When Konami dropped P.T. during Gamescom on August 12, 2014, its impact was immediately felt across the industry. Without any prelude or fanfare, we had a new first-person horror experience that was described by MANY as the scariest game ever. The game stands by itself with a self-contained and mysterious narrative. On successful completion of the demo, which required following several obscure clues and interacting with the game in novel ways like using a headset microphone to talk to the game, you were granted with a standard video trailer.
The trailer reveals that P.T. is a pre-cursor to Silent Hills, a sequel to the storied franchise. P.T. and Silent Hills were to be directed in collaboration between visionary film director, Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) and visionary game director Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid, Zone of the Enders,) and starring horror actor Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead.)
Unfortunately, Silent Hills was not to be.
Conflicts with Konami ended with an acrimonious break between Kojima and the company and the cancellation of the Silent Hills project, leading to Guillermo Del Toro vowing to never work on a game again, while Norman Reedus would return in Kojima’s next game as an independent game maker, Death Stranded.
Shortly after the cancellation, Konami delisted P.T. from the PSN store, meaning that no one who hadn’t downloaded the game could get it anymore, but those who had already downloaded it could re-download it in the event they had deleted it, had their PS4 stolen, hard drive failed, etc. This is relatively routine and happens frequently when licensing contracts expire. As an example, this is the reason you can’t download the Marvel vs Capcom series or its associated DLC since Capcom’s contract with Marvel expired.
What was unprecedented, however, was that Konami went a step further than anyone else had, they removed the game entirely from Sony’s servers meaning the copy on your hard drive is the last copy you will ever see. It’s unclear why Sony did this, but many critics assumed it was done out of malice. To some, the only reason that Konami didn’t reach into your hard drive and delete it themselves was because they had no means of doing so.
As the number of consoles with P.T. on their hard drive can only go down due to hard drive failures and accidental deletions, predictably consoles with P.T. on the hard drive went to eBay at insane markups of up to $1500. Funnily enough, even doing this is illega, as it breaks the PSN EULA. You can sell a PS4, but the PSN, and the license to play P.T. is non-transferable.
What does this mean for games preservation? Well, taking P.T. by example, any digital-exclusive game, and any content (all DLC) that you cannot physically own as part of a disc has serious preservation issues. At the whims of the publisher, games can be without notice inaccessible via legal channels making certain unique game experiences unavailable to millions.
Imagine you are a games historian or archivist who wants to have a comprehensive collection of horror games. You would certainly want the “scariest game of all time” in your collection/exhibit. But without Konami willing it to be so, you simply cannot while complying with the law. Thus for future generations, this unique and singular piece of art is probably legally unavailable forever.
This problem isn’t just limited to P.T. Eventually many digital-only games will no longer be available on PSN and Xbox Live, either because of server costs, licensing disagreements, or game companies going under and not having their IP rights purchased. When that happens, the only option to preserve these pieces of our cultural history, to keep them playable for future generations, will be piracy.
Ideally, a change in copyright laws would ensure that art in the digital age need not perish while there are those who would act to preserve it, but Mickey Mouse sure as shit isn’t letting that happen.