Well, this should be an interesting little post, shouldn’t it? The question of how old a console needs to be before it is considered “retro” is one of the most subjective questions in the retro gaming community. Everyone has a slightly (or vastly) different opinion on what classes a console as retro. I’ve been looking into it myself recently, to see if there is a commonly accepted classification rule… However, all that I’ve found is contradicting opinions.

That’s why, for today’s post, I wanted to put my two cents into the debate… I’m going to take a look at a (very) small selection of answers to the question that I’ve come across. Then, I’ll explain why I disagree with them, before finally explaining my opinion on the subject. Sound interesting? Well, let’s take a look, shall we?

Anything Pre-Nintendo

One interesting idea that I came across was that some people only considered consoles released before Nintendo step into the industry to be retro. This basically limits the retro gaming world to the first and second generation home consoles, such as the Atari 2600, Coleco Telstar and Intellivision. This is a pretty good way to classify retro gaming, as it is based on a specific timeframe within the gaming industry.

However, personally, I cannot agree with the notion. You see, when Nintendo came along with the NES, they revitalised the gaming industry. It was struggling really badly at the time, after the infamous video game crash. Yet, the NES sold amazingly well and brought home console gaming back to life once again. If it weren’t for the release of the NES, we may not have the juggernaut industry that we are so accustomed to today. Because of this, I cannot, in good faith, ignore the NES when I look at retro gaming.

For me, retro gaming is a term used to show respect to the older generation of consoles and games… And because of that, I have to include the NES in it. I have so much respect for both Nintendo and the NES for what they managed to do, that I cannot overlook the console.

The 1970s Followed By Nintendo Only

This was one of the strangest definitions of “what makes a console retro” that I came across. I found a few people who claimed that retro gaming consoles were limited to the first and second generation and then only Nintendo consoles after that. Just writing that down sounds so strange to me.

Now, you’re probably having the same initial reaction that I did; this must have been written by a Nintendo fanboy, right?

Well, according to a number of the people that were saying this, they were major PlayStation and MegaDrive fans. Of course, I cannot verify this 100%, and can only go on what they stated publicly, but that is interesting. The general consensus was that Nintendo’s games were more popular now, and therefore worth more money. This, in turn, means that they can be considered “retro”. On the other hand, because PlayStations and MegaDrives are generally cheaper, as are their games, they are just considered “old”.

Also, it is worth noting that some of the people saying this admitted that they would consider the N64 and GameCube retro, but not the PS2, Dreamcast or MegaDrive. So, to show why I disagree with the idea of only Nintendo consoles post 2nd generation being considered retro because of their price tags, I have 3 words for you; Rule of Rose.

Just go and take a look at how much that Survival Horror game for the PS2 costs! Or even better, why don’t I show you one of the Amazon listings for it?

As you can see., if you are basing the term “retro” purely on the cost of the console or games, then that should instantly include the PS2 simply because of Rule of Rose on its own! I mean, the game is buying sold for £500… So yeah, I completely disagree with this classification system. It just seems naive.

When They Stop Making Games For It

Okay, so this one seemed like a very good way to judge a console as being retro or not, at least at first glance. The idea is that, when the publishers and manufacturers stop making or releasing games for the console, it can then be considered a retro console. That’s a pretty clear-cut idea, that covers most consoles correctly. It’s a simple theory that is easy to follow as well, which is great.

However, in practice, it simply doesn’t work. Why?

Well, let’s take into account the fact that Nintendo first released the SNES Classic Mini last year. On that beautiful machine, we finally got the release of Star Fox 2… It hadn’t ever been released before, so it was (in essence) a brand new Super Nintendo game being released for the updated version of the console. So, even if you ignore the fact that the manufactures made a brand new version of the console itself, the release of a new game for it means that the SNES is no longer a retro console.

