Friday, 8 July 2011

A resurgence of retro?

Is the games industry having a bit of a retro revival, or is it just maturing and diversifying?

I’ve decided to look at the popularity of newer retro-styled games like Braid, Galaxy Wars, and the latest incarnations of old staples, like Space Invaders Infinity Gene, Pac-Man Championship Edition, or Sonic 4. 
These are just the tip of the ice-burg as far as retro-type games are concerned nowadays. Look through Xbox Live or PSN and you are sure to dig up numerous examples of both new games based on retro gaming styles and concepts, and re-released or new versions of the well-known older franchises. But this isn’t a new thing. One of the first types of software released for practically any of the new platforms are the retro-compilations.

My first question was, “why are they being made?” And the rather obvious answer was, “because they are still commercially viable and popular.”
But why are they popular?
And who is buying them?

First of all I’d like to say this is possibly the most un-scientific look at this you are likely to read. All my conclusions are based of my conversations with people and on what I’ve read on forums. I have deliberately not stepped within a hundred meters of a poll or any form of statistics, because polls are based on peoples interpretation of a specific question, and statistics can be made to show anything!
Hearsay, musings, and unfounded opinion… that’s the way to go when you want to get to the root of why people like or do things, right?

So, to the first question: why are they popular?
For the older gamer nostalgia can play a part in it, and I have heard some people say they actively look for a version of  their favourite older games on each new console they buy, and emulate them if necessary. But this attitude seems to be confined to a pretty, hard-core and techno savvy, retro-head niche minority.
The nostalgia thing appears to appeal to a much wider audience though, and almost looks to be part of the new casual-gamer phenomenon.  And that is a direct result of the mainstreaming of the games industry. People who are not hard-core gamers are buying things they remember from their childhood or teens. It also leads nicely on to a possible reason for the popularity of the other type of new but retro-related games. These are the retro-styled games like Braid. Simplicity is often stated as one of the major appeals of these games. And it’s easy to see why. They are easy to pick up and understand. The good ones can become very addictive quickly. They can be played for short periods of time and it’s easy to ‘get back into’ if you stop playing for any amount of time. So they don’t take any effort to play and understand, or take a huge amount of time away from your life! Just like the most popular new Wii and DS titles… Hmm, and we may be on to something there. You could just see the bods at Microsoft and Sony rubbing their collective chins in thought, or is it just me?
The appeal of these games runs the gauntlet of both casual and retro gamers as well as appealing to a fair amount of younger gamers. And I have to admit to being a bit predigest about the younger gamer, and for that I would like to apologise. Indeed it does appear that a rather significant proportion of younger people can see past the graphics to the benefits of ‘retro’ games and they have taken to the ‘classic’ game-play of things like Braid, Galaxy Wars, and VVVVVV, amongst many others. Some of the comments and insights I’ve heard have often seemed wise beyond their years, and by no means have all been taken in by the latest hype. Hay, I’m getting good at this linking thing, because that brings us neatly to question two. Do you remember what that was?

Question two: who is buying them?
Answer, a lot of very different people. And that my friend is an advertiser’s wet-dream!
There are a lot of informed and uninformed gamers out there now. With no disrespect, the casual-gamers tend to be les informed, but they purchase things they recognises, which are simple to pick up and play games, the retro and retro-styled genus fits in with this model perfectly.
There are also very informed gamers of all ages out there. So both Jenny junior and Johnny senior have developed an instinctive buls#!+ detector, and aren’t taken in by the latest spin for ‘Supper Fantastic Not At All Like The last 5000 Games FPS Shooter’ or ‘Cute Character Party Games part 5,000,000.’ They know about game-play and yes, they may have their favourite FPS or 3D third-person series that they will buy, but they are generally discerning customers. And they know when something is good, no matter what the superficial looks are like.

Basically the older style of games; especially the side-on platformers, beat-em-ups, and the vertical or horizontal scrolling SHMIUPS; have that compulsive one-more-go lure in spades. They are also easy to pick up and don’t take an inordinate amount of time to play. Not to mention substantially cheaper than the latest FPS blockbuster. This can be seen as casual gaming, but many do have a surprising depth that can become compulsive, they have a quick hook that the sprawling cinematic and complicated modern games very often lack. I think the market has already begun to realise that this is a very big and commercial market, and with hardware becoming more casual-gamer friendly I can see the gaming horizons opening up again to incorporate an ever-widening spectrum of styles. We may be moving out of the era where only the standard 3D FPS was seen as a sure-thing or safe-bet. I don’t think these types of games will dominate the market into the future. Although I concede that it is currently still by far the most popular.
This isn’t all just my opinion. It’s the conclusion I’ve come to by listening to and reading what other people have to say as well.

So is your opinion any different?

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