Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as the old joke goes. People get nostalgic about all sorts of things, and psychologists have written tomes that attempt to explain some of the reasons. There’s always been a market for retro, whether it is in the clothes we wear, the cars we drive or the music we listen to. But over the past year or two it has become clear that you can add the games we play to that list. 

Retro gaming has never been more popular. Right at the moment when games are entering a new dawn in terms of social capability, open-world possibilities and immersive technology such as VR, the likes of Mario, Sonic and even Jet Set Willy continue to have an enduring appeal. But what is behind the craze for these clunky old games, and how is the industry reacting to it?

A maturing industry

To understand why retro gaming has become so popular now, it is worth comparing it with the classic and retro car scene. Back in the 1980s, a retro ride was, perhaps a car from the 1950s or earlier. Today, those cars still have their enthusiasts, but there are also plenty of people who drive, restore and cherish cars from the 1980s.

Cars have been around since the 1880s, so the retro scene has had a chance to develop. But home computers and game consoles are a phenomenon that hit the mainstream less than 40 years ago. Naturally, something needs time to mature before we can start getting nostalgic about it. The age of retro gaming is finally upon us. 

And maturing gamers

It’s not just the games that are getting older, but also the people who play them. 30 years ago, you would have seen very few over-30s picking up the controller of a Sega Genesis. Today, the average gamer is 34 years old. Of course that is going to influence the types of games that are popular.

Let’s look at those classic cars again. In the 1990s, a sports sedan from the mid-70s was the car of choice for a young driver out to impress. It looked and sounded cool, but with 15 years wear and tear, was attainable for coins. A quarter of a century on, any of those same cars that have survived are valuable classics. But look at the people driving them. These guys and girls in late middle age are those self-same people who had identical cars when they first hit the road in their high school years. 

Meeting the needs of the changing market

There’s more going on here than a simple matter of people in their 40s and 50s wanting to feel like 14-year-olds, however. The fact that gaming itself is now entering its fifth decade means it is an accepted part of life and leisure. There are game genres that are specifically aimed at adult gamers, and the smartest developers will incorporate retro gaming aspects to tap into feelings of nostalgia in their target audience.

The obvious example here is in the online casino sector. A casino represents the archetypal “gaming for grown-ups” and in new pokies online you will see plenty of slot games that feature retro classics from the likes of Sega and Nintendo scattered across the various online casino platforms. For example, the Street Fighter 2 slot game has been one of the most talked-about releases of 2020, while even our old friend Luigi has his own slot game called the Super Mario Slot.

A retro renaissance with skill-based gaming

The connection between retro games and casinos, both online and in the real world, is potentially something that is only in its infancy. A change of rules by the Nevada Gaming Commission has opened the door to skill-based gaming, overturning a long-standing regulation that slot games must be at least 96 percent down to chance. 

The possibilities for game developers are practically endless. The new rules have come at a perfect time given the interest in seeing the best gamers showing off their skills in the eSport world. Yet the first round of skill-based games to hit the casino floors, both virtual and otherwise, have focused on retro classics. 

On the face of it, this might seem a curious choice. With the majority of casino gamers in their 40s and above, there is a strong desire to come up with new gaming activities that will appeal to millennials. So why base them on arcade classics that were released before they were even born? 

The point is that everyone knows how to play Space Invaders, Frogger or Pac Man. Existing casino customers will enjoy the familiarity, while even millennials who have never played these old games before will pick them up in a matter of seconds. 

Recreating the classics

Incorporating nods to those old classics into games that will appeal to adults is a smart and subtle way for developers to leverage the retro gaming craze. But some have taken a more direct approach. Nintendo started it in 2016 when with the release of the NES Classic Edition. Cynics had their doubts as to whether the nostalgia factor was strong enough to convince gamers to part with their hard-earned money for a piece of retro gaming kit, but the first run of 2.3 million units sold out in just 12 weeks. 

Unsurprisingly, others were quick to follow. Sony released the PlayStation Classic just in time for Christmas 2018, and you can be sure that most of the recipients of that particular gift were well past 30. A year later, the Sega Genesis Mini (or Mega Drive Mini outside the USA) joined the fray. Each of these emulated the glorious days of 16 bit gaming, but in a smaller package and with the games pre-loaded.

Retro gaming is here to stay. And as the decades go by, it will become as rich and varied as the classic car scene, with enthusiasts focusing on different eras. We can also be sure that the game developers will be on hand to service this increasingly important and lucrative gaming niche.  

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