A video game industry trend towards re-releasing old games coincides with gaming industry revenues skyrocketing, fuelled by consumers staying home.
A rise in gaming came as no surprise amidst school closures and stay-at-home orders in many countries. It spiked in March, with U.S. gaming industry revenues growing a historic 34% over March of last year. April and May saw year-on-year increases of 73% and 53%, respectively. Global gaming industry revenues hit a record-breaking total of $10.5 billion in April, Nielsen’s SuperData reports. This declined only 3% in May, to $10.2 billion, despite few major game releases and an easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
As Michael Cai of consumer insights agency Interpret observed, “Video gaming is considered an affordable and accessible form of entertainment, and existing and new gamers across all demographic groups found emotional and social support in these virtual worlds.”
A dose of nostalgia added to this sense of support and connection could in part explain the popularity of old games that have made comebacks. In the past year more than 30 revamped games have been released, according to The Economist, with some topping the charts. For example “Final Fantasy vii Remake,” the reboot of a PlayStation game from 1997, sold 3.5 million copies in three days in April.
From the perspective of the gaming industry, remakes make sense. Morris Garrard of consulting firm Futuresource points out that remaking older video games helps keep valuable franchises in front of consumers while new games are in development. This process can take years. In console gaming, there is also the timing of new hardware releases to consider. Re-released games can do well during periods when they are not competing with new consoles hitting the market.
There are also enormous savings to be realized by dusting off and polishing up old video games. Developing a new one can cost upwards of $100 million on the high end. Such high costs, as well as the time involved, introduce an element of risk that most video game companies would rather avoid.
The tendency that video game developers are showing is akin to the risk-aversion that keeps Hollywood falling back on never-ending sequels and franchise films, as well as “director’s cuts”. Likewise it compels the music industry to fall back on issuing remixes, remasters and special editions of hit albums. Video games are simply another medium, taking the same approach that other forms of entertainment have taken for decades.