When it comes to the thriving world of indie video games, old-school classics are back in vogue. Whether this trend is due to the constantly evolving pace of modern technology or simply nostalgic obsession, it seems that retro gaming is very much here to stay.
From enormously successful indie titles like Stardew Valley and Unturned, gamers of all ages are turning their attention to quaint characteristics, such as pixel graphics, and genres that AAA studios have largely ignored since the 90s.
In this post, I’ll look at what makes these nostalgia-driven titles so popular and what other developers can learn from their success.
Greater Accessibility and Lower Costs
Video gaming is an expensive hobby – or at least it is if you want to enjoy the latest AAA titles the way they’re meant to be played.
For example, to experience Ancient Egypt in all its glory in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, you need a beast of a computer with at least 42 gigabytes of free disk space. Lofty system requirements are now the norm among the big titles, especially if you’re hoping to play them at a smooth 60 frames per second.
Back in the old days, game developers had to work within strict technological limitations. For example, a Super Nintendo cartridge holds only 4 megabytes, which is about a thousand times smaller than the average modern AAA title.
Nowadays, with hardware requirements constantly on the rise, enthusiastic gamers find themselves under pressure to pay for expensive upgrades every few years. For many of us, that’s just not an option.
AAA titles also tend to come at a premium, with US$60 being the typical price for a digitally distributed copy. On top of that are microtransactions, expansion packs and DLCs. When Mass Effect 3 was launched in 2012 with all its DLCs, for example, it cost an eye-watering US$870 for all the available in-game content!
Nostalgic Vibes and Revival of Genres
Video games have changed immensely over the last few decades. While many veteran gamers have started showing a renewed interest in classic titles, many of these won’t run on new operating systems without an emulator.
In response to this revived demand for those classic gaming experiences, some developers have re-released their older games with high-definition graphics and improved compatibility with newer systems, while preserving core gameplay elements. A good example of this is Age of Empires II, which despite now being 18 years old, was re-released in 2013 on Steam before seeing the release of three further expansion packs.
The success of Age of Empires II: HD Edition is a prime example of the gradual revival of the real-time strategy genre, which has been largely neglected by big studios for more than a decade. But it’s not just RTS games that are making a comeback – we’re also seeing a resurgence of other long-abandoned genres, such as top-down RPGs, arcade games and challenging roguelike titles.
How Early Access Has Helped
Most retro-style video games are the products of small indie developers, inspired by classics of the 80s and 90s. Early Access funding has helped these smaller studios get their ideas in front of the masses and receive funding for further development.
Although Early Access remains controversial, there are some enormously successful titles that continue to enjoy the support of highly engaged communities. One only needs to turn to games like Factorio and Rimworld to see how Early Access is spearheading the revival of the small, casual games of old.