Retro Marketing and Nostalgia Part 1: Video Games

Coffee tables shaped like the original NES; mp3 players designed to look like cassette players; Space Invader couches; rotary cell phones. The list goes on. Guess what, the ‘80s are BACK—with a vengeance! In fact, so are the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

In all seriousness, people are starting to love vintage stuff. I’m certainly no exception, myself. Our culture’s “retro”-obsession has been spreading like wildfire and is in full swing. It’s been encouraging my appetite for all things nostalgic and is now forcing me to take a deeper looker at the trend itself. (In case you were wondering, Retro Marketing is also known as Retro Branding or Flashback Branding).

The concept of retro-appeal actually makes perfect sense. We live in an uneasy society and we struggle to make sense of our complex world. Our collective unconscious yearns for the simplicity of a bygone era, and so we carry with us a deep-seated desire to relive the novelty and innocence of our youth. Naturally, there’s no better way to relive our past than by filling our modern lives with the concepts, styles, and themes that remind us of better days. So, let’s take a good look at some industry-specific examples that retro-conscious consumers (like myself) tend to love nowadays.

Remember the 2D side-scrollers we knew and loved on systems like the Atari?

Remember the 2D side-scrollers we knew and loved on systems like the Atari?

Most notably, we can look at the current state of the video game industry for an education in successful retro-branding. In contrast to the overwhelming number of visually stunning and technically advanced titles now available, there’s actually a growing market for very basic, one-and-two-button games—the kind that proudly flaunt their intentionally pixilated visual style and minimalist approach. Independent developers are now opting to build their games from the ground up (so to speak) by putting their focus on simple-yet-addictive gameplay rather than cinematic presentation. In doing so, these developers are able bring the player straight back to the glory days of gaming—when two-dimensional side-scrolling was commonplace and when gameplay focused on moving a character from point A to point B is the most challenging way possible. Once upon a time, originality was key and that’s what we’re finally starting to see again! It’s a back-to-basics approach that’s currently taking the gaming world by storm and surprisingly turning a small profit.

I mean, who needs fancy graphics when the game itself seems just as new and innovative as the ones you grew up with, right? What’s interesting is that the developers who now use this methodology are actually making games that end up being more fun to play than many of the high-profile titles (Halo, Call of Duty, etc.) currently saturating the market. They’re ultimately using fewer resources, spending less money, and making fantastic games. Growing up, I was admittedly a videogame junkie, so I love seeing old-school gaming become so popular again.

What’s the best retro-branding you’ve seen in a recent video game? Does the nostalgia factor urge you to buy games or to avoid them?

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the conclusion of this post – I’ll make you feel nostalgic when I talk about retro-appeal in this generation’s movies, music, and advertising (many modern products and brands are now incorporating retro aesthetics)!

Image Credits

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. QLP Jill

    I LOOOOOOVE retro branding and I’m so happy that advertisers and industries are using it! Call me crazy, but not a single day passes when I’m not nostalgic about something from my past (whether it’s an old toy I had, a game I used to play, or a specific brand of pop) and it excites me to see some of my old favorites coming back. For example, I used to collect (and still do, as a matter of fact) My Little Ponies, and a few years ago they came out with an entirely new line! Although I only collect the ones from the 1980s and early 1990s, I will make a point to buy a newer pony every now and then and it makes me feel like a kid! 🙂

    Side-scrolling video games are where it’s at for sure. I ROCK at Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis…just you TRY to challenge me! 😉 Going along with your video game topic, the Sonic developers finally got it right and released a new game that’s essentially a throwback to the original series from the 1990s. It’s just a silent-but-expressive Sonic, his buddy Tails, Dr. Robotnik, SWEET music, and colorful 2D graphics…none of this cutesy 3D, unnecessary dialogue, or Shadow the Hedgehog crap that they came out with in the late 1990s/early 2000s! And that’s what I love about it – it’s simple and back to the basics. It worked for us then, so why wouldn’t it work now?

    AWESOME post. I can’t wait to comment on tomorrow’s as well! 🙂

    • Stantz

      I do believe you are referring to “Dr. Eggman” in the Sonic games!

      Ha! 😉

    • JJ "Suite G"

      I’m still tempted to download that new Sonic game you’re talking about. I wish they at least offered a demo of it.

      The game that inspired me to write this post though was Bit.Trip Runner–perfect example of a new-school game with an old-school vibe. It’s Pitfall meets MegaMan meets Rez, with the best chip-tunes music ever!

