The current generation of gamers is rather young and continuing to evolve, but gaming itself has been around for decades. Considering how massive the game industry is now, it’s crazy to think they’re not trying to expand beyond your living rooms. Movies have theaters, music has concerts, and even comic books have evolved beyond comics. Why is gaming not trying to “put on a show” like everyone else? With events like E3 and PAX, it has been proven that gamers can and will spend money to get more out of gaming. The problem is that gaming was once actually popular as arcades and now those arcades have vanished. However, arcades could be the concert or movie theaters of the gaming industry, if they were ever given a chance, but due to the history of the arcade, that may never happen. Let’s discover what arcades were and re-imagine them in a new way that could lead to a massive expansion of video games.
You probably have heard your parents talk about them, or experienced them yourself. You might even see hints of arcades in your town in front of movie theaters or restaurants, but arcades are nothing like they were originally. Arcades were incredibly popular places to go, becoming hang out spots for youth, and massive money makers for big name studios like Sega or EA. Much like comics, arcades have era’s of success. The “Golden Age” of arcades, or in human terms the “best years” of arcades were mostly in the 1980’s. Most people will say 1978 was the actual Golden Age start, but a lot of people will agree that 1983 to around 1986 was the Golden Age. Video history buffs might notice something quite interesting about this date, it is indeed the year after the “gaming crash” that nearly destroyed the entire industry. It has been noted that arcade hits such as Galaga were the reason gaming reformed and became a success again.
By 1982 arcades were becoming pretty common ground all around the world. In the United States alone, arcades had reached a peak of 24,000 stand alone arcades and gained as much as $11 Billion dollars by 1982. In today’s economy that would account for nearly $30 billion dollars! By comparison the entire game industry as it stands today makes around $16 billion dollars. Another comparison would be that during the 1980’s arcades were generating more revenue per year than the movie industry did in theaters.
Why was it so popular? Well besides being a perfect hang out spot for a wide audience, they also offered new experiences. Arcades often times got the latest hits and provided an experience you couldn’t get with your Nintendo or Atari at home. Pinball machines were actually a massive draw even before the golden age of arcades. Before arcades themselves became popular, pinball machines had a total of 200,000 units generating over $2billion dollars. Sadly the rise of the arcade would lead to the decline of pinball. Instead players were more interested in titles such as Galaxian, Pac-Man, and my personal favorite Space Invaders. Successful companies included Taito (Gun Fight), Namco (Pac-Man), and even Sega which would eventually become a major player in the home console market.
Many sources state that the success of these games was purely due to the restriction of hardware at the time. Games couldn’t be very in-depth and needed to be more simplistic in tone. This meant that each company needed to focus on one thing and one thing only, being fun and innovative. This lead to games such as Pac-Man, which was not only fun, it was easy to pick up and go. Something that was lost in later titles. So what happened to all this success?
They were forgotten. By the 1990’s new technology was introduced to the home market. Consoles such as the N64 and PlayStation 1 were surpassing the technology found in arcade machines. The internet was also beginning to grow, which meant people had found something new and interesting to play with at home. During the mid 1990’s there was a sudden spike in interest of arcade machines, but that would be it. After the spike, arcades began to decline, while console sales would skyrocket. In 1995 we had our first ever E3 event. At this event Sony announced their first console, the PlayStation, and Sega announced the Sega Saturn, meanwhile Nintendo had their N64. Tides were swinging, and publishers were looking to profit off these new machines. Each console released during the 90’s would reach millions of units sold, and in total (in all their years of existence) they total more than 200 million units sold.
With home consoles gaining in popularity over the years, they managed to surpass arcade machines visually. With motion controls like Kinect or the PlayStation Eye, and gaming peripherals (for dancing or even rocking out) you could even say they have surpassed them in other areas as well. People can now get the same experience of an arcade in their own homes, and with online multiplayer they can stay connected with friends too. No need to waste quarters every time you die, all though I’m sure many people have figured out Pay-To-Play is actually bringing that back to life…… So my question then becomes, why aren’t they coming back?
Most modern day arcades offer absolutely no benefit to your average gamer at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few places (probably as many fingers you have) that have revamped movie theaters or tried something new, but it isn’t enough. For example a hit new attraction at a local place here in my area is a giant Fruit Ninja game. It’s basically just an oversized tablet to play the game on. Other attractions include racing games that have been there since the 90’s (on par with PS1 visually), and some half assed virtual reality games that Oculus Rift will most likely put to shame. Recently they even announced what I thought sounded like some awesome new games that involved Batman and Transformers. Upon showing up I found out that the Batman game was just a racing title, and the Transformers game was your standard gun pointed at a screen title.
It’s a shame because the arcade model of gaming still has the potential to offer up something new and amazing. For example there is a place in my town called Castle and Coasters which has a giant arcade right in the center. Inside the arcade they have some awesome new games and a lot of them deal with motion tracking and virtual reality stuff. One of my favorite games is a boxing title where you put on a pair of gloves and it tracks not only your hands, but weight on your feet and waist movement. You’re fully engaged within the fight making you feel apart of the action, rather than hitting buttons. There are even two stations so you can openly duke it out with your friend without actually punching each other. This was a gem mostly because it was down an aisle full of standard racers and shooting games.
