Commentary

Retro Game Market Booms

Way back when the PS3 and Xbox 360 were first launched, one of the big sticking points with each of the console's fanbases was the missing or incomplete backwards compatibility available to each system. This is not really an issue that anybody talks about anymore -- prior to the launch of the 360 and the PS3, it wasn't clear how thoroughly downloadable content would take the place of backwards compatibility. Taking a look at the top-selling Xbox Live Marketplace titles of 2008, half of them are titles that were available for older platforms, and only a handful are truly original titles, with "Braid" and "Castle Crashers" two notable examples.

So it's safe to say that the respective marketplaces for the PS3 and the Xbox 360 have taken up the role that backwards compatibility once occupied -- offering gamers the option to fire up retro titles and play the games that resonated in their youth (or at least that resonated four to five years ago). The fact that "Super Street Fighter II" Turbo HD Remix, a graphical update of a game that's been out for more than a decade, is #6 on the list of top-selling Xbox Live Arcade games, shows that the market for retro games is alive, well, and even growing. As a business decision, this makes a huge amount of sense for Microsoft and Sony -- why sink development dollars into consoles that can play older titles when you can save that money, and sell older titles back to your users, through your digital distribution system?

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The demand for retro-gaming can be a boon to marketers, as well. Advergame development is hard and costly to do right -- the game mechanics have to be engaging but not too complex and the subject matter has to be promotional but not over-the-top shilling. But older-generation console and PC games provide a rich source of inspiration for casual gaming that marketers can tap for concepts. As an added bonus, the familiar themes and gameplay mechanics can appeal to fans of those past classics. A great example is the faux-"Oregon Trail" that Fall Out Boy recently released, which will scratch the nostalgia itch of any true gamer, and also incorporates modern game mechanics ("Guitar Hero"/"Rock Band," anyone?) with an old-school look and feel. The game is a vehicle to give away passes to the band's new North American tour, and incessantly plays songs from their latest albums, meaning that it's hard to escape a play session without being exposed at least a little bit to Fall Out Boy's music.

1 comment about "Retro Game Market Booms".
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  1. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, March 14, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.

    The trajectory of retro gaming is similar to that of casual gaming (no coincidence that the two are often one in the same). Why? Simple. Simplicity itself. While simplicity may be simple, it ain't easy. In fact, it's one of the hardest things in life to achieve. Look how many people fork over small fortunes to the self-help industry and still fail to find it.

    The gaming world is no exception. Hardcore gamers notwithstanding, the rest of us want something we can get into quickly and do easily. We want what everyone in the digital age has always longed for -- a product intuitive enough to be used sans instructions.

    As many in the tech world know, consumers are becoming increasingly technophobic. Retro products from plain black rotary phones to basic analog watches are burying their scarier, feature-laden brethren, and not just because buyers are on some nostalgic walkabout down memory lane. In point of fact, I would argue that the iPhone's success has been due more to its highly-intuitive interface than anything else, especially compared to the agonies of operating standard Java handsets. Sure, there are many cool new things you can do with the iPhone, but it's the way you do them that makes the difference.

    So, game developers of the world, stop confusing innovation with complication. Just KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) us if you love us, and trust me, we'll be sure to love you back.

    Christopher Payne-Taylor | Andover, MA

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