And here we go again. we’ve been talking about how copyright has gotten in the way of cultural preservation generally for a while, and more specifically lately when it comes to the video game industry. The way this problem manifests itself is quite simple: video game publishers support the games they release for some period of time and then they stop. When they stop, depending on the type of game, it can make that game unavailable for legitimate purchase or use, either because the game is disappeared from retail and online stores, or because the servers needed to make them operational are taken offline. Meanwhile, copyright law prevents individuals and, in some cases, institutions from preserving and making those games available to the public, a la a library or museum would.
When you make these preservation arguments, one of the common retorts you get from the gaming industry and its apologists is that publishers already preserve these games for eventual re-release down the road, which is why they need to maintain their copyright protection on that content. We’ve pointed out failures to do so by the industry in the past, but the story about Hasbro wanting to re-release several older Transformers video games, but can’t, is about as perfect an example as I can find.
Released in June 2010, Transformers: War for Cybertron was a well-received third-person shooter that got an equally great sequel in 2012, Fall of Cybertron. (And then in 2014 we got Rise of Dark Spark, which wasn’t very good and was tied into the live-action films.) What made the first two games so memorable and beloved was that they told their own stories about the origins of popular characters like Megatron and Optimus Prime while featuring kick-ass combat that included the ability to transform into different vehicles. Sadly, in 2018, all of these Activision-published Transformers games (and several it commissioned from other developers) were yanked from digital stores, making them hard to acquire and play in 2023. It seems that Hasbro now wants that to change, suggesting the games could make a perfect fit for Xbox Game Pass, once Activision, uh…finds them.
You read that right: finds them. What does that mean? Well, when Hasbro came calling to Activision looking to see if this was a possibility, it devolved into Activision doing a theatrical production parody called Dude, Where’s My Hard Drive? It seems that these games may or may not exist on some piece of hardware, but Activision literally cannot find it. Or maybe not, as you’ll read below. There seems to be some confusion about what Activision can and cannot find.
And, yes, the mantra in the comments that pirate sites are essentially solving for this problem certainly applies here as well. So much so, in fact, that it sure sounds like Hasbro went that route to get what it needed for the toy design portion of this.
Interestingly, Activision’s lack of organization seems to have caused some headaches for Hasbro’s toy designers who are working on the Gamer Edition figures. The toy company explained that it had to load up the games on their original platforms and play through them to find specific details they wanted to recreate for the toys.
“For World of Cybertron we had to rip it ourselves, because [Activision] could not find it—they kept sending concept art instead, which we didn’t want,” explained Hasbro. “So we booted up an old computer and ripped them all out from there. Which was a learning experience and a long weekend, because we just wanted to get it right, so that’s why we did it like that.
What’s strange is that despite the above, Activision responded to initial reports of all this indicating that the headlines were false and it does have… code. Or something.
Hasbro itself then followed up apologizing for the confusion, also saying that it made an error in stating the games were “lost”. But what’s strange about all that, in addition to the work that Hasbro did circumventing having access to the actual games themselves, is the time delta it took for Activision to respond to all of this.
Activision has yet to confirm if it actually knows where the source code for the games is specifically located. I also would love to know why Activision waited so long to comment (the initial interview was posted on July 28) and why Hasbro claimed to not have access to key assets when developing its toys based on the games.
It’s also strange that Hasbro, which says it wants to put these games on Game Pass, hasn’t done so for years now. If the games aren’t lost, give ‘em to Hasbro, then?
Indeed. If this was all a misunderstanding, so be it. But if this was all pure misunderstanding, the rest of the circumstances surrounding this story don’t make a great deal of sense. At the very least, it sounds like some of the concern that these games could have simply been lost to the world is concerning and yet another data point for an industry that simply needs to do better when it comes to preservation efforts.