If you only listened to the talk and actions of the biggest AAA developers and publishers, you’d conclude that only the widest worlds and greatest graphics in gaming could succeed. Those of us who live here in reality have experienced a very different environment, where classic and retro games continue to carve out names for themselves. Both in terms of popularity and financial success, it’s the smaller titles that contain many of the most impressive feats. So why does this happen, and what it is that guarantees the success of classic games no matter the era?
Classics are Classics for a Reason
The first few generations of arcade video games and home consoles were hilariously limited by today’s standards. The smartphone you hold in your pockets is easily tens of thousands of times more powerful, but this didn’t mean that the games that came out of this generation were themselves limited. Great ideas aren’t necessarily complicated ideas, and there’s something to be said for the purity that early limited hardware required.
“_DSC5091” (CC BY 2.0) by nataliaking
Consider chess as an example. Chess originated in the sixth century in India under the name of Chaturanga, gradually making its way across the world. Eventually, the European influence on chess would guide it into the form we play today, as a game that is both simple to learn and impossible to master. At its core, the layout and systems of chess are guided by very simple sets of rules. It could be possible to complicate these rules by extending the board, moving to the third dimension, or adding new pieces, but would this added complexity improve the game? To millions of people, this answer is no, and the same applies to many digital games.
Simplicity is not a shortcoming, it’s an illustration of a great idea done well. Pac-Man’s 30th Anniversary edition is basically the same as it always has been. It adds some new features if players want them, but the core experience is the same. Like the crocodile, games like Pac-Man and Tetris have never had to evolve their core components, because they were never under selective pressure of dying out.
This issue is also illustrated by the movement of many big games towards a common standard. The more famous big games get, the more AAA developers will attempt to borrow ideas. This has led to a homogenization of many series, where crafting, RPG development, and collecting gear are all a part of what used to be more directed experiences. Classic games tend to be more likely to master a craft, while newer styles adopt a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none approach. Sometimes we don’t want many things done adequately, we want one thing done well, and classics are built on this ideal.
No Time for Bloat
According to recent stats on gamer demographics, the average gamer today is 35 years old. Busy with work and family life, these players are those who have experienced the range of what gaming has to offer, and they know what they want. Sometimes they’ll still want to sit down for a cutting-edge title or long-lasting RPG, but other times they just want to jump right in. If you’ve played modern games then you know, jumping right in isn’t always easy.
Modern video games are often filled with bloat, where even the simplest tasks are held hostage wasting your time with tutorials, or walking around listening to exposition. Classic games very rarely employ this kind of fluff, letting players get right down to the action within seconds. If you don’t have time to kill or need to get to checkpoints to save your progress, the superior choice is clear.
Cost and Reward
Video game development costs have skyrocketed over the generations. The more power that hardware has, the more that AAA developers feel required to leverage this power, which takes more effort and labor costs. Cyberpunk 2077. for example, was developed by a team of around 500 people, at a total cost of around $313 million. Recuperating these costs puts developers and publishers in a precarious position, and limits the flexibility of the games and the systems that host them.
On the other end of the spectrum, consider online casino games and how their financial systems operate. Modern digital takes on classic titles like slots and blackjack are still of the highest quality, but they cost a tiny fraction of what a AAA video game takes to make. This is part of the reason why they can charge so little to play a round, and it’s why the frameworks which contain the games can accomplish more. The best online pokies today on websites like Rizk and Boom Casino back themselves up with bonus features like free spins and deposit matches, giving players even more reason to engage. Being less taxing on hardware also makes them playable over a wider range of systems from TVs to mobiles, all without compromise. By taking a measured approach, the players of simpler games tend to come away better off.
After all of this talk, we don’t want to give the impression that old equals good and new equals bad, just that there are good reasons why classic games continue to stand the test of time. Built on direct visions, avoiding wasting players’ time, and saving on cost all play parts in this equation, they’re elements that players will continue to appreciate. This is a world where the gaming town really is big enough for everyone, but to appreciate how far we’ve come, we need to credit how well our foundations still hold up.