Video games are a massive multi-billion dollar industry these days. But it wasn’t always this way. Some might say it has become all about the money. Given the past few years of terrible AAA games we have had to endure, this might be true, as publishers seem to no longer respect the consumer. Maybe this is why the appeal of retro video games appears to be drawing people back to the classics; in 2023, more than 70% of games played were over six years old!

The Fun of Classic Nostalgia
If old games are one thing, it is fun! Some of the earliest games on home consoles such as Atari, ZX Spectrum and Amiga were digital takes on classics like Chess. Today, you can play intelligent games such as Mahjong and Chess on your phone. But back in the day, there was so much fun to be had gathered with friends and family playing a video game. Most games were developed with fun in mind, and not about cash-ins! Should we mention Atari’s E.T video game?

They Don’t Make them Like This Anymore!
Modern video games are astoundingly challenging to make. Large AAA productions such as Starfield cost hundreds of millions and take almost a decade to “finish”. Retro games were made with passion and offered tons of fun with just enough of a challenge to keep you there:

  • Tetris was bland compared to other games but was addictive because of the challenge.
  • Super Mario Bros. took side-scrollers to a whole new level in fidelity and tone.
  • Later in the 1990s, Metal Gear Solid reinvented gaming and created a new genre.

Even a game about moving blocks into positions became the best selling video game of all time, and still sells well today. But it was games with characters like Mario that helped video games really take off. As they matured, games like Metal Gear opened them up to new audiences.

The Physical Appeal of Retro Video Games
Modern games have truly evolved and most don’t even come in physical form today. This somewhat degrades the appeal in favor of convenience. In 2023, 95% of video game sales were through digital services such as PlayStation Store. Older games are of course physical, and we feel more connected to something tangible we can hold in our hands. Most video gamers are also collectors, further boosting the appeal of older games as a challenge.

There’s Something About the Design
Games are not made the same way as they used to be. There are classic design elements that were used as a necessity that helped shape some of our favorite games. For example, Pac-Man’s distinctive shape was inspired by an eaten pizza, but also because of the memory limitations of early machines. And games legend Shigeru Miyamoto once admitted that Mario has a huge mustache because he couldn’t draw faces! We don’t see these quirks anymore!

The Classics are Re-Invented
A true classic never really goes away. Even today, franchises such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros. and even Mortal Kombat are as big as they have ever been. All of these have spawned billion dollar franchises with millions of fans, and have even become pop culture icons. Today, many of the older games we love are reinvented and reused as inspiration for new games by new developers. Or even rebooted by their original teams and new studios.

The Financial Appeal of Retro Video Games
Retro gaming is big business. Like comic books and literature, perfect copies of some of the most beloved video games can fetch serious money at auction. If you are in doubt about how much some of these games mean to people, just take a look at the auction sales prices:

  • A perfect, sealed copy of Super Mario 64 was sold for $1.56 million.
  • A 1987 copy of The Legend of Zelda fetched $870,000.
  • An original NES copy of Super Mario Bros. auctioned off for $720,000.
  • There was another copy of Super Mario Bros. that sold for $492,000.
  • An EA copy of John Madden Football for Genesis sold at auction for $480,000.
  • An original 1991 copy of Sonic the Hedgehog went for $360,000 at auction.
  • Another SNES classic, Super Mario World was sold to a bidder for $360,000.

Most of the top-selling retro games at auction are influential 1980’s games such as Super Mario Bros. However, that doesn’t mean newer games aren’t worth anything. Who knows, maybe in thirty years, that copy of Fallout 3 you have sealed in a vacuum might be worth something!

The Challenge of a Classic Game
As games become more wondrous and appealing, they also become more technically challenging for developers. Engines such as Unreal Engine 5 are making things easier. But the reverse is true of retro games. Retro games were much easier to create by today’s standards. But they offered a challenge to the player. And it is the challenge that keeps us coming back. This is evident of modern games such as Bloodborne, Elden Ring and Stellar Blade.

Parent and Child Bonding
Before Mortal Kombat, almost all marketed retro games were deemed child-friendly. This is one reason why many of them are still appealing today. Classic consoles such as the NES and SEGA Genesis are available in mini versions today, preloaded with tons of classic games. This is a little dip in the ocean of nostalgia for parents who grew up playing these games. And they can bond with their kids sharing the same experiences that they had at the same age.

The Historical Appeal of Retro Video Games
Whether you love them or loathe them, video games are a part of our history. You may remember Space Invaders and Asteroids! But the first game was actually created at MIT in 1962, and was named Space War. This was a technical leap for the PDP-1 at the time, and it took until the end of the decade for games to see commercial success. As a historical device, games have contributed to modern VFX (Mo-Cap) and how movies were made later.

Iconic Characters We Can’t Forget
The entire history of video games right up until right now is littered with memorable characters. Today, we might think of Master Chief, Lara Croft and Ellie and Joel. But there are iconic characters from retro games that have become ingrained in every facet of popular culture:

  • Pac-Man is undoubtedly the king of iconic retro video game characters.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has spawned a billion dollar franchise in movies and TV.
  • The Super Mario Bros. still enjoys huge video game sales even today in 2024.

Of course, there are way more than these, many from the same franchises. But icons like Pac-Man are somewhat branded into cultural consciousness in the same way as other famous faces such as Michael Jackson. In short, they are fan favorites and are very much here to stay!

Future Prospects from Viewing the Past
It is said that we should look to the past to redeem our future. This is wide open for debate, but one thing’s for sure, we always learn from the past; good or bad! The pioneering developers of past game development such as Toru Iwatani, Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima still inspire young developers today. The industry has lost its way over the past few years, and there are various reasons. Perhaps some time soon, developers will look back for inspiration once more.

If only for pure nostalgia, there is a massive appeal of retro video games. However, most people who buy them are Gen-Z and younger Millennials. Maybe it’s because of the financial incentive, as some sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Either way, young developers can learn from the pioneers who brought us classic games like Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. and Metal Gear.