I really enjoy playing old games. This will come as no surprise to readers that keep up with our Friday Old Games series. But when I do get in the retro mood, I almost always play on the real console.
ROMs, collections and downloadable releases just don't feel the same as hooking up an NES (or whatever other system) and playing the game with the setup it was intended for, controller and all.
Lately this has got me thinking. Twenty years from now, will we still be able to experience this current generation of games? And if so, to what capacity?
While this isn't the first generation of consoles to have online functionality, it has made the biggest leap into online integration by far. Achievements/Trophies, leaderboards, patches, DLC, digitally distributed games, online multiplayer with no options for local; these are all common aspects of gaming on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Achievements and Trophies pose arguably the smallest problem. By the time support for hosting your gamerscore is finally pulled, I doubt many will care. By then we'll have some new type of point value to feed our narcissism and, after all, who cares about the points anyway if nobody else is actively looking at them?
The lack of local multiplayer is a bigger issue. At some point, this generation of games' online multiplayer functionality will cease to function. Games such as Halo 2, which is only one generation behind, have already had their servers shut down. While shutting down Halo is a less of an issue due to it's robust local multiplayer options, what about a game like MAG?
MAG is an online-only game. When the servers go down, the game can no longer be played. While this is a more extreme example, think of games based on user-generated content like Little Big Planet. Sure, we'll still be able to play the developer-made levels and even create our own, but arguably one of the biggest draws of the game is playing a seemingly infinite number of levels from the online community.
Games are being patched more than ever before. Some of these patches tweak aspects of the game to make them more enjoyable while others fix game-crashing bugs. If one day, a console generation or two from now, I pick up an old game from this generation, it's likely that I'll be at the mercy of whatever the developers managed to get on the disc. The "we can just patch that problem later" mentality could end up with some repercussions in the future of retro gaming.
Digitally distributed games are something I can only hope console makers are thinking actively about. I sincerely hope the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 will be able to play the PSN and XBLA games you've purchased, but at this point it's hard to say what exactly will happen. If those storefronts close, it's a sad thought to think of games like Geometry Wars 2 having no way to be purchased.
My biggest concern, though, is the systems working at all. Remember the ApocalyPS3? An internal clock-issue caused all kinds of havoc for a short time, regardless of whether you were trying to connect online. The point is not that I think this exact same issue will happen again. But what about similar issues? Who is going to care to fix a system breaking issue on a system that is two console generations old? If console makers don't support backwards compatibility with the next consoles, emulation might end up being the only way to continue playing these games.
While a bit grim to think about, we can always hope for the best. I suppose we can't hold onto the past forever, but a man can dream.
Jesse Gregory is the co-founder and Managing Editor of WingDamage.com, a gaming site dedicated to writing original content in the form of reviews and editorials instead of news. The site focuses not just on the present, but gaming's past as well. You can also find him on Twitter and the site's weekly podcast.