Retro at risk: The disappearance of classic video games

Delve into the decline of retro gaming, uncovering the challenges of preserving classic games and the legacy they represent.
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Classic video games, often a nostalgic touchstone for enthusiasts, are experiencing a notable shift in their landscape. The golden age of video gaming, marked by pixelated graphics and chiptune soundtracks, is fading into obscurity. But what’s the real story behind the disappearance of these classic games?

1. The vanishing act of retro gaming

According to the article titled, “What Happened With Actual Retro Gaming? For the Most Part, It Vanished” by Robert Workman on Medium, the retro gaming scene, while still holding its unique appeal to many, faces challenges in accessibility. The simplicity and nostalgic charm of retro games continue to captivate enthusiasts. However, the changing dynamics of the gaming market, combined with the rarity of classic titles, have made it increasingly difficult for fans to access their beloved retro games. The physical nature of these games, often requiring specific cartridges and vintage consoles, further complicates their accessibility in a predominantly digital age.

2. The dire state of classic game availability

A detailed study conducted by the Video Game History Foundation in collaboration with the Software Preservation Network unveils a concerning statistic: a staggering 87% of classic games released in the U.S. are no longer in print. This means that a mere 13% of video game history remains available in today’s market. This limited availability underlines the challenges faced by enthusiasts in accessing these classic titles. To experience these classic titles, many are left with limited options: seeking out rare collectibles, making trips to specialized libraries, or, in some cases, turning to unauthorized copies.

3. The underlying reasons

Several factors contribute to the unavailability of these games:

  • Technical issues: As technology advances, older formats become obsolete, making it challenging to maintain and play older games.
  • Rights issues: Licensing and copyright issues can prevent re-releases.
  • Low commercial value: Not all old games are considered commercially viable for re-release.
  • Digital store shutdowns: The closure of digital game stores, like the 3DS and Wii U eShops, means many games go out of print.

4. The importance of preservation

The commercial market focuses on profitability, often sidelining games that don’t meet current market demands. However, video game history is rich and diverse, and it’s not just about the bestsellers. The Video Game History Foundation emphasizes that libraries and archives should play a pivotal role in preserving this history. Unfortunately, outdated copyright laws hinder these institutions. The study’s goal is to advocate for expanded exemptions for libraries and organizations preserving video games, ensuring that future generations can experience and study these classic titles.


The world of retro gaming is like a treasure trove of memories, taking many of us back to simpler times. But navigating its landscape has become complex, with tech moving at lightning speed, the market always chasing the next big thing, and legal hurdles popping up left and right; those classic games we love are getting harder to find. Those classic games, with their pixelated charm and nostalgic allure, deserve a spotlight in the archives of gaming history. Ensuring they don’t vanish into the digital ether is not just about preservation; it’s about honoring a legacy that shaped countless childhoods and defined an era.

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