Critically Endangered small

Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Gaming is an evolving, transient but significant cultural. Gameplay is referenced here particularly as means of participation, along with social media and in-game interaction between players. Video streaming of game content, the means of viewing but not participating in game play, has a septate entry.

Group: Gaming

Trend in 2021:

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2019

increased riskTrend towards greater risk

Previously: Endangered


Trend in 2022:


increased riskTowards even greater risk


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

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

Examples: There are numerous examples for this entry, so the example of Fortnite, a 2017 free to play online game will serve to illustrate. As Fortnite is freely accessible to play, the game is at the forefront of internet culture with over 250 million registered users as of March 2019. In addition, Fortnite's parent company, Epic Games, provides access to Unreal Engine, a software platform consisting of integrated tools for game developers, with instructional guides, game simulations and learning tools. Unreal Engine was first released in 1998 and is currently in its 4th release. At risk also is this software, its associated tools and code which is key digital evidence of MMOG evolution, learning, creativity and expression across multiple platforms (PC, console, mobile).

‘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.

‘Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Well documented code; IPR supportive of preservation; large and committed user community

2021 Jury Review

This entry was added in 2019 as a subset of a 2017 entry for ‘Gaming’ which was split into four discrete entries. By creating this entry for Game Play, the Jury encouraged greater consideration of the technical complexities which arise from preservation of software environments as well as the cultural and historic value which these games are likely to acquire. The 2020 Jury noted a trend towards greater risk because online gaming has been a mainstay of social interaction during the pandemic.  The risks of loss have not strictly increased, but the significance has expanded, so the consequences of loss are expanded. The 2021 trend also reflects this. The 2021 Jury agreed with elevating classification to Critically Endangered as: 1) many multiplayer online games may already be lost as servers have been taken offline 2) those that remain tend to change rapidly, resulting in loss of access to early iterations of the experience (e.g. the frequent changes made to the virtual worlds of World of Warcraft and Fortnite). I wonder if it would be worth changing this to dropping the "Massively" to ensure a broader range of multi-player gaming experiences are represented (e.g. smaller scale co-op games). These are likely to become increasingly significant as games are more frequently integrating an optional online component (e.g. the Dark Souls series).  

2022 Trend

The 2022 Taskforce agreed that the volume, scale, and complexity of preservation challenges have increased, pointing to even greater risk, noting in particular the hurdles faced with existing preservation efforts when dealing with complicated copyright laws, as illustrated by recent examples of lawsuits by companies such as Atlus Games suing revivers and preservationists of a defunct MMO (see Additional Comments below).

Additional Comments

The 2022 BitList Taskforce recommends that the next 2023 Jury review considers the naming and scope of the entry, in particular the specificity of ‘massively’ to ensure a broader range of multiplayer gaming experiences are represented (e.g., smaller scale co-op games) which become increasingly significant as games are more frequently integrating and optional online component (e.g., the Dark Souls series). Additionally, the differences between an MMO and a game with online components might prompt a split between Always Online games and games with online functionality with differing risk profiles, and how preservation is approached (e.g., Maplestory 2 server shutdown vs Ubisoft shutting down online servers for Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. In the first case, game is gone completely unless someone runs private servers and in the second, the bulk of the game is still there even if online isn't.)

The difficulty of saving game play nicely encapsulates why video recordings of (online) gameplay are important: we are never going to be able to recreate the experience of playing something like World of Warcraft or Fortnite at their peak (or at their inception, or at any other point in time). 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.

See also:

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