Retrobution: Games from the Grave

Some of us have noted the big comebacks of some of our ancient game favorites. Companies have been re-releasing them in recent years with surprising success. Why are these oldies being relaunched and how successful are they?

They’re quite successful. Back catalogs must be treasure troves, games crawling out of the grave to reap new and improved profits for their publishers. As a gamer, I look at these old gems and realize that most people never even saw them, like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger. As popular as those games were, they were nowhere near reaching the audiences they do today. There were fewer gamers back then too for all sorts of reasons (access to technology being the greatest). But today, anyone with a phone has access to THOUSANDS of games. It makes some sense to release the oldies ….because those games are brand new to millions of people.

Couple these facts together and this is what I’d call a perfect storm:

  • Pixel art is popular today, and most games were pixel art back in the day.
  • Mobile devices require small files, and the games of old are bits on the byte (pennies on the dollar, get it?!?!)
  • More gamers today than yesterday. Millions more. Old is new again.

So when I saw Chrono Trigger make it’s way to the Android shop after watching other classics like Contra be re-released for the same, I couldn’t help but wonder if these games were selling well. The answer appears to be yes.

To take CT as an example, it sold 2.3 million units on its SNES release in 1995. But once it was re-released for Nintendo DS, it sold more than 1.25 million units from 2008 and until now. That’s not a bad return on investment for an oldie! CT was also made available on Playstation and Wii, though I don’t know what the cost was to buy it.I’m really curious about how well it can do on mobile. It’s got potential, but if they over price it, they’ll harm their success. It’s currently over-priced at $10.

Other titles I’ve seen crawl back onto the scene is Baldur’s Gate, which is now on the Google Play store. The prices on these retro titles are usually pretty steep too, with BG asking $10 too. The Final Fantasy franchise has resurrected several of it’s sequels, with 1 to 6 being available starting at $8 a pop …except for FF6 which is going for $16!

I’m tempted to buy Chrono Trigger, but $10 for a game that old seems like highway robbery. It looks like Blizzard’s example isn’t being followed in this one case, which is odd since they’ve got to be one of the most copied game companies in history. They’ve released most of their 1990s library to users at no cost. You can download Blackthorne, The Lost Vikings and Rock n’ Roll racing for free. But I guess wherever there’s money to be made, we can’t all be Blizzard.

These are classics, so maybe they’re worth it to the hardcore fans. Still, seems like an opportunity to show these treasures to an audience who knows nothing about them. Whatever these companies decide to do, I’m pretty sure these mobile versions will sell successfully.

What retro game would you like to see re-made for a modern audience?

12 thoughts on “Retrobution: Games from the Grave

  1. $10 is my default price for almost any medium that I feel comfortable with, even older games. It’s just such a convenient price point that feels substantial enough (I’m not stealing value from the artist) but not so much that I miss it immediately.

    Now that indie games have risen to such prominence, it’s hard to look at an older game (especially one that still works as well as Chrono Trigger does) and think ‘well, the statute of being worth money has run out!’ I can’t compare it to modern games and say, “Look how dated it looks or how old school these mechanics are or how kitsch this story is” because some modern games look just like Chrono Trigger now.

    The only reason I’d be against dropping a tenner down on Chrono Trigger for mobile is because I know I’d never finish it there. That, however, seems like a separate argument.

  2. I think it’s a double edged sword. Someone who was alive (old enough) and able (had the financial means, the system to play it on) to play Chrono Trigger back when it released can appreciate playing the game again, particularly if they no longer own a copy. It’s also awesome for those who weren’t old enough, not yet born, or didn’t have the financial capability to play that game when it released.

    However, the double-dipping that occurs due to companies trying to resell the game is kind of frustrating. I think that those types of games should be a $0.99 purchase, cause really who isn’t able to just get a ROM and get it for free. I agree that ROMs shouldn’t be everyone’s answer, but money grabbing on a title that’s twenty years old isn’t admirable either.

    I think one way in which it’s not coming across as a money grab is with HD updates. At least then the visuals are enhanced and sometimes new features are implemented. Give me a updated version (without ruining the story or gameplay) and I’ll pay you $10. Maybe even $20. But I those are best reserved for games that are at least 10+ years old. An HD upgrade for a game that’s only a year or two old is most definitely a money grab. It’s a fine line I guess. And I’m a picky asshole who puts definitions on everything. I follow a code. And I’ve been watching too much Dexter.

