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How much longer will old games last?


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#1 J7.

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 02:18 AM

How much longer will old cartridges and compact discs last? Like Atari 2600, NES, SNES, Sega CD, PS1, N64, etc. I was thinking of buying some old games but maybe it's time where digital copies really are better. Though if Sony pulls out of the video game industry or goes out of business during PS4 or after, we're kind of fucked with all our digital downloads being gone once our hard drive dies.

#2 Richard Kain

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 03:51 PM

Well, the issue with older cartridge-based games is the battery-save system. In order to have persistent information in some of those games, batteries were added to them so that they would always have some level of power. The save data could be persistent because the cartridge itself was never truly "off."

When those batteries eventually run out of power, the save data is lost, that's the real problem. The good news is that if you open the cartridge, it is possible to replace the battery. Also, there were quite a few cartridges that didn't have persistent saves at all, relying on a password system for saved progress.

Aside from this wrinkle, cartridge games are actually quite durable and persistent. They are built to last, and can usually bear up under a surprising amount of punishment. If you treat them well and store them properly, they will last a very, very long time.

Compact Discs are slightly less collectible than cartridges, mainly due to how easy they are to copy and reproduce. But they can also be quite durable as well. Pressed discs can last for centuries if handled properly. (a pressed disc is a metal disc with information burned into it, sandwiched between two pieces of plastic. Burned discs actually contain ink, and do not last as long as pressed discs)

Buying and collecting old games can be a fun and rewarding hobby. It is important to understand why you are doing it, though. If all you want to do is play these classic games, there are probably better, cheaper methods to pursue, like the Virtual Console, XBox Live Arcade, or PSN. If you are actually looking to own a piece of gaming history, than perhaps collecting is for you.

#3 J7.

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 05:29 AM

What will have to happen to cartridges for them to stop working? How do you know if you have a pressed or burned disc? I always assumed they just burnt all discs whether retail or not.

#4 uncle5555

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 06:35 AM

What will have to happen to cartridges for them to stop working? How do you know if you have a pressed or burned disc? I always assumed they just burnt all discs whether retail or not.


I was going to answer the disc question, with its mainly color, but that isn't always the best way to do so, so I won't.

However your other question is a little easier, the contacts going back is the best answer I can give you, the solid state stuff is solid (try to say that 3 times fast) and will last a very long time in properly humidified and controlled conditions, but let's face it most of us don't have places like that. So we have to deal with harsh climate and more importantly oxidation on the metal connectors on the games.

My old Neo Geo carts were oxidizing like crazy when I didn't use them for a period of 2-3 years. When I pulled out the SNES and N64 and found out my systems weren't working that well, I hunted high and lo for a SNES system cleaner, that seemed to make them both work again like new.

So yeah oxidation is the killer of carts, plain and simple, battery backup games can have the battery replaced, but that 48 min. Super Metroid Speed run is as good as dead.
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#5 mrspicytacoman

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 06:59 AM

commercial disks are usually pressed and you can expect them to last about 100-200 years pending handling. Your video games will outlive you. Hoard as big a collection as you can with no worries.

#6 J7.

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 09:27 PM

I was going to answer the disc question, with its mainly color, but that isn't always the best way to do so, so I won't.

However your other question is a little easier, the contacts going back is the best answer I can give you, the solid state stuff is solid (try to say that 3 times fast) and will last a very long time in properly humidified and controlled conditions, but let's face it most of us don't have places like that. So we have to deal with harsh climate and more importantly oxidation on the metal connectors on the games.

My old Neo Geo carts were oxidizing like crazy when I didn't use them for a period of 2-3 years. When I pulled out the SNES and N64 and found out my systems weren't working that well, I hunted high and lo for a SNES system cleaner, that seemed to make them both work again like new.

So yeah oxidation is the killer of carts, plain and simple, battery backup games can have the battery replaced, but that 48 min. Super Metroid Speed run is as good as dead.

How do you know if something is oxidizing? What will happen if you clean it and it oxidizes again, will the metal disintegrate and then the cartridge will not have enough metal left to make contact?

commercial disks are usually pressed and you can expect them to last about 100-200 years pending handling. Your video games will outlive you. Hoard as big a collection as you can with no worries.


My old PS1 games were pressed and will last that long? What about compact discs and dvds? Do bad scratches cause discs to die early?

#7 Nogib

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 09:35 PM

a pressed disc is a metal disc with information burned into it, sandwiched between two pieces of plastic.


Ah, no. Not even. The pits and falls (translated to ones and zeros) are pressed into plastic and a thin layer of metal is painted on only to give a laser something to reflect off of and then an additional protective plastic layer is placed on top of that.

And pressed discs are not invulnerable. Disc rot is indeed a very real thing. Had some early movie DVDs from 2000 that flat out were no longer readable due to poor construction between the layers.
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#8 uncle5555

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Posted 14 September 2012 - 01:54 AM

How do you know if something is oxidizing? What will happen if you clean it and it oxidizes again, will the metal disintegrate and then the cartridge will not have enough metal left to make contact?


