On November 7, another piece of Nintendo’s brief online history will disappear forever. That’s when Miiverse, the artwork and message sharing service built into many Wii U games, will be discontinued because, as Nintendo puts it, “among other things, many users are switching to social networking services.” While users can request an archive of their own Miiverse messages and drawings, the millions of memes, bad jokes, sharp game criticismand more currently hosted on Miiverse will be removed from Nintendo’s public servers in a few months (some features of certain Wii U games will also be affected, as detailed in this FAQ).
That massive purge of player-created data was not acceptable to professional web developer Tim Miller. Shortly after Nintendo announced the shutdown of Miiverse last week, started an attempt to permanently archive the network’s public content, complete with a GitHub page and the support of Archive Team’s web preservers.
“Every time a social network goes down, we lose a tons of data,” Miller told Ars in an IRC chat. “Part of history, our culture, has been lost. In Miiverse, especially in the art section, you can see that people really put a lot of time and energy into it. And being able to save that for others to see and experience is hugely important.
“Just look at the people who are still making” splatoon art, right now, even if it disappears in a few months,” he continued. “Obviously some people care about it, and keeping this data [a] great thing for everyone. It is important to remember that when you give your data to these types of companies, they can just as easily throw it away. And with that comes years of history.”
While Miller says he understands why Nintendo is shutting down Miiverse in light of other broader social networks, he’s not happy with the company’s handling of all the user-generated data it’s collected over the years. “Right now Nintendo is going to ‘Don’t forget to click this button, then we’ll give you a zip at some point, now it’s your problem,'” he told Ars. “To me that’s a massive ‘fuck you’. At least it’s better than other companies that just shut down and don’t announce it, but they could do better.”
the scrape race
Archiving Miiverse is still in its infancy. Because Miiverse doesn’t have a public API, the team is still figuring out how to parse Miiverse URLs to get all the public data from the network via HTML scraping. Once that’s done, Miller and other volunteers will set up VM scripts that can crowdsource the download and processing through Archive Team’s Warrior tool.
So far, the team has identified more than 2 million different Miiverse users by following the trail of friend lists. While some of those users hide part of their profiles behind privacy settings, the vast majority of the posts themselves are public, Miller says.
It’ll be a bit of a race to scrape the millions of published Miiverse posts and drawings from all those users before the November 7 shutdown, but Miller is confident it’s possible with Archive Team’s resources. After that, Miller says he wants to organize everything in a database and maybe build a public website so people can browse the Miiverse archive at their leisure.
Those who forget history…
It’s not the first time Nintendo has relied on the public to preserve closed portions of its online legacy. After Nintendo shut down its Wii and DS multiplayer servers in 2014, hackers started working on their own tools that can replicate that gameplay on private servers. However, across the industry, publishers who don’t care much about preservation are doomed to extinction of many games that exist solely as digital downloads. Earlier this year, Nintendo closed the DSiWare store on original DS hardware (although most of those games remain available through the 3DS line). Last year, Sony shut down PlayStation Mobile, cutting off access to plenty of great Vita titles from smaller indie publishers.
Xbox Live’s Indie Games program will be completely discontinued later this year, leaving quite a few hidden gems without an online home. And Apple has started removing “problematic and abandoned” older games from the App Store, continuing a game removal process already initiated by many iOS game publishers themselves.
Storing all those titles (or even a valuable subset) will be a mammoth task for current and future game historians. For now, though, it’s nice to see a concerted effort to save the public history of Nintendo’s first social network.