library collection of video games

If you have a video game collection, how does your institution curate and preserve games that are in collections?  Do you have advice for selectors on what kinds of file formats to choose, or what techniques are required to ensure the long term usability of the games?


Simon W. Lee, MLIS

Inquiry Librarian

Lead, Learning Technologies

UCLA College (Powell) Library


220 Powell Library Building, Box 951450

Los Angeles, CA, 90095-1450

(310) 825-6726

11 Comments on library collection of video games

  1. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 8, 2015 at 5:39 pm (6 years ago)

    This is something that keeps me up at night, and I hope that those on this list who have more experience in developing gaming collections for the longer term will weigh in.
    Ironically perhaps, I feel more confident in the sustainability of our console games, despite the big challenges of maintaining historic consoles on which to play them. As more and more games are released, for example, in Steam-only format, I can’t imagine how we could preserve these easily – if at all.
    Who out there is seeking to develop “permanent” collections, and what are your strategies?

    Darby Orcutt
    Assistant Head, Collection Management Department
    Chair, Humanities & Social Sciences Subject Team
    North Carolina State University Libraries
    Box 7111
    Raleigh, NC 27695-7111
    919/ 513-0364

  2. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 8, 2015 at 10:03 pm (6 years ago)

    One resource I’ve been using for a while (primarily for personal use) is Home of the Underdogs ( , which is mostly geared towards abandonware, and they approach it (allegedly) from an archival perspective.

    It’s probably not a resource that most libraries could legally use as far as direct downloads, but they certainly have an interesting methodology to their preservation and distribution of “legacy” gaming, which they expound upon (in-depth) on their FAQ and “About” pages.

    Andrew Yager
    Library Commons Associate and Evening Librarian
    Albert S. Cook Library
    Towson University

  3. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 8, 2015 at 10:03 pm (6 years ago)

    In addition to GOG and Steam, the Internet Archive has a whole section on software that includes links to games. They also list emulators. I didn’t dig much further than the first page and there might be more thinking about archiving older software and interoperability elsewhere on the site. The link below takes you to the DOS/early Windows games section.

    Adam Williams
    Research Instruction Coordinator
    Bentley University Library

  4. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 8, 2015 at 10:04 pm (6 years ago)

    We encounter many of the same issues with our collection. Physical consoles games are relatively straightforward to preserve (at least for the time being), but we have to deal with a lot of access and preservation issues when it comes to online games.
    Physical PC games are difficult to deal with for many reasons. For older games, maintaining computers that will play them properly is always a chore. And there are always complications with DRM, etc.
    Additionally, so many PC games are only available online now (mostly via Steam, and other platforms) that online storage space becomes a big issue, and all the preservation issues that go along with that. Right now, we’re favoring downloading games from whenever possible because of their DRM-free policies, which helps quite a bit. But there are plenty of access and preservation issues that still need to be resolved in the long term.
    A question that we’ve been exploring for some time is how to preserve the game experience involved with MMORPGs – that is, playing them with millions of people online. How do we preserve that experience after the game is no longer popular and online servers are shut down? We already have several console games with similar issues – all or most of the game is played online, and it’s been rendered useless once its online servers are taken down. It’s sad to see, and I hope we can work toward a solution.

    Valerie Waldron (734) 647-1972
    Computer & Video Game Archive Manager
    University of Michigan

  5. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 8, 2015 at 10:05 pm (6 years ago)

    Dear colleagues,

    Simon Lee’s question and the comments it sparked echoes some of the conversations I’ve had with colleagues up here in Montréal. As far as I know, the only collections of digital games in Montréal are located in specialized research centers (TAG at Concordia U – my employer – as well as Ludov at Université de Montréal), not in the University libraries themselves – for now. Montréal has 2 “full” universities, 2 “comprehensive” ones and 4 specialized universities, all PhD granting, of which three are actively engaged in Games in one form or another.

    I sense that there are two broad strategies in dealing with the issue of building collections of digital games. (Full disclosure: I am finishing a doctoral dissertation on digital copyright issues in Universities – I usually analyze everything from a copyright perspective). Either one chooses the path of invoking exceptions in copyright (such as fair use in the US or fair dealings as well as more precise exceptions in the UK/Canada/Australia…), either one seeks licensing solutions from rights holders (or rather, tip-toes around the current proposed licensing terms). We all know that exceptions to copyright are not the best way to move forward (are they sustainable? How can we share games this way? Etc.) but are probably the only way to address the issue of digital games collection in the immediate.

