John Carmack Has Some Excellent Preservation Advice As More Games Disappear Forever

John Carmack Has Some Excellent Preservation Advice As More Games Disappear Forever

The famed game designer, rocket man, and VR enthusiast John Carmack, who co-created Doom, left Meta/Facebook late last year after spending a decade working on the business’s virtual reality initiatives. But just because he’s gone, doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about the company’s decisions.

The word that Echo VR, a game that was initially released on the rival Rift system before its developers were acquired by Facebook, would be closing down came along with last week’s discovery that Meta had wasted almost $14 billion on unsuccessful VR nonsense.

Rumbleverse and Knockout City also met similar ends last week, and their collective demises served as a helpful reminder that modern video games have a significant lifespan problem in that, once dismissed by publishers, they are incredibly susceptible to just disappearing for good.

Carmack has addressed the issue, giving a thorough statement to UploadVR last week that covers a wide range of Echo VR’s closure-related topics. Thoughts regarding how it’s crucial for studios to keep older games alive and how cost and manpower shouldn’t be the only factors they consider when making those decisions are what I’m most interested in.

Even if there are just 10,000 users actively using the system, he advises against eliminating their worth. When you take away something that a user values, your business suffers more harm than benefit from giving it to them or to others.

Of course, most of his expertise with this comes from his time at id Software, where older titles like Doom and Quake had slightly greater popularity than some unrelated VR titles with a small user base. But his main point is true! As he explains further, the following advice is based on sound development principles as well as effective PR:

Every game should make sure they still work at some level without central server support. Even when not looking at end of life concerns, being able to work when the internet is down is valuable. If you can support some level of LAN play for a multiplayer game, the door is at least open for people to write proxies in the future. Supporting user-run servers as an option can actually save on hosting costs, and also opens up various community creative avenues.

Be disciplined about your build processes and what you put in your source tree, so there is at least the possibility of making the project open source. Think twice before adding dependencies that you can’t redistribute, and consider testing with stubbed out versions of the things you do use. Don’t do things in your code that wouldn’t be acceptable for the whole world to see. Most of game development is a panicky rush to make things stop falling apart long enough to ship, so it can be hard to dedicated time to fundamental software engineering, but there is a satisfaction to it, and it can pay off with less problematic late stage development.

One of the games I mentioned earlier, Knockout City, is doing this to its credit. Later this year, when the game’s current version is discontinued, a new standalone release will be available that supports private servers, effectively allowing users to continue playing the game indefinitely.