      • QLP Jill

        I think they do have a demo…it’s just the first level. I played through it like 8 times in a row until I was asked politely to stop. But until I actually own the full game, that’s what I’ll have to do! 🙂

    • Bret Bonnet

      What’s the name of this new Sonic game? Which system (PS3, Xbox, or Wii)?

      … I used to love, Love, LOVE Sonic the Hedgehog but they killed the franchise after they tried to make Sonic 3D starting with the Dreamcast (“Sonic Adventure”); every version of the game was down hill from there.

      • QLP Jill

        It’s called Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1 (click the link to see a video and find out more). I played it on XBOX 360, but I think it’s also on PS3, WiiWare, and iPhone. It’s amazing! The reviews are mixed to positive, which is WAY better than any of the other recent Sonic games got. You should check it out, I think you’d like it! 🙂

      • JJ "Suite G"

        It’s just called Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and it’s a direct 2D sequel to the Genesis originals. It’s available for download on all platforms, I believe.

  2. QLPJPo

    NBA JAM. One of the greatest games ever. I remember spending hours at Funway sinking quarters into that game!

    Interestingly, the recent remake has not sold very well. Probably because they decided to make it a full retail release and charge $50 for it. Its a great game, but its still a remake of a game that is about 15 years old. If it was a $15-$20 download game (like most other “nostalgia” games) it would have sold like crazy!

    • QLP Jill

      I sucked at NBA Jam, but I watched my little brother play it all the time! I remember hearing phrases like: “He’s on fire!” and “Boomshakalaka!” millions of times…hahaha! Those were the days… 🙂

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    Well as far as retro video games I know very little. But if you talk about vintage style as trendy fashion I have always been a retro buff. I melt every time I am in the city and I see in my favorite store windows these amazing city style retro chic looks – I would die to have all of them. I think it is really neat that we have mutated into a calico generation that really doesn’t have its own style or one specific generation we mimic, we have fashionably become this hodgepodge of old styles from every generation slightly modified. Unfortunately, style will never be as good in my opinion as our parents and grandparents experienced. I think the market has caught on as you said to cater to those who dream of a different simpler time, and also market to those who do remember.

    I know I recently become obsessed with a show called MAD MEN and if you haven’t seen it YOU SHOULD! The fashion trends of set and clothes from Mad Men are off-the-wall amazing! That alone catches your attention to the show. I think more and more companies are starting to realize that they should stick with what works, I mean what’s that old saying ” if ain’t broke…” I believe in the marketing world it has in fact caught in like wildfire!

    • Bret Bonnet

      OK Daria – JK!

  4. Stantz

    Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game is an awesome example of an homage to a simpler time of video games. Some developers are also making the “true” 8-bit sequels to classic games, and I hope it continues!

    Also, if Crystal Pepsi comes back, I will probably start drinking pop again. I’m not kidding. I hope it’s as good as I remember.

    • JJ "Suite G"

      I totally forgot about Crystal Pepsi. Wow!

      I’m just glad that my Fun Dip is still around for me to enjoy!

  5. Bret Bonnet

    Wow… I could comment/talk about retro marketing all day long. The funny thing is; had Joe never written about this topic – I would have never stopped long enough to realize how much retro branding surrounds me everyday…

    Anyone who knows me the slightest bit knows I’m a hardcore Chicago Bears fan… this season the Bears and the rest of the NFL started doing something new where for certain division games – teams actually wear “throwback jerseys”. Don’t get me wrong, some teams’ uniforms deserve to be thrown back… INTO THE CLOSET, but once the Bears announced this, I immediately preordered the retro jerseys of my favorite Chicago Bears players (Jay Cutler, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester) the moment I could; MONTHS before the season started and despite the fact that I already own home/away versions of each players jersey.

    Seriously I need help… I’m a jersey ADDICT!

    I also wear a lot of OTHER Bears apparel, I don’t wear jerseys all the time (in case you were keeping track, this makes me only 50% WT!). Anyway, I’ve also caught myself purchasing hats, sweatshirts, and other logo apparel with the old Bears “C” logo on it… Pretty cool stuff.

    On the topic of VIDEO GAMES; when are they going to bring Donkey Kong Adventures back… I miss all those wacky banana peals and 2D scroll action! 🙂

    I’m going to get back to making my retro Chicago Bears bobble head figure nod yes to everything I say and get back to work! 🙂

    • JJ "Suite G"

      They did bring DK back (but only on the WII) with Donkey Kong Country Returns. It’s basically another sequel to the SNES originals.

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