The RetroBeat: Amazon’s new investment in old games

Retro gaming is becoming a bankable business. That’s why Amazon has opened up a portal dedicated to it.

In early November, Amazon opened its Retro Zone. It’s a page available on the retailer’s site and app that displays retro products, such as mobile ports of classic games, apparel, and other merchandise. You could buy the mobile version of Mega Man 2, a Pong T-shirt, a book with a collection of Super Famicom cover art, and more.

I asked mobile appstore director Robert Williams why Amazon was diving into retro gaming.

“We’ve done a few retro-related activities, such as last year, we did a promotion around Sonic the Hedgehog’s 25th anniversary. Things like that,” Williams said. “The response that we’ve received from our customers has been really strong. It’s clear that they have an interested and they would like to see more from us in that space. In discussing how we would go after that and what would be the best thing for customers, we came up with this idea of having a Retro Zone destination, where customers could go and access all kinds of retro zone content.”

You’ve probably seen retro products show up at other retailers, such as Zelda and Mario toys at GameStop. You’ll see collections and remakes on shelves alongside modern releases at Best Buy or Walmart. But few retailers have created a space specifically for all things retro.

The many sides of retro

In gaming, “retro” means a lot of things. It’s not just old classics but also modern games with design or other inspirations rooted in the past. The portal also promotes things like Stranger Things: The Game, a pixelated, top-down title for Fire TV that taps into the same ’80s nostalgia for the show.

Above: The Stranger Things mobile game.

Image Credit: Amazon

And this retro emphasis also means plug-and-plays, those miniature systems with multiple games built inside. These devices used to be cheap and licensed from companies like Sega and Atari. But Nintendo has redefined that market with its NES and SNES Classic Editions, which have both sold in the millions and are hard to find.

But while attributing some of the retro revolution to these classic consoles, Williams was also quick to point to mobile.

“Our intention is not to divorce the content from the consoles. It’s to extend it to mobile, but also to emphasize the value and the enjoyment that customers get from playing these games on consoles. You can play it home on the console or take it with you on the go with your mobile device. It’s extending the experience, so it’s always with you.”

Above: SNES Classic Edition.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Mobile is a large focus at the Retro Zone. Mobile apps are listed above all other categories, and Amazon has even acquired partnerships for exclusive content in games like Oddworld: Munch’s Odyssey. But its inclusion of physical goods also makes it a nice play to find gifts (or toys for yourself).

Old game, future success

The Retro Zone covers multiple angles. And, without giving any specifics, Williams says that customers are responding.

“We’ve seen a really good interest so far in the press and with consumers, in the activity and the traffic we see. It’s still early and it’s still building. We don’t have any specific numbers to share. But we’re encouraged by the response.”

Amazon is a business. The retailer would not invest this effort unless it thought there was an audience for it. And every year, retro includes more games. It’s a market that can always grow. That’s what drew Amazon to create this Retro Zone. It’s a business move that can attract new customers.

As others catch up with what Nintendo is doing with classic consoles — and with more old games always coming to mobile — the Retro Zone should have no trouble growing.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.