When beloved games get shut down and online worlds disappear

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Every year, new titles with cutting-edge graphics and immersive experiences flood the market, captivating players and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. But this constant progress can leave the older games behind. As the technology powering these online services becomes outdated, a difficult decision often comes up: is it time to say goodbye?

What is game decommissioning?

Game decommissioning is the planned shutdown of a game’s functionalities. This can be a partial shutdown — like shutting down multiplayer — or a complete shutdown, losing server support and making the entire game unplayable.

Even though studios announce their decommissioning of a game, it can still be a harsh blow for players. There can be a lot of frustration in losing the in-game progress they’ve invested time in, the lost leaderboards, discontinued achievements, or watching a once vibrant online community disappear. More than just lost data, it can feel like a piece of gaming history, and cherished memories associated with the game itself are fading away.

Why decommission games?

Decommissioning usually happens to older games, refocusing the studio’s resources on newer or more popular games with a bigger player base. Recent game decommissioning includes Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed II and III, or Far Cry, among others.

 

 

The burden of keeping old code alive

Imagine maintaining a house built decades ago. The wiring might be outdated, the plumbing a mystery, and spare parts nearly impossible to find. That’s the challenge developers face with keeping alive the legacy code written for older technology behind decommissioned games.

For old code, we might not be talking about old wiring or plumbing but rather about a programming language that’s no longer widely used, missing documentation slowing down the debugging process, or newer tools not being compatible with legacy code. All this, coupled with dwindling returns versus costs, and you might find yourself standing before the only possible solution.

Keeping an online game running requires constant server upkeep. These servers cost money to maintain, power, and cool. As a game ages and its player base shrinks, the cost of maintaining those servers can become a significant financial burden.

Game preservation efforts

Thankfully, a growing movement is dedicated to game preservation, ensuring these digital experiences aren’t lost to time.

Organizations like The Strong National Museum of Play are building massive digital libraries and archives dedicated to preserving video games. Besides that, fan communities often contribute significantly to game preservation as well. Their efforts might involve creating detailed digital archives of game manuals, soundtracks, concept art, reverse-engineering code to ensure long-term accessibility, or developing emulators to keep games playable.

However, all these efforts face challenges, too. Copyright laws can make it difficult to archive and distribute copyrighted games, while emulation can be a legal gray area, and maintaining fan-made servers requires ongoing technical expertise. These challenges highlight the need for more sustainable solutions for game preservation.

Cloud solutions

The cloud offers a potential solution for preserving access to older games. Cloud-based services could allow players to stream older titles directly to their devices, be it a computer, phone, or console. Similar to Netflix.

However, this, too, isn’t without its challenges. You’ve got the latency issues and technical hurdles of porting older games to the cloud, plus the high costs associated with the migration and running your infrastructure in the cloud, making it necessary to weigh the costs against the potential revenue generated by offering access to older titles.

While game decommissioning can feel like the end of an era, it doesn't have to be the final chapter. Did you know we have developed our own game studio in the cloud called Remāngu, allowing you to create new games entirely in the cloud? Ping us, and we’ll show you how!