Video essay examines the indie MMO nostalgia trend


YouTuber The Hive Leader stirred up a lot of discussion this past weekend with a new video essay called “Nostalgia and Indie MMOs.” In it, he observes the current trend of indie projects to lean heavily upon nostalgia and past design in their construction and theorizes why this is happening.

“Nostalgia has ruled over the past few years of TV and movies, and now it appears to be hitting the MMO genre,” he says, “What is it about indie MMOs and being ‘old school?’ Are these new games trying to prove something? Or is it all just a nostalgia-fueled cash grab?”

Give it a full watch below and give us your take on this phenomenon in the comments!

Thanks Kinya!

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I’d just like to add that based on the number of unplayed games in my Steam library, there’s a nice juicy market of older gamers who have money and dreams and combine the two as a salve for lack of time to actually play those games in the ways they pine for. Sure, I love me some old school MMO, but with a career and family: ain’t nobody got time for that (at least compared to college days or when my job didn’t demand much of me).

I don’t see why it would be different with MMOs. It’s not pay to win, it’s pay to dream. Dreams of the future, and dreams of the past. It’s not a zero-sum game, we can dream about both. And even when the dreams remain dreams, the dollars are real. ?

Aluminum Man

This has been a growing trend in other entertainment too.

– With TV the growing number and availability of streaming services like Netflix means that a whole bunch of classic TV is available and at low cost. The ever-growing need for more content means that a lot of niche stuff is fairly easy to find.

– Tabletop RPGs have seen a bunch of old school games made available again and various takes on them achieve some level of popularity. This is driven by two things IMO: The emergence of PDFs as an acceptable format for a rulebook, phones and tablets being an easy way to view said PDFs, and the Open Gaming License that lets people use parts of existing games in various ways.

– Non-MMORPG computer games have Steam and GOG and the App stores for phones and consoles, among others, that provide a bunch of cheap and legal ways to play classic games and even provide a channel for updates to them so it’s possible to sell “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition” in a way that makes enough money to make them a viable undertaking.

It’s definitely an interesting trend and it’s been going for a while now. For all of these Kickstarter plays a growing role too as a way to re-launch a classic something in a new form, appealing to old fans and giving new ones a way to jump in on a ground level.

I still see new and interesting efforts being made in most of these different formats but the retro movement is clearly very strong.


This is how crowdfunding video games works period, not just MMOs. Rando developers with a bold new idea aren’t going to raise much money from backers without leaning on older names, games, or devs to provide some credibility. Even the crazy vision of Star Citizen leans pretty heavily on Wing Commander, as the Repopulation did on SWG. The video can point out specific “inspirations” for each title because that is how the crowdfunding had to be pitched, whether stated directly or not.

IronSalamander8 .

It’s a mix really. Nostalgia sells for sure and even board games are cashing in on that phenomenon with modernized remakes of games like Fireball Island and games that use 8-bit graphics like Boss Monster in their artwork. Nostalgia sells, and often sells well.

I speak a lot on CoH and it’s still my favorite MMO but it felt more ‘modern’ than EQ which was my first MMO and not just for the graphics but that it was vastly more solo friendly and had a lot of QoL features that EQ just lacked. I tried going back to EQ a few years ago and was all ‘nope’. It feels clunky compared to newer titles and I can’t go back.

For example I loved Space Invaders, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc. as a kid and they’re still good games but they’re so limited by today’s standards that I couldn’t imagine paying full price for one of them; so we buy collections instead and get a bunch!

I do miss old school shooters with long single player campaigns like the original Unreal, Half-Life, Quake, etc., and would love more of those games over the multiplayer focus of the newer ones but in general nostalgia has a place but MMOs have generally gotten better barring some spurious business models.

drew who

My first mmo was World of Warcraft back when I first started playing back in 2005 so I never really have experienced the likes of Ultima , Asheron’s Call or Everquest ,I am not sure how vanilla WoW stands up to these games but for me that remains the high watermark of mmo’s .

Over the years WoW lost all appeal to me and I have tried to go back but it is so streamlined and easy now that I suspect if you sat down a chimp in front of a monitor it could play it without too much trouble . I remember back in the days of Vanilla people used to use Hello Kitty Island as an insult for players who complained about the content being too hard at times . These days the current version of WoW has more in common with Hello Kitty Island than it does with Vanilla .

It is a trend I have seen in other games Elder Scrolls Online is a nice enough game but since the scaled leveling questing pve has become dead easy and I found the only way to possibly enjoy it was to take off all my armor and just leave my cosmetics on .

I’ve got the point where I want something that has some depth and challenge to it which you can immerse yourself in . Hopefully one of these indie retro-style mmo’s will offer that .

The Dallas Dapifer

I spent so many years wasting away in MMO’s that I’m now able to go back and play everything I ever missed over the last 30 years. What a golden age of gaming we live in.


It can, and often times does, seem the “modern MMO gamer” gets a bit upset when one of these games is announced. Fact is there aren’t enough of these old style games with updated parts active currently. Try to insult it by calling it “niche”, “nostalgia”, “tedious”, etc., etc., because the mechanics and features require a greater amount of time spent in-game (oh noes!!) but the fact remains a significant number of folks want this.

Those folks couldn’t care less to argue with you on social media about how many subscriptions your game has versus theirs. They’ll actually be in game playing the game, not alt-tabbed out making duck lip photos for instagram OR watching some other guy playing the same MMO on their twitch (instead of playing the game you are logged into!).

I sincerely hope these developers are tuning these folks out and are focusing on making well iterated versions of these old school style games. Clearly these style games don’t appeal to the naysayers or “shade” casters.


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I like this guy. Quality stuff.