Enter any online casino and you will find a vast selection of what people called “retro slots.” These are games specifically designed to replicate the popular slots of the ’70s and ’80s. They usually feature three reels and a smaller selection of famous slot symbols, such as melons, plums, cherries, bells, lucky 7s, and bar symbols.
It seems odd to think that with the invention of so many modern slots that there could be a market for games that are far less complicated and lack many of the cutting-edge features. Yet some software developers find retro slots are among the most popular games every month.
Clearly, in the online casino industry at least, there is a real thirst for retro games. But is that the only place where the style is being welcomed?
Introducing retro gaming
The answer, of course, is no. Recently, we have seen many older-style computers and consoles given a rebirth. Sinclair, to name one company, has produced a replica model of its old ZX Spectrum — the best-selling home computer in the UK during the 1980s boom. A Commodore 64 is also available, and companies like Sony and Nintendo are getting in on the act by producing retro versions of their earlier consoles.
Now of course, in the modern esports community, the past is just a couple of years ago. There is no era of retro esports gaming because the games played today are essentially the same as the esports games that grabbed the first foothold earlier this decade.
But that hasn’t stopped one California-based company from developing a new style of arcade machine, which they hope could be the catalyst for retro esports.
That company is Polycade. Two former arcade owners, Tyler Bushnell and Jake Galler, founded the business. Speaking to the site blooloop, they revealed their reasoning behind ushering in retro esports.
“As we moved around and got older, our arcade dwindled,” Bushnell said in the interview. “We sold the machines. Some of them broke … For a long time, I was nostalgic for it. I really wanted those games back, so I sat down and built a console.”
That console is the Polycade, a next-generation arcade machine. Considerably smaller than a standard arcade game and cabinet, this device can be mounted onto a wall and, critically, contains hardware that can connect it to the Internet and also to other Polycade devices in the vicinity.
The console can play many older games, such as Centipede and Asteroids. But it’s also powerful enough to play a wide swath of new games. By using the Steam platform as its repository for online games, the machine allows for myriad new downloads.
“We’re making it as easy as possible for the casual gamer to have a good experience,” Bushnall told blooloop. “The games are really easy to learn. It speaks to these people who grew up with more simple games. You don’t need a PhD to play.”
The Polycade is made from steel and plywood and is mounted onto a wall using a similar method to that of flat-screen TVs. The console features a gaming quality PC, with a Geforce GTX 1050 Graphics Card and either a 240Gb or 1TB Solid State Hard Disk.
The display comes via a 27” 1920 x 1080 LED monitor. The console also features Sanwa joysticks and buttons, a Suzo-happ Trackball, a drawer for a keyboard, two additional USB ports, a headphone and microphone jack, and two 30-watt amplifiers.
Games from a wide variety of retro-machines are available via a number of emulators built into the console. These include:
- Arcade Games
- Sega Master System
- Sega Genesis
- Turbo Grafx16
- Atari 2600
- Gameboy Advance
As you would expect, the cost for this slice of retro-gaming heaven isn’t cheap at $3,900 for a single Polycade machine. Still, that does not compare too unfavorably to the cost for an entire set up for esports gaming.
Could Polycade be the catalyst for retro esports?
It will be interesting to see how this mini-industry develops over the coming years. Polycade’s potential as an esports platform is easy to see, with its Wifi capabilities and PC base providing the opportunity to play locally and remotely. That said, the console faces many challenges.
Firstly, it needs to find success in major markets, not just the US, but Europe, and certainly East Asia. The prohibitive cost may impact that, especially with a number of cheaper retro gaming options available in these countries already.
Even if the Polycade takes off, users would need to organize themselves into groups and teams of enough standing to make an esports tournament worthwhile. That cannot happen overnight. It would likely require the backing of some big-hitters within the esports industry.
Despite this, I can see a future for retro esports, especially within the 35+ gaming community. That crowd was raised playing many of these now retro-styled games. Whether their simple game play would appeal to the masses on Twitch TV is another matter. Questions about sponsorships, leagues, and live events all follow behind.