Five years after it was put in the grave, the free-to-play hero shooter Gigantic is back for one weekend only, and while the game’s fans are thrilled to have even a brief opportunity to play it once again I can’t help but wonder if this is a new circle of game preservation hell.
For most of the gaming world, Gigantic kind of came and went. It ran through various alphas and betas starting in 2014 before its proper launch across PC and Xbox in 2017. Within four months of the game’s 1.0 launch, developer Motiga was shut down, and Gigantic itself was taken offline in July 2018.
While Gigantic clearly wasn’t able to draw in a large enough playerbase to keep it going, its blend of Overwatch-style hero mechanics and MOBA-inspired game modes made it a favorite among the group of players it did manage capture. Now all of those players are getting to have a bit of A Moment.
Earlier this week, former Gigantic players started to receive emails inviting them to play Gigantic once more in a “limited time throwback event” from October 5 through October 7. Much rejoicing ensued, and at this point you might mistake the Gigantic subreddit for a discussion forum on an actively-supported modern game by all the activity this weekend has stirred up.
This comeback has apparently been orchestrated by Gearbox – yes, Gearbox of Borderlands (and Battleborn) fame. The all-encompassing grasp of the Embracer Group has, well, embraced both Gigantic publisher Perfect World Entertainment and Gearbox, and now the latter is for some reason bringing back a cult classic for a single weekend.
While fans are hopeful that this weekend is the testbed for a bigger Gigantic comeback, Gearbox has been trying to keep expectations in check. In a statement to our friends at PC Gamer, Gearbox emphasizes the whole ‘limited’ thing multiple times over. “The Gigantic Throwback Event is a limited-time journey back to the world of the iconic strategic hero shooter. Gigantic fans have been invited to experience the event from Thursday, October 5 at 12pm PT to Friday, October 6 at 9pm PT. We appreciate our fans and hope they enjoy this one-time only, throwback event.”
If this truly is a goodwill event meant to give the fans of a long-dead shooter something nice for a weekend, I won’t begrudge the gesture – but as we continue to try and figure out what game preservation looks like for online titles looks like, I can’t help but think this is the worst of all possible worlds.
Video game preservation is a massive topic, though most people associate the term with keeping older games readily accessible to modern audiences. Online games like Gigantic require constantly-maintained server infrastructure to keep running, and once a game is no longer making a substantial amount of money, publishers don’t really have much of an incentive to keep those servers up.
We have seen one possible way forward for online game preservation thanks to, of all things, Knockout City. Earlier this year, Knockout City launched a free Private Server Edition allowing fans to keep things running for themselves, and I can’t help but wish more games would follow suit. At a minimum, the live service titles that developers poured themselves into for years deserve more than to be forgotten when the monetization dries up, and with this kind of precedent set the ‘one weekend only’ Gigantic comeback just seems kind of cruel.
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