But that’s not all. Did you know that there are indie game developers out there working on new games for the Jaguar? Based on this theory, that means that when those new Jaguar games get released, it can no longer be considered retro… Even though it is 25 years old! So yeah, after looking at those two points, this method of categorisation just seems to fall apart, doesn’t it?

Two Generations Behind

This is probably the closest to what I adhere to and is also another very easy to use categorisation, on the surface. Essentially, when we get two console generations ahead of the console in question, it can be considered retro. So, when the PS3 came out, the PlayStation became a retro console. When they GameCube came out the Super Nintendo became a retro console. As I said, it is an easy way to determine what is retro… But only on the surface.

If you really think about it, recent generations can be broken down as follows:

  • Third Generation – initial 8-bit pixel graphics, moving away from wireframes (NES, Master System)
  • Fourth Generation – advanced 16-bit pixel graphics and 2.5D animation (SNES, Megadrive)
  • Fifth Generation – initial 3D graphics and move to 64-bit. (PSX, N64, Sega Saturn)
  • Sixth Generation – advanced 3D graphics (PS2, GameCube, Xbox)
  • Seventh Generation – initial move to HD graphics (PS3, Wii, Xbox 360)
  • Eight Generation – advanced HD graphics (PS4, Wii U, Xbox One)

So, as you can see, the different generations are largely defined by the technology used to create the visuals of the games. Bear with me on this. Whilst it hasn’t officially been classed as a new generation of consoles (because the industry would likely find it confusing), I pose that, based on the fact that graphical technology is a major aspect of the generation switch, that we are actually in the Ninth Generation right now. You’re probably laughing or calling me stupid now, but there is a reason for this.

The Eight Generation was the move to advanced HD graphics, but with the release of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, we now have 4K gaming. This is not “HD” anymore. Instead, it shows that we are moving into a new type of graphical technology. That move to new technology has been a defining feature of generation changes in the past, but so far, it hasn’t officially been classified as one. Therefore, based on the idea that retro consoles have to be 2 generations behind, that limits us to just the PS2, GameCube and Xbox era.

This conflicts with other theories, such as classifying a console as retro when games are no longer released for it. How? Well, the 360 and Wii don’t have any new games coming out… So they would be considered retro consoles based on that theory. However, because the 4K consoles aren’t considered a new generation, this theory says that they aren’t retro consoles.

So What Do I Think?

Well, firstly, thank you for making it this far and being curious enough to see what I think about this. Secondly, please remember that what constitutes a retro console is entirely subjective, and this is just my opinion. It is, in no way, shape or form, me trying to say that you should all agree with me.

Now then, when I am looking at a console and trying to determine whether it is a retro console or not, I look at the release date of the console compared to the current date. If the console is more than 10 years old at that specific time, then I would consider it retro. It doesn’t matter if new games are coming out (like on the Jaguar or SNES), or whether it is just 1 generation behind. If it has been 10 years since the initial release of the console, I class it as retro.

Why did I choose this? Honestly, it’s an arbitrary number, but it feels like the right amount of time to have passed because it means that there will be people who were got it early on and will want to go back 10 years to feel the nostalgia of the first games they played on it.

What this means is that, to me, the PS3 is a retro console as it was released 12 years ago. The same is true of the Wii and Xbox 360, as they were released about 13 years ago. As a Dad, I look at it this way; that is enough time for someone to live through their entire childhood, from birth to almost being a teenager. Therefore, it seems like a long enough period for a console to have aged before being classified as retro.

And That’s All Folks

Once again, that is just my opinion. I am sure all of you reading this have your own ways to judge when a console becomes retro, and I would love to hear them. There really is not right or wrong answer to the question, either. Just like when you are trying to decide how good a game is, it is all entirely subjective. Life would be boring if we all agreed, right?

So, let me know in the comments below what classification system you use to determine whether a console is retro or not!

When Does A Console Become Retro?
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When Does A Console Become Retro?
An analysis of various theories and categorisation techniques in determining when a video game console can be considered a retro console.
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16-Bit Dad
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