Editorial: The Tim Stamper Controversy is a Nothing Burger

Robert argues that sometimes fan entitlement can go too far.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 05/24/2023 10:39 Comment on this     ShareThis

A couple of days ago, Rare co-founder Tim Stamper made waves on Twitter when he posted an image of a dev cart from Space World 1997 (Nintendo’s defunct Japan-only video game convention) that contains the famous demo of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In his tweet, Stamper states that the cart is “not overdumped, not reconstructed,” which seems to be an allusion to how fans have cobbled together a facsimile of the demo in the years since it was first played by the public. The reason for that reconstruction being that Nintendo has never made the demo available for download or at-home play in any way, shape, or form.

Needless to say, a certain corner of the Internet began braying quite loudly when they saw the cart, with many incensed that Stamper hasn’t dumped the code onto the web for all to have and do with as they please. Let’s let that soak in for a moment:

Some fans are angry because Tim Stamper, a famous game developer, won’t illegally dump proprietary software onto the Internet from a company that he has a very long, public history with.

Look, folks, I’m not trying to be a downer, but what is the realistic expectation in this scenario? I’ve heard all of the cries about preservation, and believe me, I sympathize. The general lack of game preservation across the industry is something that I lecture about regularly to my game design students. It’s a problem that so much of the history of video games is relegated to the proverbial dust bin. When it comes to the individual efforts of fans to get their hands onto prototypes and unfinished builds of classic games, I respect the initiative and why they do it.

At the same time, I also find it a bitnaive and irrational that fans would expect a professional in the industry with very public ties to Nintendo to take a cartridge like this and dump its contents online. Does anyone in their right mind think Stamper is wanting to risk getting himself sued? Because that’s a very likely outcome if he were to take this course of action. For gaming historians, having access to the ’97 Space World demo of Ocarina of Time would be wonderful, but I certainly am not chomping at the bit to put someone else at risk to get it.

I think it’s also important to put into perspective what is and isn’t being preserved. Completed games are the bigger, more important target. Losing classic licensed software over the years, for instance, has been a heartbreaker. Full games developed by talented people that are every bit as memorable and impactful as concepts based on original properties. DuckTales, GoldenEye, and other games have left an indelible mark on the industry. The builds of these games during development, as interesting as they may be, simply aren’t as important.

It also isn’t terribly reasonable to expect that every shred of development material for a game will be saved, as well. Nor to think that fans are somehow owed access to these materials, either. Again, as a fan, as someone who likes to peruse websites like The Cutting Room Floor or read books like X-Men: The Art and Making of The Animated Series, I’m all for that backdoor glimpse at how creatives make the things we love. At the same time, I, nor any other fan, am owed that. It’s a decision that creators make to share that aspect of the process with us. There are countless behind-the-scenes documentaries on how various Disney movies have been made, for instance, but there’s just as much if not more of that content that is tucked away somewhere that fans will never see. And that’s okay.

Hurling vitriol at Stamper because he won’t do something that could get him into hot water with Nintendo is just foolish. He isn’t going to make the data available to fans because he is clearly not in a position to do that. Does it suck seeing that he has the cartridge and knowing not much is going to manifest beyond the photo he shared? Sure. But video game preservation isn’t being dealt a crushing blow just because Stamper won’t dump his Space World dev cart onto the web. If anything it offers a glimmer of hope that there might be one or two more of these carts out in the wild somewhere. Even if there isn’t, dogpiling onto someone who had contributed so much to the industry over the years over a manufactured slight is a truly pointless exercise—no one is owed this cartridge or its data.

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