Sega’s 2013 remake of Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse was recently removed from all digital platforms. The title’s delisting from PSN, the Xbox store, and Steam was probably easy to miss among the hubbub of PAX West, but regardless of whether you care about the game itself, pulling it from the market completely is bad for the industry.
As is usually the case with these events, the delisting happened because Sega’s publishing agreement expired, and for whatever reason the company didn’t seek to renew it, despite its lineage — the 1990 Genesis original was a classic - or the fact that it stars the most iconic cartoon character of all time. (Also, the game’s fluid platforming is a pretty hard loss; look at that animation.)
This is hardly a new trend for the game industry, which regularly sees games removed from various digital distribution platforms for a variety of reasons, often owing to rights-related issues. Castle of Illusion is just one game, so who cares, right? But the fact remains that every game that gets delisted means more of the history’s medium is lost.
It sucks for fans, because anyone who might’ve been interested in Castle of Illusion, including possibly a high number of people who weren’t aware of it before news surfaced, can no longer play the game. (If you previously bought the game you can still download it again; only newcomers are out of luck.) Its case is a weird one in particularly too, since Disney has also shuttered its own interactive gaming division. Where in the company’s vast departmental structure does this even go now?
The situation is not great for Sega, either. With its license expired, Castle of Illusions existence has effectively been blotted from the publisher’s records. The studio which developed it, Sega Studios Australia, closed shortly after completion of the game, too — it’s almost the project never existed.
Only it did. Like Ubisoft’s Scott Pilgrim or, perhaps most infamously, Konami’s P.T., there’s plenty of evidence online and anecdotally — that these games did exist. And technically, with piracy they will continue to. But forcing people interested in maintaining anything close to a complete record of gaming’s past to illegally download something is, frankly, ridiculous.
That’s the broader idea at play here, not to mention one weirder thing about the digital age. In most of these cases, we don’t actually own these things. Instead what you spend money on is a license presumably purchased in the good faith allowing for indefinite future access. And when that can be hamstrung by corporate priorities — Castle of Illusion’s debacle was probably the result of a cost/benefit analysis deemed not worth the effort or legal hassle — the whole thing becomes a slippery slope.
Thankfully, there are some people interested in game preservation. Bluepoint Games painstakingly remasters older titles for a modern audience, for instance, and Limited Run Games publishes small batch printings of games that never had a physical presence. Even emulation is better than simply letting games die, though only choosing the most popular games isn’t super helpful either. Castle of Illusion may only be the latest casualty, but until games start being seen as more than just a flagging bottom line to be disposed of, it absolutely won’t be the last.