Oxidation's big contribution is when you plug a cartridge system in after a few years of disuse (at least in my exp.) and it shows a pink, blank screen (when my n64 didn't work right) a little cleaning with an official kit and walaa it worked again.

Of course, but that'll be quite a while, the Emery boards they use in these cleaning kits are not that abrasive and will only clean off a small smattering of the metal, however if you use them say every 6 months then yes eventually the contacts will be worthless, and the games won't play anymore. Hence the need for better storage.


Ah, no. Not even. The pits and falls (translated to ones and zeros) are pressed into plastic and a thin layer of metal is painted on only to give a laser something to reflect off of and then an additional protective plastic layer is placed on top of that.

And pressed discs are not invulnerable. Disc rot is indeed a very real thing. Had some early movie DVDs from 2000 that flat out were no longer readable due to poor construction between the layers.


Yeah I have some like that too, but it's mainly linked to oxidation (the place I have all of my things is hardly the ideal environment to store things, constant temp. flux, humidity changes out the wing-wang. You name it, as I mentioned only careful handling and in optimal conditions is what keep these things running. But some of my older silver faced discs (most were HK action movies were put on crap material to begin with, and have been a big problem for me for years now.)
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#9 meta460085

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Posted 15 September 2012 - 05:48 AM

For electrical contacts of all kinds use CRC contact cleaner/lube. We use it at work, you can find it at home depot in electrical section. Keeps your stuff from oxidating if you remember to spray it once a year.

#10 wiggyx

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Posted 19 September 2012 - 05:48 AM

What will have to happen to cartridges for them to stop working? How do you know if you have a pressed or burned disc? I always assumed they just burnt all discs whether retail or not.


NO retail disc, whether it's a CD, DVD, or Bluray employs recordable tech. They are all "pressed" (which is a complete misnomer, but we'll use it to avoid confusion).

I was going to answer the disc question, with its mainly color, but that isn't always the best way to do so, so I won't.

However your other question is a little easier, the contacts going back is the best answer I can give you, the solid state stuff is solid (try to say that 3 times fast) and will last a very long time in properly humidified and controlled conditions, but let's face it most of us don't have places like that. So we have to deal with harsh climate and more importantly oxidation on the metal connectors on the games.

My old Neo Geo carts were oxidizing like crazy when I didn't use them for a period of 2-3 years. When I pulled out the SNES and N64 and found out my systems weren't working that well, I hunted high and lo for a SNES system cleaner, that seemed to make them both work again like new.

So yeah oxidation is the killer of carts, plain and simple, battery backup games can have the battery replaced, but that 48 min. Super Metroid Speed run is as good as dead.


There are really simple ways to avoid a lot of that corrosion. First, DE-humidify, not humidify the area that you store your games in. Keep them in a case that's relatively airtight. Then toss in one or two silica gel packets to help absorb moisture. Finally, a thin coat of dielectric grease on the contacts should keep them nice and corrosion-free for a long, LONG time.

Ah, no. Not even. The pits and falls (translated to ones and zeros) are pressed into plastic and a thin layer of metal is painted on only to give a laser something to reflect off of and then an additional protective plastic layer is placed on top of that.

And pressed discs are not invulnerable. Disc rot is indeed a very real thing. Had some early movie DVDs from 2000 that flat out were no longer readable due to poor construction between the layers.


Well, if you're gonna be super technical about it, the data isn't pressed into the disc. The portion that contains the data is injection molded polycarbonate, nothing about the process involves "pressing". A lacquer is applied to the top after the metallic layer is added, not another layer of plastic. The only time that you'd find a polycarbonate sandwich is with two-sided discs.

But you are indeed correct about longevity. Like many things, build quality will have a lot to do with the lifespan of a disc. De-lamination, which allows air and moisture to make contact with the metallic layer, is the the biggest problem. It's pretty much what it sounds like; one layer pulling away from the other.

#11 rewindtimegames

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 02:42 PM

Based on what I have read my NES production carts using masked ROMS will be working long after I am gone. The only caveat to this is battery life of games with save features. Depending on storage and temperature the battery life varies so they may need to be replaced. I have never had a problem with this, but I know its coming.

Test carts, prototypes, and the few titles that used EPROMS are a different story. These games over time will experience bit rot and must be backed up as soon as possible.

#12 Richard Kain

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 03:55 PM

Environmental factors play a big part. Keeping old games in a dry environment out of direct sunlight seems to be the best approach. Most of my older systems have been carefully boxed and labeled, and I keep under my bed. And I'm fortunate to live in AZ, where we have close to 0% humidity, 95% of the time.

#13 Richard Kain

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 03:56 PM

Also, it seems from some of the technical links that have been provided here that DVDs have a much better track record for survival than CDs. (due to the nature of their construction) Something to consider if you are interested in collecting early CD-based system games.

#14 J7.

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 09:12 PM

Based on what I have read my NES production carts using masked ROMS will be working long after I am gone. The only caveat to this is battery life of games with save features. Depending on storage and temperature the battery life varies so they may need to be replaced. I have never had a problem with this, but I know its coming.

Test carts, prototypes, and the few titles that used EPROMS are a different story. These games over time will experience bit rot and must be backed up as soon as possible.


