Rarely do I ever write about things as they’re happening. Often times I’m behind the curve and write about things after the fact. But this particular post felt so time-sensitive that I needed to push back another post that was gonna be hitting this week to write about this. I’m gonna talk about freebie games and the importance of game preservation.
Sega is doing a special event to celebrate their 60th anniversary as a company. Called “GO SEGA,” it’s a Steam sale that discounts many of the publisher’s games. From their PC breakouts like the Total War, Company of Heroes and Football Manager franchises, to established classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Yakuza. Hell, you can even get NiGHTS into Dreams… for free. (I heard this version is not as good as the Saturn original, but Good Enough for most people.)
In addition to this sale, they’re releasing some free games. A top-down tank battle game based on Company of Heroes called Armor of Heroes. A mashup of Fantasy Zone and Endless Space called Endless Zone. A mashup of Streets of Rage 2 and Yakuza called Streets of Kamurocho. And finally, a polished prototype for a Golden Axe reboot called Golden Axed that ended up getting a bit of notoriety since some of the developers on that project, Tim Dawson and Sanatana Mishra, were surprised their unfinished hard work was being given away for free. (You can read both Dawson’s and Mishra’s Twitter threads about their involvement in the game. It highlights how even on unfinished work like this, that crunch culture is prevalent.)
Those all sound neat, right? Free games inspired by Sega’s established franchises are always a neat little thing. Well, here’s the catch: They’re all only available for a few days, with them releasing a new game each day. (As of this writing, Streets of Kamurocho has just been released.) After October 19th, they’re gone for good, making them unable to be downloaded once the sale’s over.
So you’re probably asking: why are you so concerned? It’s free stuff for a promotional sale, it’s stuff that isn’t gonna blow people’s minds or anything. “You should be grateful they’re even giving out free stuff!” you might say. That’s a terrible line of thinking, and let me explain why.
I’m not gonna deny my blog tends to cover more fluff-driven topics. I often tend to cover fluff topics like TV shows that feature video games prominently, or even promotional food and drink based on video games. At the time, I usually write about them because I think it’s an interesting article to see how much video games have permeated pop culture.
But they’re important for another reason: The post is a time capsule to something that once existed that no longer does. On this blog alone, I’ve written about the various flavors of Mountain Dew Game Fuel, not just because I wanted to see what they taste like, but they give me a snapshot of what things were at that time. Short of searching on eBay, you can’t buy these drinks anymore.
This expands to a lot of freebie promotional games. A lot of these are made by people who aren’t really credited, and while they might seem very throwaway and quickly made for at most a half hour of enjoyment, they’re still worth talking about.
For example, Devolver Digital’s done the promotional game trick a lot. Stuff like Expendabros: The Broforce Missions, Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike and even Devolverland Expo, which I wrote about earlier this year. You can still play all of these games. You can go on Steam right now, find the store pages for these, download and play them. I have to give Devolver Digital props for doing such a thing.
On the other hand, Sega likes dealing with the “fear of missing out” factor, combined with artificial scarcity. On October 19th at 10AM, unless you picked these games up and downloaded them to your Steam account, you’re SOL. They’re lost forever.
For the record, this is not the first time Sega has done this. When Bayonetta was coming to the PC, they celebrated with a freebie pixel endless runner-type called 8-Bit Bayonetta. You can’t get that anymore either, as they also inexplicably removed it for reasons not fully explained.
Update: A few of you, including @Foxhack on Twitter, have pointed out to me that you can still install 8-Bit Bayonetta by typing steam://install/567090 in a web browser, letting you install and play the game. It’s a rather cumbersome solution for a problem that doesn’t need to exist in the first place.
It’s critical that these games be freely available for anyone to download, at any time. Even after a promotional event is over. Losing these games, even if they’re not winners, is a slight blow to game preservation.
For example, back in 2013 I wrote about Hollywood Hellfire, a promotional game to advertise the Seth Rogen apocalyptic comedy This Is The End. You cannot play that game anymore, as the website that hosted that game now just redirects to a generic Sony Pictures website. You can’t play it off The Internet Archive either, as it used Unity Web Player as its game engine, and that’s not supported anymore by Unity itself.
Basically, if you wanted to try Hollywood Hellfire now, you can’t. Unless the folks at Flashpoint backed that game up, that game is now lost media. Even as recent as 2020, we can still lose things to the ever-changing technological landscape, and that just sucks.
I’m a big supporter of game preservation. Maybe not as much as Ross Scott of Accursed Farms or even the Video Game History Foundation, but I do believe stuff like this should always be freely available for anyone to play. Even silly promotional stuff like this. As someone who writes about this kind of obscura in-between writing about recent games like Far Cry 4, I feel it’s important that this stuff gets preserved in any way possible.
I know I’m just some schmuck writing on a blog, but I would love it if Sega were to reverse the decision and make these freebie “GO SEGA” games available to download and play forever.
And also to bring back stuff like 8-Bit Bayonetta. It doesn’t hurt to leave these games up for anyone to play at any time, why give a sense of FOMO over this? It’s a business decision that doesn’t make sense in the modern age.
Alternatively, if people find a way to play these outside of Steam, that would be fine too. I usually don’t advocate piracy on this blog, but when games aren’t legally available and piracy’s your only solution, I can’t feel as bad. Hell, I’m currently writing about a mostly-forgotten game show game that you cannot buy legally as of 2020, and it’s pretty much abandonware. I postponed posting about it just to talk about this.
Game preservation, even for small promotional games like this, is important. That’s all I really have to say at this point.
I could also talk about the false scarcity that Nintendo’s mastered in spades lately, what with them making Super Mario Bros. 35 and Super Mario 3D All-Stars only available for a limited time, but that’s been done by others elsewhere, so I’ll end it here. Regular content will resume next week.