Whatever Happened to the Classic IP?

I’ve been playing the SNK Arcade Classics compilation recently in preparation for my eventual review and the Volume 1 label on this and Namco Museum Remix have gotten me to thinking about other classic arcade games which are seemingly lost to history — or at least destined not to be used to make money by their rights holders — and to wonder why this is.

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a log for the past couple of years it should be apparent that, especially in the download market, retro-gaming is popular again on home consoles. We’re now seeing new games like Pole’s Big Adventure and “tribute” games like Bubble Bobble Wii and Gradius ReBirth on WiiWare and they’re being embraced by the gaming public with the first of those titles enjoying a continued place in the top of the best selling WiiWare titles in Japan after several weeks of release.

The Wii seems to be a natural place for these games: it has a large install base and many older folk playing games who have likely played classic arcade and console titles in their younger days and might be ripe for a bit of nostalgia. During these uncertain economic times, putting out a compilation of pre-existing content seems like a safe bet with minimal capital outlay required and potential of significant profit if marketed effectively. There’s no reason we cannot honour the old as well as develop the new.

Sure, there’s MAME and many classic arcade ROMs can be found online, but the fact is that many people cannot be bothered with it. The draw of a trouble-free disc load and playing on their TV would be a lure even for people who partake of emulation currently. It’s not like everything of interest in the arcades appeared on home consoles (or even had worthwhile ports); besides not everyone who would be interested in the classics uses the Wii Shop to buy VC content.

Just looking at the arcade vendors of old that are still alive and kicking, the question should rightly be asked: where is the product? I like seeing the Taito’s Collection series on WiiWare, but where’s the Taito Legends collection on disc to complement it? Konami have famously sat on a huge library of classics with the occasional sparse collection coming out from time to time. Why this is the case is quite beyond me. Midway is on the brink: bringing out a full library of Midway, Williams and Atari Games titles – including prototypes – would be a great way to celebrate the legacy of the IP this company holds; hopefully before it’s parceled off as part of some bankruptcy settlement and left to sit in a lawyer’s desk drawer.

At a minimum Namco and Ignition should continue the series they’ve already started. Namco hasn’t completely matched the collection of classic titles seen in the original Museum series on the Playstation, so let’s rectify that with another Remix collection or two. I’m also hopeful we’ll see a full accounting of Pac Man arcade titles on the upcoming 30th anniversary game that was recently announced. Ignition should remember there’s a library of SNK games outside of the Neo Geo – although the Neo Geo library alone could fill several compilations without difficulty – and maybe check into licensing other company’s old IP as well.

As we’re approaching the 30th anniversary of many classic arcade games I’m hopeful that companies will review their vast IP storehouses and bring out some compilations for those of us that remember them and kids that might find there was fun stuff to be played in arcades before they were born. Enterprising 3rd parties should consider licensing stuff that the big boys don’t want to handle themselves or dig for gold in the stacks of games that no longer seem to have owners (who owns Irem, Data East, Nichibutsu, Stern, Universal, Centuri, Exidy and Cinematronics these days?). There’s money to be made in old code guys, go get it!