Retro Gaming – The Australian Filter

Australia has always had, and continues to have, an interesting gaming market. We have a relatively low population compared to other markets, but we’re important enough to have our own industry. We use the PAL system, rather than NTSC which North America and Japan use.  What’s the biggest difference? Our games are a lot more expensive, and that often goes for retro games too.

When I was growing up, the overwhelming majority of my friends had the Sega Master System II. I have no idea if this was indicative of the overall population, but not many of my friends owned a Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES was widely regarded as a ‘rich boys’ machine, the kind of kids who were allowed to have TVs in their bedrooms. Hey, it was the 80s after all. The first time I ever played a NES was in a rich kid’s bedroom on tiny TV. He only one cartridge though; it was of course Mario/Duck Hunt which came bundled with the unit.

The Master System II was also only about $100, even before the Mega Drive came out in Australia, which made it much more palatable for Australian parents. The games were also cheaper, perhaps because they were smaller, but honestly it was probably because they less well known. I mean, who’s ever heard of Transbot?

The Mega Drive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System were more evenly matched (after the SNES eventually came out, anyway). Like now, the flagship titles like Mario and Sonic games didn’t come cheap, but both systems had some surprisingly inexpensive titles that no one in Australia had heard off (Demon’s Crest by Capcom is such an example). Marketing was almost non-existent for lesser known titles and companies and Australian gaming magazines were a bit hit-and-miss.

The one theory I adhere to about Australia is that it acts like a “filter” for the rest of the world. Since Australia was always lagging behind the rest of world in terms of system and game releases, executives were able to see which games were selling well and which games weren’t. There was no point in making an Australian PAL version of a game for the much smaller Australian market if it wasn’t going to sell! Sometimes they messed up and released a turkey, or passed over a great game, but there was a fairly high standard relative to say, North America. (Did someone say ten different versions of baseball on NES?)

This remained the case until around the release of the PS1. CDs were cheaper to produce and the delayed N64 was releasing everything it could to compete. Now, thanks to the internet, Australia now has much closer release dates and we can tell immediately if a game is a stinker or not. (Although, we still pay too much.)

For retro gamers like myself, this offers an interesting conundrum. Because there were fewer games sold in the Australian market, they are quite expensive now. Often they command around $20 to $40 for anything decent. In America they are often sold around $1-$20 for average (not rare) games. In Japan, Famicom games are so common they are often sold in bundles for less than ¥2000 ($20). I’ve even seen a throne made out of them! (The “Super Potato” retro gaming store in Akihabara.)

The upside is that often whenever I’ve purchased an old NES game on a whim, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. There are some immensely playable games out there that I’ve never heard of, ones that can give the classics a run for their money, ones that tried to experiment a little and ones that simply offer too much in the way of challenge (Bayou Billy springs to mind). Interestingly, the Sega Master System and Mega Drive games don’t appear as often in the second hand shops. Maybe Nintendo was simply more prolific. Or maybe the other kids had parents like mine and threw them out after they left home.

With the advent of virtual consoles, it’s much easier for everyone to play those classic games. But check your parent’s attics, basements and garages and have a go on one of the old consoles, you might find an absolute gem! Or you can just sell it to hardcore collectors like us; nostalgia is quite the profitable business now days.

- Andrew “ProdTally” Yoshimura

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