With every game release, a bond is formed. That association is between a game and its console, or consoles if we’re talking multi-platform. It was an association felt far more strongly over a decade ago. Halo is as identifiable with the Xbox as GoldenEye 64 was with the Nintendo 64. Games have a lifespan, and that lifetime was that of the host console. When a console reaches retirement all the games on it go down with the ship as outdated artifacts. That was the deal. Game over.
The association between games and the system they ran on was mutually recognizable and in a sense symbiotic. Particularly for third party developed games contracted to a set system. This was certainly the case in the late 80s and 90s, and the industry has seen echoes of this practice taper off slowly ever since. This is an odd quirk unique to games. Imagine they just stopped releasing Star Wars for home release in 1998, just because retail had widely switched to DVDs and VHS tapes were history. Or imagine the Beatles’ discography was deleted for all eternity once vinyl died and cassette decks too over.
It’s always been the advancing of new console technology that has made it excusable to leave what came before behind. For years it was unheard of for console companies to address old games, why would they? Why would consumers want to play some pixely polka-dot side scroller when they can have a near perfect polygon rendered world set in 360 degrees? Now publishers are asking something very contradictory of what they once asked of gamers, they’re asking – why not? Times, practices and attitudes have had to change dramatically over the last 10 years and now games once forgotten commonly make a comeback in their retro glory, on new systems.
Sega’s MegaDrive/Genesis flag bearer Sonic the Hedgehog from 1991 can be played on every current gen console (through either download shops or as part of Sonic Generations), iOS and android platforms as well as in 3D on the Nintendo 3DS alongside the original 1981 Donkey Kong, Xevious, Excite Bike and other treasured relics. It’s a golden age for retro gamers. The new frontier for classic games, however, is not traditional handhelds, but phones. Just like a library of classic books or favorite records you can have an iconic games collection on the go. Phone gamers are also an emerging market of newcomers and practically everyone has a phone these days.
There’s a bunch of reasons for this trend, but it isn’t solely down to companies doing the extra for the fans. Less lucrative games can make a loss and retro games are comparatively niche. However they’re cheaper to publish and have little to no development to bank making the sales risk worthwhile. There’s also no ignoring the significant financial steps made in mobile gaming when you consider cinemas are staring down the barrel of an Angry Birds movie of all unholy things.
Atari, Midway, Hudson Turbografx, SNK Playmore, Rockstar, Sega, Konami, Namco and others have made Android and iOS a viable platform for retro gaming. Two developers who have been notably prolific in this area are Capcom and Square-Enix. In the case of Capcom and Squeenix, both firms have suffered huge losses over the years and can make bank with strategic mobile re-releases.
After failing console sales (recently with Resident Evil 6, DmC, Remember ME and Lost Planet 3) Capcom has been forced to unload half of its work force in the US and UK. In terms of what’s next, the return of Strider needs to be a return to form and hit the right notes with fans after Bionic Commando, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry and Lost Planet made suicidally polarizing swerves in directions and potential 3DS system seller Mega Man Legends 3 was bizarrely axed.
With absolutely no Mega Man love from Capcom it’s quite telling that a Kickstarter for a retro tinted spiritual successor like Mighty No. 9 (from the Megaman creator Keiji Inafune no less) can raise $3,845,170 of a $900,000 goal and find 62,226 backers. That’s the power of nostalgia and identifying with your audience. It wouldn’t be unfounded to expect to see more of a mobile presence and more re-releases from Capcom in the future
Square-Enix faced similar issues after it’s worrying financial report in March ousted president Yoichi Wada. The house of chocobo have this past week announced that Final Fantasy VI will be joining Final Fantasy I,II,III,IV and the upcoming Final Fantasy IV: The After Years remake on iOS and Android this winter with more than a subtle hint that VII will also be making the bill.
The team is casting a Phoenix-down on many much loved games in the lucrative series (naming the timed releases; The Legacy Final Fantasy Collection), which have otherwise been sitting on a database somewhere at S-E towers getting dusty. They should have done it years ago. Admittedly many of these games have been ported in the past but it’s the mobile market that matters most right now. Remastering classics to a slightly crisper look on a 1 year development time scale should work cost-effectively for them. Keeping in mind these are life devouring RPGs it’s interesting to think many gamers will literally be playing those games over a longer time than it took to re-home them.
With no mobile platform, Nintendo’s 30p Famicom eShop celebration was the big N throwing its Mario hat in the retro re-release ring. Nintendo has also struggled particularly with Wii U sales and used older games to plaster the cracks in the wall. This week Nintendo announced that the Wind Waker HD sales had created a staggering 685% system sales rise in the UK. That is something Capcom, S-E and others may ignore at their peril.
Companies need to make money and are doing this by selling what’s proven to be popular, or something like it. Inadvertently, this necessary cash grab by a kneeling industry has given gamers more choice and access to older games than they would not easily (or legally) have had, had the financial difficulties not happened.
There’s no reason for a good game to die out anymore. Even though sequels and reboots will outdate and obscure earlier entries, young gamers can get a hold of classics on a current games system or phone with the encouragement of the games market rather than the familiar diversion towards something newer and more costly. It’s never been a better time for old school gamers or for kids to grow up playing all kinds of games, old or new games, the world is their console. It’s about time.