On November 7, another piece of Nintendo’s short online history will go away forever. That’s when Miiverse, the artwork and message sharing service embedded into many Wii U games, will be shutting down because, as Nintendo puts it, “among other reasons, many users are shifting to social networking services.” While users can request an archive of their own Miiverse posts and drawings, the millions of memes, bad jokes, incisive game criticism, and 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 impacted, as detailed in this FAQ).
That massive purge of player-created data wasn’t acceptable to professional Web developer Tim Miller. Shortly after Nintendo announced the Miiverse shutdown last week, Miller started up an effort to permanently archive the network’s public contents, complete with a GitHub page and the support of the Web preservationists at Archive Team.
“Any time a social network goes down, we lose a ton of data,” Miller told Ars in an IRC chat. “Part of history, our culture, is lost. In Miiverse, especially in the art section, you can see people really investing a lot of their time and energy in it. And being able to save that for others to see and experience is extremely important.
“Just look at the people still making Splatoon art, right now, even though it’s going away in a few months,” he continued. “It’s clear some people out there care about it, and preserving this data would be [a] great thing for all. It’s important to remember that, when you give your data to companies like this, they can just as easily throw it away. And with that, so goes years of history.”
While Miller says he understands why Nintendo is shutting down Miiverse in the face of other, broader social networks, he’s not happy with the way the company is handling all the user-created data it has accumulated in the last few years. “Right now, Nintendo is going ‘Remember to click this button, and we’ll give you a zip at some point, now it’s your problem,'” he told Ars. “To me, that’s a giant ‘fuck you.’ At least it’s better than other companies that just close up shop and don’t announce it, but they could do better.”
The scrape race
The Miiverse archiving effort is still in its early days. Because Miiverse has no public API, the team is still figuring out how to parse Miiverse URLs to get at all the network’s public data through HTML scraping. Once that’s done, Miller and other volunteers will set up VM scripts that can crowdsource the downloading and processing effort through Archive Team’s Warrior tool.
So far, the team has identified more than 2 million distinct Miiverse users by following the trail of friends 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 that it’s possible with Archive Team’s resources. After that, Miller says he wants to organize it all into a database and maybe build a public website so people can search through the Miiverse archive at their leisure.
Those that forget history…
It’s not the first time Nintendo has relied on the public to maintain shuttered portions of its online legacy. After Nintendo shut down its Wii and DS multiplayer servers in 2014, hackers started work on their own tools that can replicate that gameplay on private servers.
Around the industry, though, publishers without much care for preservation are dooming to extinction many games that exist solely as digital downloads. Earlier this year Nintendo shut down the DSiWare shop on original DS hardware (though most of those games continue to be 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 fully shut down later this year, leaving quite a few hidden gems without an online home. And Apple has begun the process of culling “problematic and abandoned” older games from the App Store, continuing a process of game removal already started by many iOS game publishers themselves.
Saving all of those titles (or even a worthwhile subset) will be a gargantuan job for current and future gaming historians. For now, though, it’s nice to see a coordinated effort to save the public history of Nintendo’s first social network.