The Act on Collecting and Preserving Cultural Materials (1433/2007) requires the National Library of Finland and businesses or organizations in the field of publishing to carry out extensive preservation of digital games distributed as physical copies, board games and similar publications in the National Collection. In addition, a varied and representative collection of digital games distributed online is stored in the National Library’s Web Archive.
The National Library of Finland has collected digital games since 2008, when they were included in the items to be archived as per legal deposit legislation.
Finnish video games have been published since the 1970s. Some 800-1000 games have been published commercially in the span of thirty or so years. In addition, non-commercial games, games produced by amateurs and other small-scale games, the total number of which remains unknown, have been published during this time.
The distribution of games in Finland follows the international trend of increasingly favouring digital platforms. Only ten or so of the Finnish digital games produced during the past year have been published as physical copies, while more than a hundred games have been launched on digital platforms.
Next year, the number of games distributed as physical copies is expected to decrease further. Large titles known as AAA games whose distribution continues to focus on physical media are not produced extensively in Finland. This year, for instance, no such titles were published in Finland.
This ratio is also affected by the increased popularity of downloadable content distributed online either free of charge or for a small additional fee. Downloadable content may include new accessories or cosmetic enhancements for the game characters or new playable content for the main game.
As evidenced by the terminology, this content is hardly ever distributed as physical media and exceptions to this rule are very rare. Finnish game designers are strongly focused on mobile games, which are never distributed as physical copies, so all Finnish mobile games are published online only.
What to archive?
Games as a cultural historical phenomenon are inextricably linked to their temporal context. Gaming experience, or at least a part of it, is often formed through user communities.
For researchers preserving the game’s temporal frame of reference and the gaming experience is at least as important as preserving the game itself. This refers to other publications related to the games in question, such as gaming magazines; videos such as trailers, commercials and gameplay videos; as well as game-related narratives and online materials pertaining to gaming, such as discussion forums or blogs.
There has also been discussion about archiving the source code of the games.
Preserving the temporal frame of reference and the gaming experience is particularly vital when preserving the game itself is impossible due to, for example, technical reasons. Such games include, for example, online multiplayer games where the context of the game is created by other players.
The Act on Collecting and Preserving Cultural Materials requires the National Library of Finland to archive copies of all publicly distributed board games and other physical games, as well as digital games distributed as physical copies. As regards online games, a varied and representative sample must be archived.
The purpose of the Act is to preserve national cultural materials that have been distributed publicly in Finland for future generations and to provide researchers and other persons in need of information access to these materials.
Digital games distributed as physical copies have been archived as per the Act on Collecting and Preserving Cultural Materials since 2008. The National Collection includes 139 digital games. In addition, the collection includes materials from previous decades, such as games and software distributed by Amersoft for Commodore 64, VIC-20 and Spectrum on cassettes and floppy disks. The collection is not complete, but it can easily be termed a representative sample of this historical period in Finnish game production.
In addition, other National Library collections such as Brummeriana include donated copies of board and other games from the 1800s onwards. Legal deposit copies of board games have been included in the National Collection since the 1970s.
In most cases, the importer is responsible for delivering legal deposit copies. As stipulated in the legislation, the manufacturer is responsible for delivering legal deposit copies of physical copies of digital games, board games and other games manufactured in Finland.
If the games are manufactured abroad, the responsibility falls on the publisher. In cases where the publisher or publishing house does not have an office in Finland, the importer is responsible for delivering legal deposit copies.
Game creators rarely self-publish their games, while commercial publishers are mostly large international companies who have outsourced the distribution of games to local importers. This is true in Finland as well.
Archiving online materials
Publicly available online materials have been stored in the Web Archive since 2006, when the Copyright Act enabled the National Library to make copies of publicly available online works for its collections. As a rule, new materials are added to the online archive in an annual web harvesting process or annual crawl, in addition to which materials are occasionally harvested thematically.
Gamethemed harvesting efforts have been carried out twice. In gamethemed harvesting effort carried out this past autumn, participants included not only experts from the National Library of Finland, but also researchers from museums and universities.
The materials harvested include, for example, game-related websites and discussion forums as well as gameplay videos available on YouTube. A smaller-scale game-themed harvesting effort was implemented in 2010.
In the annual crawl, online materials are harvested from .fi and .ax domains. The annual crawl of 2015 also included the content of Finnish-language websites linked to .fi and .ax domains. These harvesting efforts preserve a snapshot of Finnish online publishing, including gaming-related material.
The preservation of digital games is not a straightforward process, regardless of whether they are distributed as physical copies or on digital platforms. One of the challenges is the global operational environment of the games industry, which is often out of reach of Finnish legislation. In addition, the long-term preservation of the materials involves certain issues that so far remain unresolved.
The National Collection is available on the National Library premises; printed materials can be accessed in the reading room and online materials on legal deposit workstations. In accordance with relevant legislation, publications are archived for the benefit of researchers and other persons in need of information and preserved for future generations.
Because of this, the use of the collection is restricted. Games or other materials may not be removed from the premises. In some cases, access to materials has been restricted to ensure their preservation.
The use of archived online materials is specified in section 16b of the Copyright Act (1961/404), which states that materials may be used for research or private study purposes on library premises using legal deposit workstations. Online materials can be viewed or listened to, but making digital copies and redistributing the material has been prevented.
Cooperation with researchers is needed to gather information on researchers’ needs regarding the use of games for research purposes. It has already become evident that the current ways of using online materials do not entirely meet researchers’ needs. Current legislation does not allow researchers to study the preserved materials using research methods from the field of digital humanities.
In addition to the National Library, the preserved online materials are available on legal deposit workstations at the libraries of the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Turku, the University of Oulu and Åbo Akademi University, as well as at the Library of Parliament and the National Audiovisual Institute.
30 years and counting
The first Finnish video game was published in 1979. Apart from games obtained by the National Library in the 1980s, there is a thirty-year gap in the archiving of games preceding their inclusion in legal deposit legislation. During that time, the preservation and storage of games has largely been in the hands of individual hobbyists.
However, the written history of gaming in Finland has been preserved quite well. While there is a gap in the preservation of the games themselves, historical sources know relatively well what was published and when, and which platforms were used.
These thirty years have seen quite a varied range of games in terms of their production and distribution, including large games for computers and consoles by large publishers distributed as physical copies, as well as small-scale games by individual developers or groups of friends distributed online only.
Both researchers and representatives from the games industry have expressed a wish that the early history of digital gaming be preserved. Thanks to active hobbyists, this is still possible, but it requires cooperation between libraries, museums and the gaming sector.
In the 2000s, mobile games emerged ‒ and continue ‒ as a major trend in game production and the strong suit of Finnish game developers. Preserving mobile games is likely to be the next step in the preservation of games.