The cartridge comeback: Retro gaming is back in style

February 4, 2016
3 min read

A new video game console is set to release in 2017, but not from any of the companies that have dominated the gaming market for the past decade. Some 30 years after exiting the market, Coleco, the brand behind 1982’s Colecovision console, has announced plans to release a new cartridge-based device that can play 8-, 16- and 32-bit games. For context, the first PlayStation was part of the 32-bit era of video games.

There is significant consumer interest in older generation consoles and games. As showcased by Mintel’s Gaming Consoles US 2015 report, 17% of US adults own an older Nintendo console, such as the iconic Nintendo 64. A similar share of consumers also own older PlayStation and Xbox devices. Interest also rises among 18-24 year olds – an active gaming demographic – with over a third owning older Nintendo and PlayStation consoles.

Retro video games have also become much easier for consumers to get ahold of with the rise of digital distribution. Platforms like Steam enable smaller and independent developers to release and sell games even when they don’t fit the typical modern mold of high-end graphics. Even classic brands are taking advantage of this trend. In Spring 2016, Atari plans to release 100 of its classic games through Steam. Game developer Rare (Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day) also released a compilation of 30 of its older games through Xbox Live. The collection included developer commentary and other content that had never before been released.

36% of 18-24 year olds own older Nintendo and PlayStation consoles

The difference with the Coleco brand’s device is that it is a fully dedicated console. While it may seem like a challenge to get consumers interested in buying a dedicated retro device, there is considerable consumer demand for retro products and themes. As observed by the Mintel Trend Never Say Die, many products and styles have become desirable because of their age, even among consumers who are too young to have experienced them when they were initially released.

For example, consumers age 18-24 are the most likely to report owning an older generation Nintendo console such as the Nintendo 64, even though it was originally released in 1996. The youngest of this group would have been 1 or 2 years old when the device first launched, and would have been too young to truly experience the games. Even older Nintendo consoles have experienced some success on the market, as exemplified by the 2015 remake of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) by Analogue Interactive – the device is priced at $499, but the first wave quickly sold out.

The new Coleco console will be able to tap into consumers’ deep sense of nostalgia, but marketing the device can do more than build on the older-themed hardware. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, for example, consoles were popular sweepstakes items. In 2001, for example, Cox Communications offered a chance to win a free Nintendo Gamecube for customers who watched a STARZ! preview, according to Mintel Comperemedia. Comcast ran a similar promotion in 2008, when it offered free Nintendo Wii consoles for new Triple Play customers.

Retro gaming is in style now more than ever, and Coleco is hoping to tap into consumer nostalgia and the demand for a time when games were not entirely about graphics. Gaming brands that are hoping to leverage the popularity of retro should consider crafting marketing messages that strike back at the core elements that made older products great.

Bryant Harland is a Technology and Media Analyst at Mintel. He brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News.

Bryant Harland
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