    (Warning: the following paragraphs contain some shameless self-promotion, apologies for that)

    With regards to exceptions to copyright, I have always advocated for institutions to write up institutional policies which specify the reasonable limit to the fair use/dealing, for example for format shifting for preservation or access purposes. This is particularly important in preservation of older materials. I am trying to adapt some of the copyright advocacy work I have done in other fields to the case of digital games – so there is still much work to be done (we really haven’t started yet). But copyright exceptions (for preservation or access to games) can only take you so far.

    As for licensing, this is a rather new issue. This involves crafting a licensing mechanism akin to creating a new form of market or exchange of rights. The difficulty for libraries – the demand side – is crafting a value-added message to right holders. This is a rather difficult prospect… and I can only refer you to a recent project I submitted to the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge – the result of which I will know by the end of the month. My proposal is here:
    The goal of my team and I with this project is to foster a mechanism whereby libraries may “acquire” born-digital games in a sustainable, meaningful and perennial fashion. Grantees of this fund will be announced at the ALA Midwinter and my fingers are crossed! But it is important to explore direct licensing of born-digital games (and other material for that matter) within the context of library acquisitions.

    Cheers from Montréal,

    Business Research Portal:
    Business Tutorials:

    Olivier Charbonneau, BCom, LLM
    Associate Librarian, Concordia University
    > Commerce, Marketing, Management
    Doctoral Candidate in Law, Université de Montréal
    Social media: (work) | (research)

  6. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 8, 2015 at 10:10 pm (6 years ago)

    From: [] On Behalf Of Henry Lowood
    Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2015 1:22 PM
    To: Valerie Waldron;
    Subject: Re: [academicgames] Questions from the UCLA Library

    Christy already mentioned some great resources, if it’s alright for me to say that as a co-author of the PVW reports and Before It’s Too Late.
    Well, I’m deep enough in already, so allow me to focus in on the question about MMOs/Virtual Worlds by mentioning another resource I’m associated with: The Archiving Virtual Worlds collection at the Internet Archive, here. Also a couple of my writings:
    “Memento Mundi: Are Virtual Worlds History?” In: Digital Media: Technological and Social Challenges of the Interactive World, eds. Megan Winget and William Aspray. (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011): 3-25.
    “Video Capture: Machinima, Documentation, and the History of Virtual Worlds,” The Machinima Reader, eds. Henry Lowood and Michael Nitsche (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011): 3-22.
    Forgive me for tooting my own horn. I promise it won’t be a habit.

  7. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 8, 2015 at 10:12 pm (6 years ago)

    It’s hard to imagine one Institution with deep enough pockets to develop a permanent collection unless their collection scope is small (ok-I can think of a couple that can get close!). That’s why this listserv is exciting, because it’s a problem that can only be approached collectively.

    Univ. Michigan (Valerie’s libguide) has a good game preservation bibliography: The first one listed, Before It’s Too Late: A Digital Game Preservation White Paper, is a good introduction. For more depth, take a look at the Preserving Virtual Worlds reports I & II. It’s a very complicated problem.

    My colleagues & I investigated the preservation issue with locally created research games: The benefit is no DRM, but there’s almost no end to the amount of development history one can choose to collect.

    It may be that a combination of good catalog descriptions, along with lots of copies, is the solution for most of us. We could enter into consortial agreements and divide and conquer, with each institution committed to preserving a specific slice (And would that require a dark archive of some sort? The criteria would need agreement.). These are similar preservation strategies libraries have used for other collections.

    And tapping into the digital preservation expertise out there will be important. Preserving streaming data is already on their radar, along with the myriad legal issues of DRM.

    The PVW II report focused on determining what are the significant properties of games that need to be preserved. Is recording game play enough (see the James Newman article)? Is the controller the significant property of consoles, not the consoles themselves, and should they instead be the preservation focus?

    I look forward to these discussions!

