Challenge – Archival. Difficulty – Hard.

Transformers Fall of Cybertron

The recent delisting of Spec Ops: the Line (Yager 2012) has brought renewed attention to the need for archival in video games. What I would like to add to the conversation is to shed light on some examples of the current issues regarding game preservation and access as these challenges are faced those of us looking to educate the next generation of developers and enthusiasts. 

Méwilo and Freedom Rebels in the Darkness

Games, like any creative works, are treated as legal property in the eyes of the law. The fact that games often require many people to make means most commonly they are owned by a company. What happens when the company no longer exists? Well this is the case with Cocktel Vision, a french publisher acquired by American publisher Sierra in 1993. After many different acquisitions in 2005, french video game website Game Kult reported that Cocktel had been acquired by the now defunct Mindscape interactive. This means that Cocktel’s portfolio of games are not legally available to the public anywhere. This creates an even greater importance on the preservation of their game’s files by fans, or hopefully one day institutions. Cocktel is not the only developer to meet this fate, but it is an important example to highlight due to the fresh attention given to the the games of designer Muriel Tramis by the Guardian, and Polygon (Onanuga 2021, deRochefort 2021). Tramis was known within France, but more substantive international attention has come from attempts to acknowledge the contributions of people of colour to games culture. This is not to say that her achievements are only notable through an act of tokenism. Her games Méwilo (Tramis 1987) and Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness (Tramis 1988) not only tackle the brutal realities of french colonialism, but Freedom casts the player as the organiser of a slave revolt on Martinique. It paints a far more nuanced and challenging picture or revolution than the white saviour narratives of recent blockbusters such as Just Cause and Far Cry. These games are an important part of how the diaspora from France’s colonies have contributed to the discourse around France’s colonial past, and are an example of cult games that have later gained far greater notoriety.

As we can see, when companies that own games cease operations the job of preservation necessarily falls to the community. A story broke last year however that underscores the problems with a corporation being responsible for archival in the first place. In an interview with Transformer’s World 2005, if was revealed that American toy giant Hasbro had the intention to re-release their Transformers Cybertron’ games series (High Moon Studios 2010-2012), when it was discovered that publisher Activision could not locate the files (Baculi 2023, Carter 2023, Zwiezen 2023). Since the games’ release Activision Blizzard has subsequently been acquired by Microsoft, in a move that many fear shows increasing consolidation of video game publishers (Warren 2023, Welsh 2023). The fact that even if they might later wish to re-release games, corporations that are focused primarily on making games for profit may see little reason to archive their games in the short term. This fate could easily befall future works.

Mario and Donkey Kong & Dragon Quest Wars

This is of course if the developers see economic value in re-releasing their games. Video games are uniquely tailored to the platforms they are played on. This can be an issue, as porting a game to a different type of machine is far more difficult than digitising a film shot on 3.5 mm or a recording off a record player. Though people engaging in film and music preservation or remastering deserve huge credit for their work. This often means that developers may not go to the effort of porting certain games. This, combined with the fact that many games are released only as digital downloads these days, can mean that when a digital store is closed a game can become inaccessible to all but those who purchased the games. This is the case for DSIware titles such as Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! (NST 2009) or Dragon Quest Wars (Intelligent Systems, Tose 2009). These games were released by two large Japanese publishers in Nintendo and Square Enix respectively. Neither company has ported their game to a different platform. The games were sold on the DSi store, but sales on that platform have been suspended since 2017(Cowan 2017, Hagues 2022), they cannot be acquired legally by players who did not purchase the game. This is despite the fact that these games received positive reviews from the likes of IGN (Hatfield 2009). 

Club Penguin

While Mario may be a fixture for kids playing games across many decades, a game with a large pop culture presence during my childhood was Club Pengiun (Disney 2005). Club Pengiun was an online game for kids, where the player would create a penguin and adopt it as a digital persona. The game contained mini games and the ability to interact with other players online. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is the space it occupied as a social platform on the young internet, serving as many kids’ gateway to online interaction that is a step below social media, or message boards. For this reason there is certainly an interesting conversation to be had about how this game shaped children’s understanding of online interaction, or adopting an online persona. Since 2017 however the game has been unplayable (George 2017). Leaving video or other records as the main way of understanding how the game played. Except there is a fan project on the internet currently emulating the experience of playing the original. This is of course not a perfect re-creation and even includes new content, but projects like this are another example of how fans of a work can contribute to game preservation and history.

This is not to say that these games have been lost. For a list of lost video game software please see Lost Media Wikia (2023). The games’ preservation is in the hands of the community however. There are emulators that allow players, and researchers to utilize software developed for older computers and consoles. Similarly many players have taken it upon themselves to back-up their titles for archival purposes. Individuals are not legally entitled to upload these archival copies to the internet for general download. This is where the baton can be picked up by libraries and educational institutions that have the right in Irish law to “copy and supply copies of works in certain situations without committing a copyright infringement.” (Intellectual Property Office of Ireland 2023: 10-11). EU law also provides the right for a registered “Beneficiary Organisation” to apply for a work to be classified as Orphaned if its owner is uncontactable. 

It is within our power to effectively archive video games, to ensure they are accessible to future generations and researchers. It is important that we work with our public institutions to ensure effective archival projects are undertaken, as we cannot rely on current rights holders to do so under the present legal framework.

Sam Hayes.

Literature & Media Team at the Museum of Childhood Ireland



  • Disney Interactive Studios, New Horizon Interactive & Rocket Snail Games (2005) Club Penguin, Disney
  • High Moon Studios (2010) Transformers War for Cybertron, Activision Blizzard & Hasbro, PS3, Xbox360, Windows, Mac
  •  High Moon Studios (2012) Transformers Fall of Cybertron, Activision Blizzard & Hasbro, PS3, Xbox360, Windows, Mac
  • Intelligent Systems & Tose (2009) Dragon Quest Wars, Square Enix, DSi
  • NTS (2009) Mariovs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!, Nintendo, DSi
  • Tramis, M. (1987) Méwilo, Coktel Vision, Microsoft DOS
  • Tramis, M. (1987) Freedom Rebels in the Darkness, Coktel Vision, Microsoft DOS


Zwiezen, Z. (2023) ‘Hasbro Wants Old Transformers Games To Return, But Activision Lost Them [Update]’, Kotaku, (Last Accessed 20/02/2023)