in the marketplace. That means nearly 9 in 10 classic games are only accessible via original hardware, visiting a video game library or resorting to piracy.

"Imagine if the only way to watch Titanic was to find a used VHS tape, and maintain your own vintage equipment so that you could still watch it," says Video Game History Foundation's Kelsey Lewin. "And what if no library, not even the Library of Congress, could do any better — they could keep and digitize that VHS of Titanic, but you’d have to go all the way there to watch it. It sounds crazy, but that’s the reality we live in with video games, a $180 billion industry, while the games and their history disappear."

What does this study hope to achieve, beyond shining a light on how terrible the video game industry is at preserving its past? The goal is to secure expanded exemptions for libraries and organizations preserving video games, giving them parity with groups that are focused on preserving books, movies and audio.

"The video game industry’s main lobbying group has successfully argued to the US Copyright Office that the industry already does enough to preserve its own history commercially, and that additional protections for preservation institutions would hurt their bottom line," continues Lewin. "We proved them wrong: the industry has actually only managed to make 13% of its history available, and it’s unlikely to get better."