from the breaking-the-myth dept
We've all heard it before: [industry X] can't compete in the marketplace because the public just wants everything for free. It's a mantra taken up by the film industry, the recording industry, the literary industry, and the video game industry. And, almost always, we've found that the mantra is complete nonsense. Instead, it's been clear that the public is more than willing to purchase that which is scarce and valued. It's just that those scarce and valued things are often times not the content itself.
The retro-gaming industry is instructive in this for two reasons. Piracy is typically much easier for retro games than modern titles. Most of the older consoles have been fully emulated at this point, with ROMs and games readily available for them online. For older PC titles, retro games often have no DRM or have been cracked so long ago that the cracked files are also readily available. In addition, retro titles aren't policed the same way that modern releases are. And, yet, despite all of that, or perhaps because of it, the retro-gaming industry is exploding.
Sites like GOG.com and Steam's client offer old games with smaller pricetags. The major console-makers like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all have their own marketplaces for digital downloads of retro games. Those marketplaces must be doing quite well, considering that the consoles and publishers continue to support them and expand the retro-game catalogs. And, for the actual old products, the interest and prices for retro-game pieces are skyrocketing.
It's always been this way. Collectors of art will always pay for original pieces, or for the items that go along with the actual content. If the public simply wanted everything for free when it came to gaming, anyone could go on the internet and get an emulator and a copy of The Legend of Zelda and have at it. But, of course, there are scarce items that go along with the collectables that can't be downloaded, and so the prices are paid, even as they rise. And it's not peanuts we're talking about here. Estimates for how big the retro-gaming market is come in at something like $200 million per year.
Giulio Graziani says it makes him feel a bit like a drug dealer, even though he's not buying anything illegal. It's part of his job digging up a steady supply of video games from the 1980s and 1990s for his store, VideoGamesNewYork, which specializes in everything from Atari and Gameboy to rare prototype NES cartridges.
Graziani, 50, has been in business since 2003, but says the market only recently began to spike. "Five years ago, I could drive through Texas and stop in little towns and buy everything," he says. "Now they're selling games out there for more than I do!" Even simple pieces, like The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, which cost $12 in 2010, now go for $25. More coveted games, like Nintendo's Earthbound, can fetch hundreds of dollars, even thousands if they're in the original box.
For those who aren't collectors, however, there's still a reason to buy.
Luckily, for a casual retro gamer, there are some cheap solutions to get a quick dose of nostalgia. Nintendo's Virtual Console allows you to download classic titles to play on the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS. The Retron 5 console by Hyperkin sells for $159.99 and supports games for 10 systems, including NES, SNES, Famicom, SENES, Genesis and Game Boy.Add to that GOG and Steam, along with the old-game marketplace Sony and Microsoft offer, and the RtB here should be clear: ease of purchase and the platform. Much like it is understood that iTunes is attractive because of the platform, rather than the music catalog that is also available via piracy, so do gamers appreciate the convenience offered by these marketplaces. Which is why they're growing and selling more and more.
If anything should signal the end of the "everyone wants everything for free" myth, let it be retro-gaming.