Always Online Games

   Critically Endangered small

Video games that are required to be continuously online. Gameplay is referenced here particularly as means of participation, along with social media and in-game interaction between players. This can include Massively Multiplayer Online games and single player games with always-on DRM.

Digital Species: Gaming

Trend in 2022:

increased risk Towards even greater risk

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2019 (rescoped 2023)

Trend in 2023:

increased risk Towards even greater risk

Previously: Critically Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within three years, detailed assessment within one year.

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on people and sectors around the world.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability

Loss seems likely: by the time tools or techniques have been developed the material will likely have been lost.


Fortnite, World of Warcraft, Neverwinter, League of Legends

‘Practically Extinct’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Controversies around IPR; lack of offline backup; changing business model of providers; limited recognition of value of game play; over dependence on goodwill of ad-hoc community; lack of preservation know-how at service providers; dependency on bespoke hardware or interfaces; increased reliance on always-on DRM for single player games.

‘Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Well documented code; IPR supportive of preservation; large and committed user community; removal of always-on DRM for single player games.

2023 Review

This entry was added in 2019 as a subset of the 2017 entry for “gaming”. The 2020 and 2021 Juries noted a trend towards greater risk, due to the increased significance of these games during the COVID Pandemic as well as the evolving nature of MMOs, to the extent that the 2021 Jury changed the risk classification from Endangered to Critically Endangered.

The 2022 Bit List Taskforce suggested that the 2023 Council consider the naming and scope of the entry. The 2023 Council agreed with this suggestion and rescoped this entry to Always Online Games covering all games that have to always be online, whether that is due to being MMOs, server-based games or single-player games with Always-Online DRM. Games that have online components but are not required to always be online fit into the new “Games with Online Play Components” entry.

Additional Comments

Preservation for Always Online games in a playable state requires preservation or re-creation of the servers that are used to run these games. Even then, for MMOs or multiplayer games, it would be impossible to recreate these games at their various peaks. This nicely encapsulates why video recordings of (online) gameplay are important. They will never have the same configuration of subscribers, to say nothing of the innumerable changes made to the software over the years, which have significantly altered how the game works and looks. Loss is inevitable, and it has already happened. The social and cultural aspects of play are incredibly important, and on-screen recording is the most robust way to capture that.

Whilst it is expected that MMOs and always multiplayer games (such as Fortnite) would always require an internet connection due to their reliance on servers, single player games, or those where the primary gameplay is single player, being always online due to DRM provides an added risk to preservation. If the server shuts down, then even the single player components might not be playable, thus loss happens faster than a single player game that does not have a reliance on servers. For more details, see the Shut Down or Discontinued Video Games entry.

Case Studies or Examples:

  • PCGamingWiki has an automated list of games that has Always-online DRM as well as a list of games that had Always-online DRM that have shut down. PCGamingWiki (n.d.) ‘List of games using Always Online DRM’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

  • GOG is a digital distribution platform for video games and films that only distributes games that are DRM-free. See GOG (2022), ‘GOG 2022 UPDATE #2: OUR COMMITMENT TO DRM-FREE GAMING’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

  • Dr Megan Winget’s ethnographic research project focused on supporting the collection and preservation of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. See Dr. Winget, M. (2009) ‘Winget (Megan) Videogame Development Research Collection’, The University of Texas at Austin. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

See also:

  • The British Film Institute's “Embracing a wider screen culture” strategy notes the cultural significance of video games and states that they intend to embark on sector research, engagement and knowledge exchange (including on the preservation of video games and digital media). See BFI (n.d.) ‘Embracing a wider screen culture’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

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