Monday, Microsoft Studios announced it would stop selling Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One via its digital store starting on September 30. If you’ve ever wanted to play the game, you’ve got a little more than a month to download your own copy. As long as you’ve purchased the game, Microsoft says you’ll be able to download it in the future. But no one can buy it ever again, at least not from the Xbox Store. Microsoft aptly calls this an “end of life” status.
Microsoft is giving away the DLC for free, has put the game up as part of its subscription service (meaning subscribers can grab for no extra charge), and given the community advanced warning. That’s all great, but it’s cold comfort for anyone new who wants to buy the game after October 1. Forza Horizon 4 comes out the day after Microsoft plans to pull Forza Horizon 2 from its store. Similarly, in 2016, Microsoft stopped selling the original Forza Horizon right before the release of Forza Horizon 3. We asked Microsoft if it had any plans to make Forza Horizon 2 available to purchase by other means in the future, and it referred it us back to its original announcement.
This might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but if the history of video games has taught us anything so far it’s that big publishers don’t care about video game history, and that it’s now up to users to preserve Forza Horizon 2.
The original Forza Motorsport launched on the original Xbox in 2005, but really took off with the release of Forza Motorsport 2 for the Xbox 360 in 2007. The entire series was positioned as Xbox’s flagship racing franchise. PlayStation had the hugely popular Gran Turismo racing game series, Microsoft offered Forza as competition. Over the years, Forza managed to lap Gran Turismo. While Gran Turismo‘s developer Polyphony digital was obsessing over the details of super car interiors and delaying releases, Forza‘s developer Turn 10 kept releasing sequels, iterating, growing an audience, and even launching the more accessible offshoot Horizon series. Today, the Forza series is one of the most successful racing video games and a showcase for the entire genre. Forza Horizon 2 is just one, but still important chapter in how this came to be.
If Microsoft stops selling digital copies and you can’t find a hard copy (and remember that hard copies have limited lifespans) you will not be able to legally acquire and play Forza Horizon 2 unless you pirate a copy. That’s not an easy thing to acquire at the moment, but hobbyists are already working on emulating the Xbox 360. If emulation of the Xbox 360 ever becomes as accessible and accurate as emulation of the Super Nintendo, finding and playing a version of Forza Horizon 2 will be trivial, but would technically be breaking the law and run the risk of prompting Microsoft’s lawyers to act.
That’s what Nintendo did recently when it took down websites hosting decades-old copies of NES and SNES games. Since some of those game can’t be acquired and played legally, Nintendo essentially puts itself in a position where it has to erase its own history in order to protect its copyrights. In that process, it hurts its biggest fans and denies future game developers access to essential learning materials. Bennett Foddy, who teaches at New York University’s Game Center and is the developer of games like QWOP and Getting Over, told Motherboard this amounts to “massive cultural vandalism.”
By removing Forza Horizon 2 from its digital store, Microsoft is setting itself up for a similar showdown, perhaps years from now. In a world where the only way to play an old game is to pirate it, all players will be pirates.