Fads come and go and what is old often becomes new again for the current generation to enjoy. Think of all the shoes, clothing and toys that have resurfaced over the decades. Years ago, technology was initially thought to be something that would likely not retain value because it was “disposable” plastic. Not to mention it becomes dated and/or obsolete so quickly as faster and more superior tech emerges.

But as the decades pass by, it turns out that isn't the case at all - consider Apple 1 computers made in 1976 now fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's just one example.

Then there are the video games. Now referred to as “classic” or “retro”, the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s games continue to live on and many people, old and young, are still enjoying them. For many of the older folks, it is a nostalgia thing, but even members of the younger set are catching on to to the appeal of some of these older games.

Girl playing Pac-Man
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

This was taken in 2012 at the National Museum of American History in 2012 when the exibit "The Art of Video Games" was in town. Lots of younger kids were playing classic games such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros.

Hanging Out in the Arcade

Skee-ball, pinball and a variety of other coin-operated games had long been popular, but when games began to transition to video, this literally opened up entirely new dimensions. During the 1970s suddenly video games began to emerge in bowling alleys, bars and other places where people hung out. They grew in popularity and eventually the video arcade became a popular business model in itself. No longer were machines scattered about on the floors of other businesses, they became the business.

Those of us who grew up in the era of video arcades which featured games such as Donkey Kong, Pac-Man (and his counterpart, Ms. Pac-Man), Asteroids, Space Invaders, Centipede and Frogger, likely remember the greatness of watching cartoon animation progress into two-way interaction. No more watching, it evolved into participation. Every quarter mattered for those kids who would flock to the arcades after school and on weekends.

Video game arcade
Credit: Sam Howzit via Flickr/CC by 2.0

However, while there are still video arcades today, mainly in malls, movie theatres and the such, those standalone arcades don’t exist the same way as they did in the heyday of the 1970s and 1980s. There are a number of reasons why this model declined, not to mention any, if not all, of the traditional arcade games eventually transitioned into a cartridge to be used for home consoles. And later on were further developed as mobile apps.

Tech Steadily Grows

As the popularity of video games grew, during the mid to late 1970s tech companies heavily went to work to develop consoles where people could play these games at home using their own machines. First came Pong (and its handball and tennis counterparts) along with a couple of shooter and driving games. During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, home gaming grew to become a multi-billion dollar industry (until the 1983 crash, but the market has since clearly recovered).  

Fast-forward to the 1990s, 2000s and beyond, games have become highly interactive and moving forward in light-speed in terms of progression. The line between humans and tech has steadily been blurring and it’s getting to the point where humans are playing an even more active role in the video game. A far cry from those early days when it was magnificent to have any interaction at all with animation. The industry has substantially grown as a multi-billion dollar industry (with substantial growth in mobile) into the tens of billions. Some project the U.S. games industry will grow to $19.6 billion by 2019. 3

Virtual reality
Credit: dronepicr via Flickr/CC by 2.0

What will video games of the future be like? However they evolve, chances are they won't have the simplicity those games of yesteryear had. 

Retro Games Making a Comeback

While games have seriously progressed in terms of features, clarity and overall superiority, these classic versions, even in their simplicity, are making a comeback. In recent years classic games became available from the iPhone app store, PlayStation Network, Xbox 306 Game Room, Wii’s Virtual Console, and of course, on various websites. It seems game creators are also bringing some of these oldies but goodies back dressed in the latest fashion.

Why the Resurgence?

Why is it so many developers bringing classic retro video games for a comeback? There are a number of reasons why retro video games have the potential to grow as a business, including:

Nostalgia: As people grow older, they tend to look back on the days of yesteryear. Those early video games connect to childhood or young adulthood. Many of those who experienced these games in their peak are either close to or have reached middle age – and nostalgia is a powerful pull. Keep in mind many of those in business selling the games are now old enough to be running the show in businesses. This also could contribute to the popularity of classic video games.

What’s Old is New: Gamers who never experienced these oldies but goodies view them as something new to try, perhaps intriguing because these are games they’ve heard of, but didn’t grow up playing. For them it’s a new experience of strategy, skills or meeting new “characters”.

It’s a Moneymaker: Gaming is highly profitable. Businesses that can find a good niche are going to grab at it – and as noted above, nostalgia often has a strong pull, making it pretty powerful. As long as there is some demand for classic games, developers and distributors are going to be more than willing to keep these games going as long as people are buying them. In the process, they may even pick up a new generation of game fans.

Time: In the old days games were not typically huge quests. Many took a few minutes, at most, a few hours to play (with a few exceptions). For the most part, players are given a number of “men” to play and once those run out – game over. Modern games can take days or weeks (perhaps longer) to complete. Additionally, with mobile growing at such a rapid rate, the simplicity of these old games is attractive to many people who like to play games on their gadgets while passing time.

Game over
Credit: Jennie Robinson Faber via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Game over. The earlier games didn't need the time investment many of the "quests" and other games that came later did. Many operated on the "three strikes (lives) and you're out" philosophy - unless you earned a "bonus" life of course.

Take into consideration websites, such as eBay, YouTube and other sites, have “fed the frenzy” notes CNN Money in an August 2015 article. There have been many “price spikes” in recent years. Some estimates say the retro games market is estimated to be worth $200 million annually.

(I’ve personally searched for the original NES cartridges within the past two years and was shocked at how much some of these cartridges were going for on sites such as Craigslist - and you figure those sales are probably not calculated into the overall figures).

While some trends are better off forgotten, it seems gaming is not going to be one of them. Today’s younger generations can share in playing the games their parents and/or grandparents did. The older generation may try and capture some of the fun they experienced in the past.

In the case of retro video games, the old stuff may be perceived as good as, if not better, than new. Many businesses and entrepreneurs see the potential of this niche and aren’t letting the opportunities pass them by.