Video games have gotten a steady rise in popularity since the Magnavox Odyssey was first created in 1972. Games that were created between 1970 and 1989 are typically considered ‘retro games’. Titles of this era had somewhat would be “simple” graphics by today’s standards.
While there are brand new titles with polished graphics coming out, “retro games” still hold a place in the hearts of all gamers.
Despite the multitude of AAA titles being released left and right, people are still faithful to the retro genre. Some might say it is the simplicity of the graphics and the story, but others may argue that it is something much deeper. It is not simply mindless “vegging out” when it comes to retro titles.
If there is something deeper that draws players, then it is likely something worth looking into.
These days, the median age for gamers today is 27 to 34, meaning most gamers today are familiar with decades-old titles. And if players of adult age are sticking to familiar ground, perhaps there is something in the way they are made and advertised to their users.
Is there some sort of magic to retaining players for so long?
The Nostalgia Factor
Current generation games are indeed great fun. But there always seems to be something missing from them. Does their replay value seem to suffer for some weird reason? It is entirely possible that people go back to retro games to play because of their age.
It isn’t just about playing an old game for the avid retro fan. Popping one of these games into a class system does something that modern-day games struggle with. Whether a player hears the start music or sees the cartridge sticker, it brings back a flood of emotions and memories.
Retro games were released in an era that brought it significant attention. Many families came together to play with these new ‘toys,’ thus allowing families more bonding time.
The revival of the Old Consoles
There are now dozens of ways to play retro games to play like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Seizing the opportunity, many console developers re-released their systems in a “classic” mini form.
Despite the NES Classic having a limited number of titles, it did not stop retro gamers from buying them up in less than four months. Some people stricken with a touch of greed bought up multiple units in an attempt to upsell them.
How Do Modern Games Benefit from Retro Nostalgia
For modern-day games, there seems to be a “formula” for attracting and retaining players. But even if guidelines are strictly followed, it does not automatically spell success. So how to modern developers like Respawn Entertainment and Epic Games keep their players interested?
Retro games had no need for special events because they were so iconic. There was a character, a short story, and a clear goal to get to the very end. It sounds simpler in theory than in practice. One of the biggest details about many old-school retro games were the 2D aspect.
How to Benefit from 2D
2D is not a format that many developers currently use. But some of the best retro games I’ve played were in this format. Despite the advances in technology, a project team with a good storyline could pull it off with almost no problems.
Dex, for example, was a 2D game created using the Unity engine to create it. It was a two-dimensional world set in a cyberpunk future. Likely inspired by Cyberpunk 2020, it did not need three dimensions to get the story told.
What players (myself included) would like to see, are project teams that can do more with less. If there were more focus on story, like with 2D titles, then perhaps 3D titles would gain more traction with fans.
Focus on the Story
No one likes to play a video game with a one-dimensional story. Sure, there are platform titles with a single end objective. Such games, though, are clearly meant to be played in a short time. But when a game touts something like “12 intense-action packed levels,” far more is expected by those buying the title.
I’ve played games with such tag lines and was severely disappointed. Not only did the storyline feel incomplete, but it felt like the writers went with the first thing they had written on paper.
Noises and Puzzles Important Too
I asked my mother-in-law what she liked specifically. Her answers were: Pac-Man and Qbert. The biggest detail she loved about each were the noises that were part of the games. Whether it was the ghosts or Qbert dying, the noises made it more enjoyable.
The puzzles that Qbert provided were also interesting as well. Just when you think you have the necessary pattern down, the stage itself changes direction on you.
One must ensure that the noises are both believable and appropriate for a scene. The noises should match up and mesh completely with the events unfolding. We’ve all seen our share of either terribly dubbed audio or audio that was too late for lip movement.
As for the puzzles, they should be challenging without being mind-numbingly frustrating. This is one detail that the Pokémon has made sure to keep in all its installments.
What I Would Like to See
It is not easy for players to contact developers and share their gripes with the studio. What they can do is voice their concerns when the opportunity arises. Many studios nowadays will start pages to gain feedback from the fan base for things to improve, build on, or completely remove altogether.
I would love to see the majority of player feedback taken seriously. It’s not so much about the project being completely taken over by players. Players simply want to feel included in the project. This is something that almost all retro games knew to do well.
How do you feel about retro games? Is there something to learn or should we simply forget them?