Video games had humble beginnings, but these days, they are multimillion dollar products. Budgets for developing big games run into tens of millions of dollars – Destiny, for example, cost $140 million (€128 million) while Grand Theft Auto V reached our screens after a $137 million spend.
Sharper, more realistic graphics, complex storylines and special effects that wouldn't be out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster have all combined to make high-end games an immersive experience rather than simply something you pick up and put down. Cinematic themed titles such as Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls have pushed the perception of games from simple platformers, beat-em-ups or car chases to interactive drama-adventures that come with a big name cast. Among the well-known people that have lent their likenesses or voices to games are Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, Ellen Page and Samuel L Jackson. Phil Collins appeared in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories while Liam Neeson provided voiceover for Fallout 3.
However, despite the star turns, huge leaps in graphics and the corresponding improvements in processing power there is still a demand for classic titles; games when 8-bit graphics were standard and 3D graphics were years away. Enthusiasts build vast collections of games for the NES – released in 1985 – or pick up bargains for the Gameboy, Nintendo’s original pocket games console that was once king of mobile gaming before the smartphone took over.
There are many reasons being touted for the resurgence in popularity of this byte-sized diversion: nostalgia is a strong factor, but also the skill that is required to beat the games – no matter how simple the graphics – often eclipses the more modern efforts. And while the play experience may not last 60 hours from start to finish, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from beating a game that doesn’t offer you unlimited restarts when you fail to complete your mission in the allotted time, or have to rely on your own guile and wits to complete a particularly difficult task.
Dublin-based Rage – the Record Art Game Emporium – has seen an increase in interest in retro games in the past couple of years. The small shop on Fade Street has its retro games collection upstairs, with a vinyl store downstairs. It actually started as a record shop, but the owner had an interest in retro games, and so began stocking a small selection. And while vinyl is a big draw for customers, the retro games also proved a pulling point.
If you are looking for a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One, you won’t find it in the Rage. The shop stocks NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, Playstation 1, Sega Megadrive, Saturn and Dreamcast in abundance, and also sells old consoles.
Stocking the shop comes from a mixture of trade-ins and their own work, scouring from websites such as eBay and others for bargains.
“There’s a connection with games and free time, and carefree time,” says Jack McMahon.
“Most of the games in here are way cheaper than any of the modern ones, unless you’re going into the secondhand games.”
But it’s not just people taking a trip down memory lane that are visiting it to stock up on classics; there are younger players, who wouldn’t have been around the first time the games hit the market, who are also getting into the trend.
“I think the interest in retro games, a huge proportion of it is generated through indie developers and online stores. A lot of platforms have a huge selection of classic games,” says McMahon.
YouTube is also fuelling the boom, with channels dedicated to retro games bringing new players to the market. It's not unusual to find an 11- or 12-year-old in Rage looking for a particular game, even before Pokemon Go tapped into a major resurgence in the 20-year-old franchise.
“There’s absolutely no nostalgia connection for them,” says McMahon.
But while the price tags for some games may be high, it’s certainly not the norm. Articles claiming that you may be sitting on a goldmine might be exaggerating the value of older video games a little. While some are attracting a major price tag, others can be picked up for a few euro, and some have little or no resale value because there are so many copies on the market.
Among the more valuable games in Rage are Snatcher, a game developed by Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame) on Sega CD, which the store has on sale for €299. It's only particular versions of the game that attract a high price tag though; the Japanese version can be picked up on eBay for under $50. Conker's Bad Fur Day is another sought after title.
“That’s an exception though,” says McMahon. “The majority of the games are €10 to €20.”
Like all collectibles, it's the rarity of the item that adds to its perceived value. Some of the games that were released towards the end of a console's lifespan would have come out in smaller quantities and then been discontinued, meaning there are fewer floating around than, say, an old version of Super Mario Bros.
“Most games that are released in the last days of console’s life before they release the new console, they basically stop making them, so there’s limited production,” McMahon explains. “They’re usually rare, and hence pricey.”
It’s hard to ignore the popularity of retro games, and it seems the developers and games console makers haven’t let it pass them by. Developer
, for example, boxed up a set of its most famous titles and released it as a collection for the Xbox One.
has been releasing its older games for some time through its eShop, a digital download platform for its Wii, Wii U and handheld 3DS, and some older-style games have also appeared on the PlayStation Network and Xbox platform for digital download.
Now the trend is moving further. Nintendo has tapped into the craze with a mini-NES console that goes on sale on November 11th with a selection of 30 classic games.
The new version of the console has been tweaked a little. It has a HDMI input that will allow it to easily connect to modern TVs. It also has save points for each game, regardless of the original game’s intentions – so you don’t have to put in a marathon games session to finish a level – and filters that will bring back the look and feel of old televisions, even if you have a brand new 4K flat screen.
The NES isn’t the first attempt at resurrecting consoles of bygones eras with a modern twist. A previous version of the Sega Megadrive went on sale last year with 80 games preloaded on board and hardware to read games from original cartridges. Made by AT Games under licence, it received a mixed reception.
So Nintendo’s mini-NES is the first to be re-issued by the original manufacturer. It’s already looking like it will be a popular device. The bad news for aspiring owners? Preorders on many sites already sold out, and it looks like the new device will have a limited run.
Time to start dusting off those old consoles again . . .