An Interesting Idea: ISBNs for Games.

Much of the time, conversations with fellow members of the games industry (writers, developers… Doesn’t matter) are either shop talk or just shooting the breeze. But sometimes, things get interesting. Segue achieved for this comment, by MAIA developer Simon Roth:

“While we are on the subject, we genuinely need the equivalent of an ISBN for games.”

Most of you will at least have noticed that books have a 13 digit number on the bottom, or seen ISBN on a book’s Amazon page, but not realised how powerful those thirteen digits can be. Each edition of a book has a different ISBN. Want to find the specific edition with that typo or cover or introduction you liked, or want to compare editions? The ISBN has you covered. And I could immediately see at least part of why it’s important.

There are several different versions, for example, of roguelikes, and some of them are drastically different, such as Nethack. There are many games with exactly the same name as other games out there (While this is less often true with AAA titles, there are definitely examples, such as Powerdrome, which has an older version… And a PS2 reboot), and, to make matters worse, some games almost completely fall under the radar (For example, when choosing titles for the side videos of my current Let’s Play, which are to do with Future Racing games, I completely missed quite a few titles, including… “Future Racer”. It wasn’t very good, but it was embarassing to have missed something so obvious, because so few places refer to it.)

It would be of great use to do this, not just for gamers, who can pass around a… Let’s call it an ISGN (Because that’s the easiest acronym) instead of trying to find a reference to a game that’s only mentioned in rare places. It would be useful to archivists, and game academics, who could then have an easier time referring to the specific game when using academic notation such as the Harvard Method. It has a lot of uses… And it’s already a thing that isn’t restricted to books, with music and magazines also having their own identifiers.

…But obviously, it’s not a thing that can spring up overnight. So all I’m going to do here is leave this article, just proposing the idea (And giving fair credit to the person who originated it), and let game devs who read this to talk it over. I’ll be happy to put discussion on the subject in article form, via the usual contacts, and if enough of the games industry likes the idea, keep people posted on the progress.

But for now, it’s just an interesting and useful idea.

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