An exciting development for fans of old and abandoned online games may result in some of your favorite games coming back to life.
The U.S. Copyright Office is considering whether to loosen restrictions on public use of abandoned online games, and the ESA, America’s trade association for the videogames industry, has argued against granting an exception.
The DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act is the focus of these efforts. For the unaware, the DMCA was designed to prevent Intellectual Property theft and piracy, but has long had exceptions written into it for the purposes of products and IP which are no longer actively maintained by a rights holder or developer, hence being abandoned.
It’s that discussion over whether to include online games in that definition that the ESA and supporters for the exception are quibbling over. The ESA has no issue with abandoned singleplayer games being exempt from DMCA protection, but they believe that the publication of proprietary server code that the new exception for online games would require is going a step too far.
Late in 2017, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment in Oakland, California, wrote the Copyright Office to request this exemption, arguing that games increasingly rely on always-online connections and in many cases have ceased being usable as the official servers shut down.
“Online games have become ubiquitous and are only growing in popularity. For example, an estimated fifty-three percent of gamers play multiplayer games at least once a week, and spend, on average, six hours a week playing with others online.”
The exception, if granted, would mean that individuals and organizations operate their own servers for abandoned games, replacing the official ones that have been shut down. It could potentially resurrect many abandoned titles – not just MMOs, but also single-player titles that required online servers. If the DMCA exception is expanded, it would likely mean these new servers would have to offer their access free of charge as monetizing the code and IP they don’t have direct rights to could cause other issues.
You can read a .pdf copy of ESA’s full comment to the Copyright Office here at Torrent Freak.