    Christy Caldwell, Science & Engineering Librarian
    University of California, Santa Cruz

  8. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 9, 2015 at 6:15 pm (6 years ago)

    From: [] On Behalf Of Matt Bouchard
    Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2015 10:57 PM
    To: Yager, Andrew;
    Cc: Williams, Adam
    Subject: Re: [academicgames] Questions from the UCLA Library

    Just to note, this response is largely pragmatic and barely academic. Please feel free to ignore. Also, this all comes with the rider “depending on your mandate”.

    Personally, I think it may be a fool’s errand to try to capture the experience of World of Warcraft or similar. If the game itself is technologically available (there are homebrews of older, popular MMORPGs like Ultima Online and EverQuest), it can be played for flavour, but it won’t feel the same to walk up to a rare spawn and kill it as it did to negotiate the complicated culture of spawn camping (the Preserving Virtual Worlds reports talk about this very abstractly). My solution is ethnographic records, just as we would with any other culture we were in danger of losing. I haven’t read the article, but I think this is the direction Henry is pointing to in the machinima chapter (though from a history rather than anthropology perspective).

    Technologically, the long term solution for everything (even platforms) seems to be emulation. Currently, a reasonably technical person can fix an Atari 2600, but the soldering even in an original XBOX is far too fine, so replacing parts is pretty hard. Thus, we must have ways to play games on arbitrary hardware, and the best solution to that is emulation. DOSBox is a fantastic example of emulation that can be tuned to run at various speeds, so that today’s computers don’t make the game so fast that it’s unplayable. Despite the deep thinking and research that went into those PVW reports (and likely the history of archiving), I feel like fidelity or keeping a “real” copy should be a lower priority. Everything I know about games says they are SUPER subjective and thus, no representation would be perfectly…well…representative. Therefore, perhaps any representation will do. Alternatively, the historical perspective of “many voices, one truth” might apply.


  9. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 10, 2015 at 11:58 pm (6 years ago)

    From: Barton, Matthew D.
    Sent: Saturday, January 10, 2015 10:04 AM
    To: Miltenoff, Plamen
    Subject: Re: games related discussion

    Nice discussion, Plamen. There are some efforts at digital preservation. has been doing a lot of it –

    There’s also ones like this for other systems and platforms.

    As far as a physical collection goes, I think we’d be on the cutting edge with something like that. I’ve heard of a few institutions trying it, but as far as I know it’s mostly private collectors at this point.

    If you wanted to make the old cartridges playable, there are multi-function devices like this one out there-

  10. Plamen Miltenoff
    January 13, 2015 at 5:32 pm (5 years ago)

    —–Original Message—–
    From: [] On Behalf Of Christoph Deeg
    Sent: Friday, January 09, 2015 2:35 AM
    To: Matt Bouchard;
    Subject: Re: [academicgames] Questions from the UCLA Library

    Hi all,

    i hope that my comment helps – if not feel free to ignore it. I am consulting libraries in europe concerning gaming-strategies. The collection is always part of the strategy. From my point of view a collection can be divided into the following parts:

    – games with a physical data medium
    – games that are available only online
    – games that only work with emulators
    – games that are “produced” in the library during workshops
    – games that are only half digital – like ARGs
    – books, movies a.s.o. wich are beased on games – incl. Let’s Play a.s.o.
    – Hardware

    Preservation becomes more and more complicated. Therefore it seems interesting to understand the library not only as a place for a collection but for a service. I call it the “gamified library”. In this case service means to support everyone who is interested in the topic.

    Maybe you should ask Eli Neiburger from the Ann Arbor District Library. He ist doing a lot in the field of gaming. Beside this i wrote a book concerning Gaming and Libraries. It is written in german.
    I feel free to mention this because the eBook-Version is open-access – it may help.

    You can also become part of the Facebook-Group “games4culture” – it is in german, but most of the attendees know english to.

    As i said – i hope this helps a bit. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

    all the best

    Christoph Deeg

    Christoph Deeg
    Social Media – Social Media Risk – Gamification – Digitale Strategien Neusser Wall 16
    50670 Köln
    Tel.: +49(0)157-73808447

    Das Buch zum Thema “Gaming und Bibliotheken”:


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