What are masked ROMS vs EPROMS?

#15 wiggyx

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 09:58 PM

EPROMS are essentially flash memory whereas the normal ROM chips in your carts are not rewritable.

It's like a hard drive versus a DVD.

#16 J7.

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Posted 03 August 2013 - 08:13 AM

Been looking into Starfox for SNES. So I see & remember how some SNES cartridges have a thick piece of plastic below their front labels where the cartridge sticks out as far as possible towards you. This creates a 1'' notch or hole between the label and the bottom plastic. Then there are cartridges without the protruding plastic where the 1" hole forms a sliding hole in the plastic and rather than a thick layer of plastic there is a large area with less plastic. 

 

Anyways I read that older SNES games have the thick plastic in order to lock the cartridge into the system, but Nintendo did away with this because people broke the lock, cart, or something else by forcing it out. So you can tell how old a SNES cart is by the amount of plastic below the label. Thus, I was thinking maybe it would be better to own the most recently manufactured SNES games. Starfox in the old cart style may be manufactured in 1993-1994 whereas the one with the new cart style could be manufactured 1994-1998. Assuming they still made Star Fox that late, possibly they did since the SNES model 2 did not release until 1997 & was discontinued in 1999. This also assumes they did not have the older style carts left over and used for later games.

 

In any case, how large is the benefit of younger cartridges for durability and lifetime? I was thinking maybe not much of a difference unless it's a game like Star Fox that has a processor built in. Not sure.



#17 wiggyx

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 03:15 PM

The data on those carts should be stable for at least 50-100 years. So a few years here and there really doesn't matter.

#18 J7.

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 11:25 PM

The data on those carts should be stable for at least 50-100 years. So a few years here and there really doesn't matter.

What about the FX chip games with their co-processors? A processor will go bad before the rest of the cartridge right?

 

We have to take into account how the game has been treated over those years as well. I see that some cartridges do go bad early on occasion whether that be random fault and/or storage and use/misuse. 



#19 Richard Kain

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 11:59 PM

What about the FX chip games with their co-processors? A processor will go bad before the rest of the cartridge right?

 

We have to take into account how the game has been treated over those years as well. I see that some cartridges do go bad early on occasion whether that be random fault and/or storage and use/misuse. 

 

Storage and use/misuse is a much bigger concern than the nature of cartridges, or their processors/chips. The vast majority of cartridges are incredibly stable by nature. The only thing you really need to worry about is battery backups expiring, and those can be replaced. (although the save files cannot) Processors generally only go bad through misuse. They don't peter out over time for no reason.

 

Older games tend to be much more stable than newer ones. There is considerably more risk in buying PS1-era disc-based games than there is in acquiring cartridges. Optical drives provided significant cost advantages to manufacturers, but introduced much greater failure rates for consumers. One exception would be the Blu-Ray format used by the PS3. They weren't kidding about the coating on Blu-Ray discs, those things are incredibly durable and scratch-resistant.



#20 J7.

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Posted 05 August 2013 - 04:18 AM

Ok. I think I'm still going to look for the newer style SNES cartridges though, in case they were misused by one of their previous owners, it would be less time.



#21 wiggyx

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 05:54 AM

I imagine that games like Star Fox won't last nearly as long :(

But who knows for sure...

#22 J7.

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 07:27 AM

I imagine that games like Star Fox won't last nearly as long :(

But who knows for sure...

What do you mean?



#23 Navex

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Posted 30 August 2013 - 03:06 AM

For Gameboy games it's as long as the lithium inside them lasts. All my Pokemon games I've had since their launch here in the states still have their saves. I remember reading an article on them years ago in GamePro and they were said to last anywhere from 10-15 years so some have lived past that prediction.



#24 wiggyx

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Posted 30 August 2013 - 04:53 AM

You mean the battery?  Those can be swapped out in a few minutes.



#25 J7.

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Posted 30 August 2013 - 11:09 PM

Why would Starfox not last as long?



#26 Dnipro Cojiro

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 04:45 AM

Why would Starfox not last as long?

I ask the same


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#27 Richard Kain

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Posted 09 September 2013 - 06:19 PM

I ask the same

 

Wiggyx is probably referring to the exotic hardware featured in the Star Fox cartridge. Games like Star Fox had non-standard chips added to them for additional processing that wasn't available in all games.

 

Personally, I don't think this will change the shelf life of the title. The failure rates for Star Fox cartridges weren't any higher than any other SNES game, and the same held true for the rest of the FX chip games. I wouldn't worry about it.



#28 J7.

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 04:35 AM

Wiggyx is probably referring to the exotic hardware featured in the Star Fox cartridge. Games like Star Fox had non-standard chips added to them for additional processing that wasn't available in all games.

 

Personally, I don't think this will change the shelf life of the title. The failure rates for Star Fox cartridges weren't any higher than any other SNES game, and the same held true for the rest of the FX chip games. I wouldn't worry about it.

But he already stated Starfox would last long just fine 50-100 years, few years doesn't matter, when I asked him in this thread on August 3. Which is why I'm so puzzled by his more recent post.