What classic gaming got right that modern gaming forgot

I've seen a few polls, surveys and articles that articulate which "golden age" of gaming should be ranked top tier. And it always skews towards the 90s. Particularly late 90s console era. I always put that down to the fact that the generation of gamers then are maturing, maybe have kids, and love a bit of nostalgia. And that it was really the first proper generation where mass-market adoption of gaming worked.

But there's more to it when I compare that era to the modern one. The modern era which is bigger, blockbuster-riddled with persistent output and a whole ecosystem of industries around it. I think there's a few things that the old era got right that just isn't happening today. This post is what I think they are.


This is fairly obvious because it's such a hot topic today. We used to have DRM, or bad internet speeds. So piracy was difficult and a bit of a hobby for some rather than something easy. But then disc-based media came, which meant ripping software was easier. And that came with warez, later torrents. Online started as a way to replace DRM, giving the illusion of convenience.

Even my beloved Steam has it's foibles here. When I first got Half Life 2 with the Orange Box, and installed Steam, it was impossible. We had internet for years, but I never saw an outage like this. Valve scrambled to implement an offline mode to allow us to play our offline-only story driven game. But today, that's been bastardised into subscription fee hell. Every game is trying to be some sort of ecosystem and service. It's not consumer-friendly, and isn't even attempting to put the content or story first.

I downloaded Hi-Fi Rush for Steam Deck to accompany me on a flight this past week. No dice, because I needed to connect to the internet to verify a game I paid for via an online-only launcher. No wifi on the flight means the file has now sat idle instead of being enjoyed. A game that is single player, offline.

Singles vs Multiplayer

Nowadays, even the games with solo play stories are coming with multiplayer. But the MP is actually what the publishers want you to play. Because that's where they can sell you more stuff. Single player is hard to build, because it's based on a hook, a story and that requires creative people who do things like script writing, editing and voice acting. All things large publishers will do anything to avoid.

I would argue Sony & Nintendo are the only major publishers really considering solo play, hence why they dominate the AAA, award-winning category with titles like Zelda, God of War, Last of Us, etc.


Old games didn't have the opportunity to up-sell. Even in the beginnings of online-only mulitplayer games like Battlefield, it was more convenient to sell a DLC pack in a shop than force you into a Steam ripoff system. I genuinely recall going to a games shop to buy a DVD-case with a single bit of paper to redeem a code to get Battlefield 2142's expansion pack.

Today, though, it's relentless. Go to Call of Duty's menu and look at how it's organised. It's primary goal is to extract more from your credit card, not to get you to the story they lovingly crafted, or even get you in to play with friends.


Because old games were shipped once, and only once. And shipped on hardware cartridges or discs, there was no room for error. Today, we see shipping windows getting aggressive towards dev time, operating cadence and even company culture. It means the games industry is a shitty place to work, because creativity is in the way of shipping things everyone is proud of. And it's able to be forgiven (in many cases) because we've become desensitised so much that enormous multi-gig day 1 patches are accepted. Even in games that aim to be primarily offline.