Will next-gen consoles kill off retro gaming?

This article was written by Alex Blake, one of our lovely contributors. For more information on this writer or if you’d like to get involved yourself, take a look at our Contributors page.

With the advent of the Xbox One and the PS4 and the photorealistic experience they bring, has the death knell of retro gaming finally been sounded? Not a chance, says guest writer Alex Blake.

Title - Will next gen consoles finally kill off retro gaming

Next gen consoles have been somewhat hogging the limelight recently, with every man and his dog ruminating on which one to buy, what the best games will be and comparing them head-to-head. The gaming blogosphere is riding a wave of zealous excitement like a kid at Christmas, deconstructing the consoles and everything about them with admirable vigour. It’s all rather overwhelming.

The question that no one seems to be asking, however, is what impact the new consoles will have on retro gaming. To put it bluntly, will they kill it off? There are those who would say there is a perfectly good reason for this lack of curiosity: no-one plays retro games any more, they argue, those things died a death years ago. Well, not quite.

Could modern consoles finally bring an end to retro gaming? Image credit: Rebecca Pollard.

Could modern consoles finally bring an end to retro gaming?

Though far from the peak days of the 1990s, games systems like the N64 or GameBoy Color have found something of a niche in nostalgic adults re-enacting their childhoods and young students re-imagining their own. Thomas Amato owns retro gaming store Super Tomato in Cardiff and says that he usually does very well off such a clientèle. “It’s insane,” he says. “We can put up an N64 with Mario Kart on the shelf and thirty minutes later it’ll be gone.”

Yet he states his belief that within the next generation of consoles, hard copy media will completely disappear, marking an end to the time of physical CDs and cartridges. If this comes to pass, experiencing the world of retro gaming as it existed in the past will become increasingly difficult.

Retro games store owner Thomas Amato believes hard copy media will soon die out. Image credit: Torley.

Retro games store owner Thomas Amato believes hard copy media will soon die out.

And to many that’s not a problem. Expectations have risen and the clunky, pixelated graphics of the N64 and its ilk have never looked more out of place. You’d have a hard time pushing a 1080p television to its limits when playing on a SNES, for example. In a world of photorealistic gaming and deeply immersive content, the cut-out styling of Donkey Kong can seem more archaic than classic to some.

Yet even if cartridges and CDs become a thing of the past, that will not mark the end of Mario, Link and friends. While the halcyon, mass-selling days of the actual retro consoles are long gone, the games themselves live on in the new era on platforms such as Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. Some are near carbon copies of the original, whilst others have been remade for the twenty-first century, but any gamer feeling the tug of nostalgia or the draw of curiosity can re-enact the highs and lows of Banjo Kazooie or Nights into Dreams on their modern console. Modern gamers may not have a Sega Saturn to hand, but they can still experience the fabled games from this era without having to fork out for a new console. The desire to play these games – whether it is from older, nostalgic gamers or new players looking for a retro thrill – is evidently still alive and kicking.

Banjo Kazooie has been re-released for the Xbox One. Image credit: Justin Taylor.

Banjo Kazooie has been re-released for the Xbox One.

And it’s not as if the cost of a retro console will discourage people from taking the plunge. If a gamer can afford a £400+ next-generation console then it is likely they would be willing to shell out £50 for an N64 and an armful of games. The rarest and most collectible games will be costly, but favourites like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario 64 are cheap and accessible.

Darran Jones, editor of Retro Gamer magazine, rightly points out that not all retro gaming is cheap: “Nintendo released games in cardboard boxes,” he states. “They look amazing but they offer poor protection, making boxed versions of certain games insanely expensive.” However, for the casual gamer who is not looking for a collectable, the savings over the console behemoths of today is striking.

Some retro games can be expensive, but many are far cheaper than their next gen equivalents.

Some retro games can be expensive, but many are far cheaper than their next-gen equivalents.

And there’s the simple concern of longevity. An N64 from almost twenty years ago can still have as much zest and lifeblood as when it was first released – will the same be said of the Xbox One or PS4 in twenty years’ time? Microsoft and Sony spend huge sums convincing people to upgrade their consoles, and the lack of support for older machines suggests that next-generation consoles could be rather useless in a couple of decades.

In contrast, some old school games are justly acknowledged as classics, and Amato believes there will always be a market for them. He likens them to celebrated films or must-read books, arguing: “There will always be an appetite for people to experience those things again.” That people are returning to these games decades after their initial release speaks volumes for the endurance and vitality of titles from this bygone era and for retro gaming as a whole.

Retro games have found a niche and a dedicated following.

Retro games have found a niche and a dedicated following.

So despite the entire media furore for the latest round of glitzy, hi-tech consoles, don’t discount their retro brethren just yet. Far from being destroyed, they have found a new home in the twenty-first century, living on to find a new generation of fans and admirers.

You wouldn’t know it from reading the blogosphere. But then again, you can’t believe everything you read.

This article was written by Alex Blake, one of our lovely contributors. For more information on this writer or if you’d like to get involved yourself, take a look at our Contributors page.

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6 responses to “Will next-gen consoles kill off retro gaming?

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. Retro gaming is never going away. While physical media may become a thing of the past, with GoG.com for PC games bringing you the oldies but goodies (and not so goodies) and Nintendo’s Virtual Console doing the same for their console classics, I think retro gaming will instead get stronger than ever.

    There are also plenty of collectors wishing to have these media in their physical form, so a small dedicated group will still go for the physical media.

    I think as developers keep churning out more style over substance games, pretty but shallow, people will turn back to the classics of each genre, those that looked well enough in their time, or even ugly as hell even by those standards, but that offered an amazingly compelling and deep experience.

  2. Well written :) I have to confess to detesting the phrase ‘retro-gaming’. Would you call a Beatles album, or Star Wars ‘retro’? The phrase implies irrelevance and imitation and it irks me like you wouldn’t believe.

    Games, like all media, should be assessed in the context in which they were released. Mario Kart on the SNES is just as relevant as Mario Kart on the 3DS. I don’t believe any game is ‘retro’.

    Do I think people will want to play games that were released years ago? Of course. It’s the same with films and music. Unfortunately, film and music is (generally) a much easier medium to reproduce. The difference in architecture in the Xbox One and PS4 means games released today on the PS3 and 360 can’t run on the newest machines. You can bet a CD player bought today will play a CD from 20 years ago (hard to believe they’re that old!).

    This is where the practicalities of it come into it – how many people realistically have space for a dozen different consoles and all of the physical games? Not too many I’d wager. Then there’s the cost and difficulty in sourcing games. It makes it an unweildy and messy thing. Games companies are alive to it and that’s why Sony release old Playstation and PSP games and Nintendo have their virtual console but they’ll only do so if they can turn a profit.

    What’s the answer? I don’t know, but I think GaiKai and streaming is a step in the right direction. That way you won’t have to worry about having the hardware or physical media, you can just stream over the internet.

    You could probably play Mario Kart on the SNES, followed by the Gamecube and then onto the N64 version. Job done.

    The answer to your question around whether the new wave of consoles will kill off people playing old games, is in my opinion, no they won’t. But only if they can work out a distribution model that’s effective for both the games company and the player..

  3. There’s no chance of retro gaming going anywhere any time soon. The e-shops make good cash reselling digital versions of the same classics over and over. Ebay is full of people selling old stuff (in some cases for silly money) and not to mention the popularity of indie titles that emulate games from yesteryear.


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