Why were old games so hard?

New games are for sissies and casual gamers! ( Joking, Have you ever played Dark Souls? )

For the diehard gamer, you can still find some pretty challenging games out there. But there is no denying that old computer games were by default, incredibly difficult. I can remember many hours spent with my friends trying to complete various games on the Megadrive or PC. Only to mumble and swear various profanities when my mum wasn’t in the room.

“This game is broken!”

Why were old games so hard?

We died numerous times…

Old games were challenging.

But, that was part of the fun.

I believe old games were so hard because computer game development was in its infancy, It was believed Western gamers enjoyed the challenge, so game developers catered to this market. Old games were so hard as gaming was carried out in arcades. Arcades are needed to keep you playing and earn money. Yet this difficulty was ported to both consoles and PC’s.

The early 1980s and 1990s were a golden age for hardcore gaming!

Want to give your thumbs and fingers a challenge? Play old games.

Want something to try your patience and your sanity? Play an old game!

Fancy something easy? Play a walking simulator where you can’t die.
Or read for my reasons why we think old games were so hard.

Why were old games so hard? Was it to challenge the gamer?

There are so many reasons why I think old games were hard based on firsthand experience.

Old games were hard, there is no doubting it! One memorable obstacle was that you couldn’t save your game, if you died or ran out of lives you had to start again! This required the player to keep trying to beat the game – over and over again! Furthermore, controllers were both basic and more simplistic, which could be argued, increased difficulty in some early computer games.

Older or retro games were also created in the early years when the computer games industry was relatively young. With some new genres only just coming to the market. Over the years, many games have had the opportunity to develop and be refined. This includes gameplay, difficulty, and how the player controls the game. With the save game becoming the staple.

There was a commercial gain to make old games so hard

Old games were hard As they were intended for both an arcade and home setting in the West. Arcade games require you to insert more money to keep playing the game.

The harder and more addictive the game, the more money you would insert.

I can still recall playing the original Mortal Kombat 1 with my brother in the arcade in my old seaside town. I must have spent a lot of pocket money!

Here is a bit more information about the amusement arcade. Source –

Gamers loved a challenge – tastes!

Why were old games so hard? I believe that old games were ‘so hard’ because gamers liked difficult games. It appealed to the old gamers’ tastes in Western countries.

They relished the challenge and enjoyed the thrill of overcoming tough games. Most likely, after being killed over and over again. Beating a hard game felt great, and still does. ( ever played Dark Souls? )

On the other hand, some games were so difficult and frustrating many gamers just ‘rage quit’ and never played them again. I can’t recall frustration ever really getting the better of me often, but… can recall my Dad threatening to confiscate the controller after losing my rag with a game on the MegaDrive. I was probably 9.

Broken gamepads and tantrums

Many older gamers would be inclined to agree – old games were often difficult. Some by design, others because were buggy or lacked the attention to make them more playable. Later games became much more player-friendly.

With older games, you may have heard or repeated such lines as…

  • “This game is broken.”
  • “I think the gamepad is broken.”
  • “This game has bugs”

Phrases that would have been quoted before then turning the game off.

Some games may have very well been a bit broken buggy, but in truth, it is more a case of the player just not being able to beat the game and just turning the game off. I can certainly remember the difficulty of games being quite high as a standard. Testing the patience of many a young gamer!

The ‘Save Game’ was yet to become the norm

The ‘save game’ function was a lot more common on PC and MS-DOS games than on consoles. I can recall from an early age, being able to save games on my Dad’s PC but not being able to the MegaDrive for the majority of games.

If you died on most games for the old console, the player would have to start from the beginning. Not just the beginning of the level, but the entire game.

Why were old games so hard? … a smaller market perhaps

As a sweeping generalisation, computer games were predominately played by a much smaller audience in the 80s and early 90s. This audience most likely consisted of teenage boys who indulged in more of what would have been regarded as a ‘nerd’ hobby. ( A badge of honour by the way! )

As the decades have rolled past, games have evolved, and so has their fanbase which is now much more mainstream. Games have been made to appeal to a wider fan base both young and old. If for no other reason than to increase sales of AAA commercial games.

In terms of difficulty, this is a double-edged sword.

Coming back to computer game difficulty, or why were old games so hard. Old games being tricky is also what made some of them appealing. But with commercialisation of games to appeal to a wider market. These games have gotten easier to grasp with gentler learning curves.

Why is this most likely the case? Why have games been dumbed down? To make games appeal to everyone, including those who don’t want to throw their controllers at the TV.

Games have become easier, if for no other reason than to sell more copies.

Old games needed to be suitable for the arcade too

Not everyone owned a console or PC.

When you played a game in the arcade – the game needed to have replay value and plenty of it! Arcade games need to keep the player hooked and earn money.

If a player died in the game, they would need to insert coins to either ‘Continue’ their game and buy their way back into it. One of the most logical reasons why old games were so difficult, especially in an arcade setting was because they needed to be. Arcade games were both fun, addictive, and challenging.

Arcade gamers needed to pay to play. This would in turn earn the arcade money!

I recall on many occasions as a child going to the arcade and inserting coin after coin on various 3D space games or Time Crisis… to name a couple

You may also find these topics interesting. Are old games still popular, Did MS-Dos come with games? and, where you can buy affordable retro controllers

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