Optical Discs are not considered to be permanent storage, the life expectancy is anywhere from 20 to 100 years, depending on a number of factors such as: the quality of the discs, the quality of the writing drive or manufacturing process as well storage conditions. Disc Rot causes CDs, DVDs or other types of optical discs to become unreadable, due to physical or chemical deterioration (it is caused by oxidation of the reflective layer on the disc, physical scuffing or scratches to the disc surface, reactions with contaminants or the de-bonding of the adhesive used to adhere the different layers of the disc together due to age or possibly other factors).
You most likely have - let me set the scene, so there you are, happily going about your business, saving the day in your favourite game to find that all of a sudden your game freezes up! It's possible that the console reset itself back to the home screen?
Hey, it happens, bugs crop up from time to time. You pass it off as a one time issue, you reload the game continuing on from where you left off, only to find it happens again.
What the hell?! Sound familiar at all?
Now it could be that the disc is a bit scratched or in the case of another console which suffers heat related random resets. Yes, I’m looking at you Dreamcast. I’m not for a minute suggesting this is the only reason for encountering these types of issues but, what if this time, the cause of your frustration is in fact caused by the dreaded CD based plague?
Unfortunately, disc rot is a very real issue, I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with it on several occasions, some more severe than others. =(
My first encounter happened while playing Sonic Jam on the trusty Sega Saturn. I was happily reading through the history section on our favourite blue hedgehog, while exploring Sonic’s 3D world, when the console decided to reset itself, so, I reloaded the game to find the same thing happened - in the exact same spot.
So now I know what might be causing the issue, I needed to check if I was correct and it is disc rot I am dealing with. The simplest way to find out, is to shine a bright light through the disc while looking at the reflective side, rotating the disc as you go along. What you are looking for is tiny little pin holes of light which shine through. If it is bad enough, it may be much larger than pin sized holes, discolouration is also another sign, also known as CD bronzing.
If you happen to find these little pin holes, then unfortunately it has already begun. The disc has essentially lost a small fragment of data so when the console attempts to read the information, the data isn’t available and you get the aforementioned effects, where the console doesn’t know what to do and resets. It could possibly freeze or stutter, then continue on playing the game if you are very lucky.
A worse example of this, was when I finally managed to buy a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga, I was so excited, it was by far the most I had ever spent on a video game, when it arrived I was ecstatic, the condition was excellent, the sleeve was present and I was ready to start my adventure. I popped the disc in, loaded the game up and began to watch the opening cutscene with anticipation.
A short time later, the game resets and I see the home screen show up. NO! Don’t tell me, I load it up again hoping it was just a one time thing, to find it happen again. So I skip the first cut scene hoping for it to continue on, which it did for a short time before finally happening once again. Finally I had to check, not a few seconds after I start shining the light, I start seeing a few rays of light shining through what look like pin sized holes in the disc. I can’t explain the disappointment of spending so much on the game to find out it is basically worthless. I contacted the seller and explained the situation, luckily he did accept the return and I got a full refund, minus the return shipping cost, which all things considered, wasn’t so bad.
I couldn’t bring myself to purchase another copy after that for the worry of it happening again, after all if it had happened to one I couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t affect another copy.
It's important to note, that if any of your discs are suffering from disc rot, there's nothing you can do. The effects are irreversible and unfortunately it will just degrade further as time goes on.
I would bet that anyone with any sort of CD based console collection, particularly older disc based systems, Mega CD / Sega CD, PS1 Saturn etc will have instances of disc rot. I’ve heard Metal Gear Solid the Twin Snakes on GameCube is very susceptible.
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into the issue and may prove to be of help to some other collectors out there.