Preservation of defunct MMO games is now legally possible in the USA. The US Library of Congress has granted DMCA exception to allow the restoration of dead online games for research and study purposes. Earlier the DMCA exemption allowed the video game preservationists the authority to break DRM protections to make abandoned or ancient games work again. Now this applies to online games as well.
With the exception museums, researchers and video game preservation activists are legally allowed to work with the source code and both server and client software of deceased MMOs. Also normal gamers who have the skills and means to restore the game to run on their own system can do so.
The relevant bit:
(i) Video games in the form of computer programs embodied in physical or downloaded formats that have been lawfully acquired as complete games, when the copyright owner or its authorized representative has ceased to provide access to an external computer server necessary to facilitate an authentication process to enable gameplay, solely for the purpose of:
(A) Permitting access to the video game to allow copying and modification of the computer program to restore access to the game for personal, local gameplay on a personal computer or video game console; or
(B) Permitting access to the video game to allow copying and modification of the computer program to restore access to the game on a personal computer or video game console when necessary to allow preservation of the game in a playable form by an eligible library, archives, or museum, where such activities are carried out without Start Printed Page 54025any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and the video game is not distributed or made available outside of the physical premises of the eligible library, archives, or museum.
For example Raph Koster, American video game designer and creator of such games as LegendMUD, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest II welcomed the news and said:
“Speaking as a designer, I’d rather my game be played for free than never be able to be played ever again.”
Many old MMO games have been reverse engineered by fans and re-created using self-built server software. Those games are usually operated within the gray zone of the copyright laws. While the fans still cannot legally run original server versions of the deceased MMO games for their and friends’ enjoyment, now the doors are open for legitimate running of old code.
More information:Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies, The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, What’s up with the DMCA fight over defunct online games?