Let’s back up. A couple weeks ago an email hit my inbox about Crimson Room Decade, a follow-up to, apparently, the most popular Flash game of all time, Crimson Room, which allegedly had 800,000,000 plays! That’s great! A Room Escape classic, and I play lots of Flash games on my channel, so I decided I’d not only play Crimson Room Decade, but the whole series as a fun flashback! But then I learned even Flash has DRM! Ohhh boy.
A Classic, Long Dead
This is the part where things get bad. I noticed while the pitch for Decade refers to the success of the original Crimson Room, the site and PR email I got included no links to the original. So I googled a bit and found http://www.crimson-room.net/, which has links to…a dead website. Not even direct links to the games oddly enough, just the landing page of http://www.fasco-csc.com/, a long-since lapsed domain that now serves only as ad space for unlucky searchers for this, a Flash game that apparently had 800 million views.
I then found the creator, Toshimitsu Takagi’s website, which has seemingly not been updated since 2008, four years after the original Crimson Room. (And as of the updated date on this article, it’s been completely lost! Link added courtesy of Archive.org)
Game DRM Feeds Pirates
I did find the games though. A trip to the Wayback Machine from the lovely Internet Archive will find that Crimson Room is unplayable due to it’s DRM, which recognizes the Wayback machine as a foreign host. Viridian Room and Blue Chamber have similar problems. The very DRM meant to keep the games on the site now prevents you from using an archive of the site to play them.
Not ready to give up yet, I searched around a bit. Sure enough, my very saviors from DRM are the same people whom DRM is meant to deter: Pirates. I found playable copies of Crimson Room, Viridian Room, and Blue Chamber all at assorted sketchy sites who surely ripped the games for fun and profit. One of them was even the infamous Ebaum’s World, whom I refuse to link to.
In this case DRM has not only harmed consumers, but in the end the only beneficiary of this DRM was the very pirates meant to be stopped by DRM. The pirates get to host actually working copies long after the original site went belly up in 2012 (as far as I can see in the Wayback Machine). DRM stopped proper preservation, but it sure as hell didn’t stop pirates; it benefitted them.
Oddly the one game that did The lovely people at the Internet Archive preserved White Chamber (press Stop as soon as the page loads or it redirects you to the dead website). This is one I thought was totally lost, as either its DRM actually DID stop pirates for once, or it simply wasn’t preserved with the others. Searching only found tons of similarly titled and/or ripoff games. Thankfully Zargonan on youtube discovered Wayback Machine happens to work on this one for some reason.
So in the end I did find the games, but only through a mixture of sheer, dumb luck and actual piracy.
A Room Without a View
This is not an ancient game. While 2004 was a fair while ago, games from the 1980s are regularly available on cartridge or digital download. Hell, games from the 2000s are getting proper HD remakes or remasters. The Flash plugin itself (which, for many of us, is by no means obsolete) should be more of an impediment to a game’s playability than a mere 12 years. The game isn’t even old enough for high school!
This was supposed to be fun. This was supposed to be a trip back into Room Escape/Flash game history. What I found instead was appalling, even if I did eventually find the games (through piracy).
And it’s not just these games. I can’t even imagine how many lesser known games have simply been entirely forgotten. I only even found this tragic situation because it was one of the biggest flash games of all time.
I still played the Crimson Room series, barely, and you can find my Crimson Room series videos here. Hopefully those videos will help preserve the games, but I am a strong advocate of playing a game yourself so even as a Youtuber I can scarcely consider even my own videos “good enough” in terms of preservation. The entire, playable Flash game should be somewhere publicly available.
I contacted the publisher of Crimson Room Decade and received no response; a new company has taken over Crimson Room Decade and it seems no care or respect was paid to the original four games.
Art Deserves Better
If you’re a developer, please have an “escape plan”. If your game is so convoluted that it cannot be permanently maintained, plan to release it’s source code at the time of the game’s (or perhaps your) death.
If your game is only on one store, keep some backup stores in mind, itch.io is a wonderful, free site that can host a variety of games including both downloadable and browser games whether they’re paid or free.
If your game is available only on your own website for Pete’s sake make sure you own the domain long-term! Websites are not expensive anymore, it is unbelievable that games like this have disappeared because someone seemingly didn’t want to pay ~$10 a year to hold the domain (hosting is pricier, but not THAT expensive. And worst case, your domain could point to an itch.io page for your game).
Please preserve your games. Please preserve your art. Please demand that the creators of art you love keep their art available and enjoyable to all. Preservation matters. This is art, this is history itself. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and our species to do a better job at preserving art.