Why what’s old is new again in gaming (Includes interview)

Why, with video game graphics advancing at an astounding rate, are people interested in old-school style games? (An example is with events like Classic Games fest.) This is a question posed by Stuart Drexler, CEO of Jago Studios. To discover more about the future of gaming in 2019 and why retro is suddenly cool again, Digital Journal caught up with Drexler.

Digital Journal: What are the main trends in gaming?

Stuart Drexler: This is a hard question to answer concisely, as there are so many trends we could point to, some of which extend over many years, others which are more recent phenomena, and still others which are nascent trends but showing promise for what’s yet to come.

Mobile gaming has grown in popularity and scale tremendously, with over 500 percent revenue growth since 2012. According to data collected by NewZoo, mobile gaming now comprises nearly 50 percent of the market share for all gaming in 2018, and is certain to grow larger than console and PC gaming combined. The surge of retro games that make what’s old new again is certainly another trend that proliferates across a broad number of game platforms.

The battle royale genre of gaming popularized this past year by Fortnite and others has led to a resurgence of growth in PC gaming in particular. eSports continues to be a hotly contested arena and investment darling, though few have successfully figured out a consistent and repeatable formula. Streaming game services are in beta testing from the likes of Hatch (owned by Rovio, creators of Angry Birds), Google, Amazon and others.

With 5G mobile data connectivity being rolled out in cities across the world, this trend toward and all-you-can eat games as a subscription model could upend the current mobile free-to-play model, though streaming still has some teething pains to grow out of. We could also look at VR and AR gaming, but those are large unfolding stories in and of themselves.

Poster art for  Mario Party: Island Tour.

Poster art for “Mario Party: Island Tour.”

Nintendo / Mario Party Legacy

DJ: Why are retro games becoming more popular?

Drexler: People who grew up in the 80’s have a real comfort with retro games as it takes them back to some of their happy memories of childhood. Maybe it triggers a particular time or memory in their lives, or that one level they worked so hard to beat and the feeling of mastery they felt.

There was also a strong social aspect that came with playing together with friends after school on the NES or Sega Genesis, gaming late into the night during weekend sleepovers, or meeting up at the local arcade. People are keen to recapture those feelings with the friends, family and partners in their lives now. Games with an element of social nostalgia create an even stronger emotional attraction.

DJ: Which types of retro games are popular?

Drexler:Arcade games in particular seem to be making the biggest comeback. Games like Centipede and Tempest on New Wave Toys’ mini arcade replicas are flying off the shelves, and we’re also seeing full size retro arcades popping up all across the country. For just $20 this holiday season, my own kids delighted in being able to play Space Invaders, Galaga and 10 other retro games on our TV through an HDMI dongle and wireless joypad from AT Games.

DJ: How are these games competing with modern games?

Drexler:If retro consoles like the Nintendo Classic are any indication, very well, as it has sold an estimated 3.6M units (as of June, 2018) and has consistently sold out, spurring other retro consoles such as the Genesis Classic Console, the Super Nintendo Classic Edition, and the recently released PlayStation Classic.

New Wave Toys raised more than 5 times the initial ask for its first Replicade Mini Centipede Kickstarter project, and more than 8 times the ask for its second Replicade Mini Tempest Kickstarter campaign. There’s a sense of collectibility with these classic games and IPs; the demand for all things retro games appears to be growing.

DJ: Are retro games hard to adapt to modern platforms?

Drexler:It really depends on the game or IP. In the case of Garbage Pail Kids, the original card format lends itself naturally to the collectable card battle genre that is popular on today’s mobile platforms. In the case of something like 2014/15’s Q*Bert Rebooted, it was a great opportunity to update the graphics and puzzles – the graphics, memory capacity and processing power of today’s platforms is so much greater than the original platforms. But it can be challenging to recreate the control scheme of the popular arcade machines.

DJ: Who do retro games appeal to most? Is this people who played the games years ago, or younger people?

Drexler:Both. The reasons older generations enjoyed console and arcade gaming when they were younger still apply- the social aspect, the friendly competition and the simplicity of the fun, not to mention the pure nostalgia. Late baby boomers and Gen X/Y , who are now parents, some perhaps even grandparents, are one of the biggest segments of the gamer population.

They were the first generations to grow up both on video games and on a steady diet of television, pop culture and licensed merchandise (more so than previous generations), so there’s a natural nostalgia and desire to revisit and share the love of those games and the pop culture of their youth with new generations.

In-game screenshot of  Super Mario World 3D.

In-game screenshot of “Super Mario World 3D.”


Younger people love retro games because good game play is good fun. You can also see the ongoing popularity for ‘pixel art’ games that cover most every game genre with a visual aesthetic nod that is undeniably retro, tied to the 8-bit and 16-bit era. Many of these pixel art games are being created by designers who weren’t even born when 16-bit games were the rage, and surely their desired audience is as broad as they can reach.

DJ: How is market research undertaken to assess which games will be popular?

Drexler:The type and extent of market research conducted varies greatly from company to company. It is typically a bit of science and a bit of art and intuition. On the science side, one can look at lifetime sales numbers and sequel history for classic games, not to mention numerous ‘Best Games in History’ lists across websites, forums and enthusiast magazines.

Gaming audiences are very vocal about their favorite games. For those games that spawned licensing and merchandising revenues beyond gaming, that total can also be quantified as a basis for the value of the IP. One can also look to social fan pages, social mentions, and frequency of web searches relating to the game franchise as a way of evaluating its continued pop resonance. All of that taken into account, game developers and marketers need to have a good intuitive feel for what will work in practice. Some brands fit the premise, while others do not.

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was an outright gangbuster hit from Glu mobile, yet their closely related follow-ons using Nikki Minaj, Taylor Swift and Britney Spears all fell flat. Lightning in a bottle rarely strikes twice.

DJ: Who is the core market for retro games?

Drexler:I believe the core audience would be those children of the late 70’s through the 80’s who consumed a steady diet of television, pop culture and video games. Many of them may still play games, but are now also parents, grandparents or collectors.

The beauty of retro games is that not only do they also appeal to younger generations due to curiosity for classic game IPs/characters and the desire to experience the “golden age of gaming”, but also the audience of people who grew up on such games and pop culture continues to get bigger every year, as does the breadth of people who consider themselves ‘gamers’.

Screenshot of Tetris game

Tetris, the ubiquitous puzzle game, was invented in 1984, and has since become one of the most popular games in the world

photo by watz

DJ: What are Jago Studios working on?

Drexler:At Jago Studios, we’ve taken the classic 80s trading card brand Garbage Pail Kids and re-imagined it as a collectible card battling game. Players can collect the outrageous characters they loved in their youth, as well as contemporary characters conceived with the irreverence only GPK can bring.

Using the original card artwork that so many people fell in love with, we’ve added animation, visual effects, and battles to bring these tremendous characters to life like never before. In the 80s, kids could only imagine the mischief that these delinquent miscreants might get up to, but now as adults they can viscerally experience it and even share it with their own kids. Garbage Pail Kids: The Game gives fans a personal hand in the mayhem.


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