History repeating itself

Ben Parfitt
History repeating itself
It’s natural to look upon the past fondly. We do it all the time, convinced that TV, crime rates and international political stability of the past is preferable than the dreary present we are faced with. Everyone who played video games years ago can also be guilty of this – but perhaps there is more to it than mere wistful reminiscing.

For retailers, an acknowledgement of the games of yesteryear is more important than the incremental sales they might receive from classic consoles and games (though this can be an extra source of revenue). If done well, it is about promoting a culture of gaming – providing a richer experience than the sterile top ten-shifting nature of the nation’s supermarkets.

“We have a prominent retro section in each of our stores,” says Nik Agar, joint MD of CHIPS. “It covers all the eight and 16 bit consoles, Master System, NES Mega Drive, NEO GEO, Nokia N-Gage – any of the old formats really. I think for specialist stores retro sections can be a draw, something to bring people in. People will know that you stock them so they’ll look in their attics and bring in old stuff to trade. It does have the secondary effect of bringing in more business, as well as actually bringing more stock in.”

Editor of Retro Gamer Darran Jones argues that retailers need to do more if they’re to make the most out of this increasingly important trend.  

“It needs to be done much better than it is now. The biggest problem I notice in most stores is that they simply don’t make these classics desirable enough for the average consumer to want to actually look at, let alone buy. Where’s the little notice saying why you should buy this classic slice of gaming history? Independents are obviously better and tend to push older titles more, but generally there’s still a long way to go in order to make the average gamer know that there’s much, much more to gaming then the latest PS3, 360 and Wii games.”

There is no doubting the widening rift between hardcore games such as Crysis or SOCOM compared to casual games such as Wii Sports or online offerings like Bejeweled. While the former will always have its fan base, the latter is a segment which is flying at the moment – with investment levels in online casual gaming set to smash the $40 million barrier this year, and support from a huge number of venture capitalists (MCV 03/08).

It could certainly be argued that modern casual games have much more in common with the older arcade style games of yesteryear in terms of graphics, ethos and gameplay. Coupled with the fact that, as well as the characters, the nature of games such as Tetris, R-Type or Bomberman are lodged in the public sub-consciousness, titles previously discarded could provide a veritable spring of inspiration for what is now one of the fastest growing and dynamic areas of the games industry.

“A lot of games are just getting more and more complicated and more in-depth,” adds CHIPS’ Agar. “Based on my own experiences I don’t have the available time to play a game through. I would much rather play one of the old games like Pac-Man or Galaxians or something because I only get 15-20 minutes at a time to play. I think we have to keep very much in sight that not everyone wants to play on a 32 button pad.”

Retro Gamer’s Jones agrees: “There are plenty of lessons that can be learned from the past, yet amazingly, our industry often appears to ignore them. Indeed, one of the saddest things I find about the industry today is that unless there’s a potential to make a quick buck, some companies – not all mind – don’t appear to care about the heritage that got them to where they are today.”

In an era when even such a mainstream body such as the BBC is championing the lessons that can be learned from the video games industry at this year’s Edinburgh festival, it might be time for us all to take a closer look at our roots.

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