    • THIS. And this is a real problem. At least once a year I see articles on Gamasutra discussing the preservation of old games. And those pieces invariably include reasons why old games should be made public domain. I think this profiteering for a lifetime is questionable. Ideas and products should probably become public domain after a certain period of time. We already do this when it comes to patents (the ideas become public domain after a certain period of time has passed), so it’s not like we don’t value the principle there already.

  3. While I agree that things are worth less money over time, I don’t agree that they’re worth no money ever, or that they should be $0.99 just because that’s the standard for iOS games. I happen to think The World Ends With You is a great game, and it’s one of the most expensive games on the platform at $18. However, it’s an updated release with redrawn art for iOS, and the new price is still half of what the game originally cost. Is it too expensive? It’s almost certainly 18 times as long as a lot of mobile games, for people who use time as a measure of how much things are worth.

    This goes double for things like Chrono Trigger. The iOS version is expensive at about the cost of a trip to Chipotle. The DS version is about three times that, still. The playstation version, which has terrible loading and none of the new features of the DS or iOS releases is also $10 on PSN. If you want to grab an original cart, it’ll run you over $100. Why is $10 too expensive, again?

    • So your argument is that because things are priced higher than $10, then $10 isn’t expensive?

      It’s not that things aren’t or can’t be “worth” money forever. The question is whether they should be. In a capitalist society, most people will say “yes, everything has a price” because in their world everything does have a price. But that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to sell a product from 1995 at the same price that we deliver new games today.

      $10 is expensive for a game. Most games on mobile these days cost less or are even free. So you see, I can make the same argument as you, that relative to other prices $10 is expensive. This is why a relative comparison isn’t useful for figuring out what a game like Chrono Trigger is worth.

      • I happen to think a relative comparison is perfectly fine for figuring out what Chrono Trigger is worth, although I reject the notion that $10 is “a lot of money”, which is the dictionary definition of expensive. It it expensive compared to Candy Crush? The average Candy Crush player pays about $3.50 at last check, so sure. (As with any free game, some pay nothing, some pay much, much more.) Is it expensive compared to other RPGs of its caliber? Not really.

        Really it comes down to personal preference. I tend not to buy a new mobile game every day, and I can understand why $10 would seem expensive to people that do. But if a game keeps you playing for the next 10-20 days, is it really so?

        • I see what you mean, but my point is that the relative comparison isnt useful for telling us the value of a game. Willingness to buy or hours of gameplay dont tell us whether a game is worth buying. Nor does personal preference – there’s a lot of things we don’t prefer to do, but which we do anyway because of the value of doing so.

          In general, I agree with the practicality of your points. Like I said, I’ve paid $10 and more for games completely willingly because I wanted to play it so bad. But I don’t think this changes the fact that selling a 20 yr old game as though it’s new and that publishers should profit eternally from said game are good things. I think this crosses some ethical lines. But I also understand that capitalism is amoral, and people tend not to care about such things.

  4. Pingback: On The Price of Everything | Ash's Adventures

  5. I go by a simple rule, any game is worth £10, as I do mean any game.

    The only thing about games as public domain is game development cost has increased so much it’s almost becoming unfeasable to make them, the big problem is that the cost of buying these games has stayed static (or actually dropped). This doesn’t make sense.

    Why did my parents pay £65 to buy me Street fighter 2 on the mega drive and I have just bought Destiny for £50?

    This is the real reason that companies are re-releasing older games, they are cheaper to publish, cheaper to buy and they generally are picked up by old and new audiences. I buy re-releases of great games and games that I have fond memories of. I cannot be the only person who bought the simpsons & the tmnt arcade games on xbla. I don’t mind re-releases as long as they are of good quality. I have a problem with bad games, regardless of if they are re-releases or new ip. I have also written an article on this topic.

    • Well, I kinda agree. The cost of producing games makes most of them unprofitable. But personally I think this is just another example of why profit isn’t a real thing. Everything cancels out in the end, there’s no “extra” money. The whole idea of profit as we use it, is an accumulation of wealth, that we can get more out of something than we put in. Which is complete non-sense.

      The other problem with the lack of a public domain policy is that PUBLISHERS are the primary beneficiaries of game profits. Those devs that toiled and probably sold the selves into poverty to make the game? They aren’t getting squat or if they’re lucky they some token royalty that they can’t even use to buy a $10 game.

      I think quality is a moot point. Things have a value but it’s not due to their market quality (which is commonly used as a market term which means “better than the other”). And we don’t price games based on any other metric.

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