I actually have some time to do some relatively deep thinking tonight, so I pose this question: why don’t game publishers release their greatest accomplishments from the past to newer consoles on a more frequent basis? Would gamers not buy older games for modern consoles?
Many gamers complain about this fact, but Nintendo has produced some profitable efforts porting NES and SNES classics to the Gameboy Advance. The Classic NES series hasn’t been a terrible success however, but that is mostly due to their $20 price point. Most gamers are not willing to pay $20 for a lone game of that vintage. Even I haven’t bought any yet. But I have bought the Namco Museum and PacMan Collection packs since their price point has become lower and they offer a few similar games. Classic games are perfect for compilation packs. SNK has been working on numerous compilation packs (but still missing a Metal Slug compilation). Hopefully those will sell well and inspire others to do the same.
Now I realize that most games might not sell enough units to warrant spending the necessary resources to make a perfect port to multiple systems. But with the processing power of today’s console and even to a greater degree with the next-gen consoles (XBox 2, PS3, Revolution), developing an emulator to run older games is not unfeasible. The current XBox system is beefy enough to run emulators for many systems, but unfortunately, most people do not feel comfortable modding their system and installing the needed software (or are even aware of the option). We also need a fully legal and easily accessible option for the general gaming public.
It might not be effective for every developing house to make their own emulator for every system, but here is my example solution: look at Nintendo and Sega. Both of these companies dominated the gaming market in most of the 1980s and 90s. They could develop emulators in-house for their respective systems (NES, Genesis, etc) to run on the current and future systems. Keep in mind, both Nintendo and Sega have done this to some extent already. Nintendo supposedly used an emulator to run its highly-successful Zelda pack and Sega also has done so in its Sonic Mega Packs (for all three current platforms mind you).
Not only can Nintendo and Sega use these emulators to re-release games from their own back-library, but they could also license these emulators to other publishing houses such as Konami, Square/Enix, Namco, and various others that could lead to a flood of classic titles being available on current consoles for a reasonable price (for both the publisher and the consumer). Even if they might be a bit reluctant to get working on emulators, there already some open-source initiatives already underway. After all, PocketNES was already utilized in a similar way.
Although, one concern they might have it people hacking these emulators in order to put together their own compilations. An example of this would be the Sega Smash Pack for Sega’s Dreamcast. Although the emulator was far from perfect, somebody took the time and effort to rip it and distribute it on the Net. While I am not aware of any other more recent examples of this, I would not put it past the gaming community to come through on the challenge. But there should be some way to be able to make an emulator either difficult to rip or made to only run a certain game under only certain circumstances. It’s all about creativity.
Not only could classic console games be emulated on most any system, but there are also some opportunities to port some classic PC games to newer systems, especially the XBox. Sure, most XBox gamers want the most cutting-edge graphics, but I’m sure there are a decent amount of people that would like to see some not-so-new PC games ported over to XBox. Again, I’m not much of a PC gamer, so I may be off on this one.
Another market that remains to be tapped is the titles that have become cult favorites as imports, but have not made it to English-speaking countries, or to a commercially popular system. Some examples may include, the Snatcher/Policenauts series for Konami, Radiant Silvergun from Treasure, and Sega’s full Shining Force III episode pack.
Personally, I see the gaming industry as inching toward being a major piece of the entertainment marketplace in the coming years. As more of today’s gamers grow older, we will see classic gaming aficionados just as we see classic film buffs today. The movie industry has it a bit easier — it has a standard format on which to release a movie and there is no porting of code. So to make up for this, the gaming industry needs to develop a way to preserve their games without requiring their customers to keep piles of aging machines in order to play their old favorites.
The combination of emulation and backwards compatibility is the technique that could be the solution to this problem. In the past, backward compatibility was significantly harder because of the changes in cartridge formats, but now with optical media standards, it has become a bit easier. That’s the one thing I respect most about the PS2 — the ability to play the extensive list of the PSOne game library — including giving the option to improve the experience.
Backwards compatibility is a ongoing struggle for the XBox 2 rumor whores however, with the talk of switch to a different type of processor, it looks as if you won’t be able to play your original XBox games on Microsoft’s next console. In my opinion, this would be a very bad move on their part if they really want to compete with the powerhouse that is Sony.
Until the game-markers take some clues from the ideas I’ve presented, nostalgic gamers will be forced to either have 15 different consoles hooked up to their TV or devise a HTPC that will run their old games on emulators every time they want to play a certain game from yesteryear.