Last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, there were 6.1 million new vinyl records sold. That's a 33% increase from the year before -- outpacing even the 32% growth rate of digital streaming through services including Pandora and Spotify -- but a 250% spike from 2002. It's also far better than the roughly 1% dip in digital downloads and 8.4% slump in overall album sales.
While video games are still in the middle of their digital moment -- with downloads providing 60% of revenue at Activision last quarter and 65% at Electronic Arts -- there's still an undercurrent of gamers and collectors that loves the physical product. Groups such as Atari Age, for example, make new homebrew games for long-"dead" consoles such as Atari's 2600 and 7800. The folks at ShopGoodwill still comb Goodwill shops around the country for consoles and games to sell in eBay-style auctions. The East Coast Barcade bar-and-video-game chain is on its third location and is eyeing a fourth in Manhattan.
Much as vinyl lovers with rave about the "warmth" of their record's sound as opposed to digital tracks, retro gamers prize the aesthetic experience of the games they love. As played in their original form -- in arcade cabinets, with original consoles or even on cathode-ray tube televisions -- old video games provide the tactile and aural experience that their mobile, online rehashes just lack. You can play a 1992 X-Men game on your smartphone, but that doesn't make it the same as the version played on a giant twin-screen console with five other people. You can fire up the Wii and play the original Super Mario Brothers on it, but not with the same two-button NES controller it was played with in 1985.
Among retro gamers and those who cherish other similarly dated and left-for-dead mediums, there's a demand for authenticity. Even among Sony's die-hards, that matters. Sony's original Playstation turns 20 years old this year, while the Playstation 2 that replaced it is now 14 -- and was taken out of production only last year. Each had controllers and an interface that, while imperfect, were unique to each system. They each had a feel to them that was tough to replicate through the consoles that came afterward, and each had a deep association for the generations who grew up with them.
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There's no guarantee Sony's going to be able to pull off everything it's promised for Playstation Now. Even if it does, however, the demand for an authentic gaming experience that's driven the average price of an original Playstation game from roughly $7 after the PS3 was released in 2006 to about $20 today, according to used game pricing guide Price Charting, will still belie the race toward a streaming future.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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