Play It Again, Sam: Retro Gaming Is In

Why are yesterday's gaming hits making a comeback?

ByABC News
March 7, 2011, 11:30 AM

March 8, 2011— -- Like Hollywood and the recording industry, the video game business enjoys a proud and time-honored tradition of recycling yesterday's top hits. But as a growing range of recent updates and remakes of classic franchises -- from "Bionic Commando" to "Contra" -- prove, retro gaming has never been bigger.

Forget fancy graphics, sprawling 3-D worlds and endless online connectivity. As underscored by recent Facebook updates of "The Oregon Trail" and "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego," all today's gamer apparently wants is to party like it's 1989.

Savor the irony. Previously, software makers were content to let classics like "Zork" and "Gabriel Knight" rot in obscurity, consigned to suspect "abandonware" sites, where doting fans made discontinued titles available for free download.

But suddenly, in an age where players have so many gaming choices available and so little time to choose between them, they're finding solid gold in yesteryear's hits.

Credit technical and budget constraints, which often made retro games much shorter, less complex and easier to put down than today's rambling 60-hour epics, and frequently rendered audiovisual wizardry secondary to ingenious play.

Ironically, these same qualities make them cheaper to buy, and more instantly gratifying and disposable than modern-day digital diversions -- a perfect attraction for today's increasingly mobile and commitment-phobic gaming enthusiast.

According to a recent Nielsen study, game buyers are spending more time and money on general leisure activities, including smartphone gaming. They're spending less time on pricey, time-consuming set-top gaming epics.

Paired with the rise of digital distribution, which lets players purchase smaller titles on-demand from PCs, smartphones or gaming consoles (via services such as PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare, etc.), it's a match made in virtual heaven.

For software publishers, popular existing franchises are easier to convert, update and retail through downloadable platforms than original titles, with savings frequently passed on to nostalgic shoppers. They also guarantee instant recognition on gaming services where the best form of marketing is often a catchy title or positive customer reviews.