Legally, You Can Now Grant New Life to Dead Games

By Julian Benson on at

There's a growing risk in the form of dead games – games whose authentication servers have been shut down by developers and publishers and, now, are no longer playable. I'm not talking about MMOs but single player games which are completely unusable thanks to unsupported DRM.

Remember all the kerfuffle around Games for Windows Live? When it was feared Microsoft would shut down its service, developers had to release patches that extricated Microsoft's code from their games. Microsoft could have flipped the switch and PC players would lose access to games as large as Dark Souls, Dirt 2, and Dawn of War 2.

GFWL didn't disappear but publishers are always shutting down servers for old games. Just look at how many of EA's games no longer have server support.

This all means that there are some single player games that are unplayable because publishers no longer support them. The number of games this afflicts is only set to increase as the years roll on.

However, if anyone was to release an unofficial workaround that got the game to run without the server authentication then they would be breaching the game owner's copyright. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) the creator of the workaround could be sued.

That is no longer the case.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Kendra Albert, a student at Harvard Law School, have been lobbying the United States' Librarian of Congress to add an exemption to the DMCA provision. This morning, it did.

Essentially, the new exemption states that if you have lawfully bought a game, either physically or digitally, then, once the copyright owner has "ceased to provide access to an external computer server necessary to facilitate an authentication process to enable local gameplay" you may work around the copy protection to let you play the game.

The new exemption even goes so far as allowing libraries, archives, and museums to jailbreak consoles to get games working again.

This exemption is a great step forward in allowing us to keep playing the games we've bought for years to come.

Unfortunately, the new rules only cover games where the single player has become unplayable. You are not yet allowed to run servers to resurrect multiplayer games, or to run servers that bring MMOs back to life. Though that may be the next step, now that the Librarian of Congress has accepted the need to protect single player games.

The initial proposal from the EFF called for multiplayer games to be exempted, too, but the Entertainment Software Association blocked it. "They argued that the proposed exemption was too broad, would not facilitate any noninfringing uses, and could adversely impact the market for video games," the DMCA exemptions document states. "ESA expressed particular concern about the potential for piracy as a result of circumvention activities, explaining that if the exemption were to permit circumvention of [Technological Protection Measures] on video game consoles, those consoles could be used to play pirated video games."

It's that concern about piracy from the ESA which led to only museums, archives, and libraries being allowed to jailbreak consoles.

The ESA then argued that consumers are warned when they buy a game that servers may be shut down. The opponents to the exemption also argued that "the vast majority of games can continue to be played in single-player mode when server support has ended, and that there are other alternative means of playing games in multiplayer mode without a matchmaking server, including by using a local area network."

The opponents didn't point out that LAN modes are definitely becoming less common – especially when you look at the larger titles, like Halo 5.

This is a great first step to keeping games playable long into the future. Though, there's definitely more that needs to be done.