Sunday, September 27, 2009

Re-releases of classic games

via Kotaku

Sony has announced a blu-ray compilation of the first two God of War games for the PS3 to promote the upcoming God of War 3 release. What was interesting about this was the final note where they compared this to the way classic films are sometimes re-released with new video transfers and numerous commentaries (a la the Criterion Collection.)

This made me wonder why classic games don't receive this treatment more often than films. These are the reasons I came up for this difference:

1. Technical issues - Film (analog) has ran at 24 frames per second since the late 1920s. This means that a new film transfer of an older film will still run on a film projector today. While there have been numerous technical improvements (stereo sound, color film, 3D, etc.) the pace has been much less rapid compared with video games. Furthermore, movie theaters are not engaged in a 'technological' arms race the way game consoles and pc manufacturers are. In a nutshell, old movies can still play in today's theaters where games from 2001 may no longer be playable on any existing consoles or pcs.

2. Media experience - The experience of watching films and playing games is inherently different, defined by interactivity. When we watch a commercial film the experience is roughly the same regardless of era, visual effects, etc. We are passively watching the narrative unfold. With games, we are interacting with the media and our experience can vary widely depending on the game and our familiarity with its gameplay. This also makes it difficult to experience games from different eras either due to gameplay that is not available (arcade machines with specific controllers, games that are dependent on underlying technology that no longer exists or is avalable) or conventions that are no longer understood. The technology dependency of games is completely tied to their interactivity and since that is the key difference between the two media it is one of the key reasons we don't always have a 'Criterion Collection' edition of classic games. There is also the question of multiple viewings of a film vs. multiple playthroughs of a game. The narrative nature of film can reward multiple viewings with character insights, etc. Can these same style of insights be gained from multiple playthroughs of a game?

3. Industry structure - movie studios produce films with the expectation that they will make money off of a film for years. The theatrical release, home video release, digital distrubtion, streaming video rights, etc. all combine to give a movie numerous revenue streams. (This point is also tied to technology/interactivity but it should be noted movie studios EXPECT to make money from re-releases of the film.) In contrast, game publishers primarily make their money on the initial release of the game. They do not have the multiple revenue streams available to them. Very few game publishers anticipate releasing a 'Criterion' version of their old or classic games.

It should be noted that some games do get re-released on a fairly regular basis. However, there still has been no 'Criterion' collection of games.

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