Another title I recently came across was at Dave and Busters. Yeah their Batman and Transformers games were lame, but I gave one more “new” title a try and boy was I glad. This new title is an aircraft title where you pilot a fighter jet and shoot out planes in the sky. Think Ace Combat. The cool thing about it was that you fully stepped into the cockpit. You opened a door, crawled in, sat in the seat, and reached out for plane controls. The screen almost fully wraps around you which makes you look all over to find the next plane to shoot down! It was the only game in the building where I didn’t want to leave and wanted to spend all my money playing more. In fact the guy before me played probably 10 rounds before he eventually left to reload his card, which allowed me to sneak my way in!
It ends right about there though and nothing else is really cutting edge. Most arcades in my area deal with almost 90 percent “test your luck….er skill” games which are your standard claw games, insert the key in the hole and miss by a millimeter every time games, or waste a dollar machines. If you look at who makes these machines you’d be surprised because they’re the once great arcade giants like Sega, Atari, and even Capcom who do it. They do it because these machines are no different than your standard crap Facebook game. Lots of money/profit, very little effort, and very little cost. If the game happens to be churning out winners it’s actually told to “malfunction” and go out of order to stop it…..
In fact in my recent visits to local arcades I was surprised by several things. For starters some “classics” no longer seem to exist. Two arcades I visited had no pinball machines and no fighting games, which include Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. One arcade I went to had WAY too many racing games, and if it wasn’t racing games it was probably a game with a gun attached to it. These two styles of games have not evolved in arcades AT ALL. I’m talking a massive area that is 80 percent filled with racing titles….. and every single one functions exactly like the one next to it! At E3 Ubisoft had a racing title on display and to play it they put you in a machine that moved just like the car on the screen….. Why is that not in arcades?
The way I propose to fix this is to bring back the arcade to add a second stage to video game releases. Right now, the game industry isn’t built like the other massive media industries. Others go through two stages or more to make money. Take movies for example, you have the initial movie theater release and then you have DVD/Blu-ray release. Revolving around those two steps are all kinds of merchandise and toys etc…and in some cases you even have festivals and pre-release screenings to build even more hype. Video games have one release and that’s it. Even licensing for products is rather lackluster for most games, even though games like Minecraft seem to be successful with it.
Games don’t have the luxury of being pushed through multiple stages like movies and music. They have the big budgets, big studios, and big money spenders, but they jump right into the final stage. A company talks about a new game, we get excited, and then we finally go buy it. The excitement lasts about a week after purchase before people turn their eyes to something new. Why not push a game out like that twice instead of once?
They can by revamping the arcade and let me tell you how. What are some of the things every gamer dreams of? If I had you list that out, I bet attending E3 and playing games early would be one of them. Every gamer (especially younger gamers) want to be able to say “I played this game before all of you, and it was glorious!” Hell I still go home from E3 feeling like a king, that’s why I absolutely love this job at Cinelinx. So why not say “here you go, pay me 5 dollars to play my game early.” What they would do is release it movie style to arcades. Put games (either full titles, or just variations of it) in arcades for a “limited time.” This would be like a movie releasing in theaters, the exception is this is a game and a new game will be replacing it either next week or a month later. You would get the “movie theater experience” by arcades upping their game. Instead of your standard point a gun at the screen and pull the trigger, why not fully engage the user like the pilot game I played? A full surrounding, VR headset, and a 4D experience with weather effects hitting you. Make them general as well so a game like Battlefield can easily be replaced by Call of Duty, the case being both are shooters and will use the same shooting gadgets.
Back in the day this is exactly what arcades were all about; giving gamers an experience they couldn’t have at home. They can be that way again if people would start looking at innovative ideas. When I say arcade, most people probably think of big bulky out-dated machines sitting inside a dimly lit room that smells funky. That’s not the case, and In today’s world it’s possible to build a machine that can evolve with time. Instead of replacing costly machines we can replace software that’s on it, we can replace pieces of it, we can do a lot more than we could decades ago. Graphics wouldn’t be able to outpace the units if this was utilized, and if all else fails, we have cloud technology as a backup plan.
One of my fondest memories from E3 is when Activision invited me to play Call of Duty with the developers. They came out into a hallway, grabbed my girlfriend and I, brought us into this dinky little room and started the game. Within a minute the entire wall lit up and the sound effects kicked in; it was as if we were literally placed into the battle. A game franchise that’s often been ridiculed for it’s generic properties or lack of innovation felt entirely fresh and new; an altogether different experience.
Think of all the technology we have today that could create unique experiences we couldn’t get (or maybe couldn’t afford) at home. Arcades could host tournaments, VR headset could lead to 4D experiences, and giant screens could be astonishing to the eye. With todays technology we are capable of having multiple people looking at the same exact screen, but each person see’s something entirely different. Imagine that, a split screen experience without the split screen situation! Even the way you pay to play in these arcades can evolve. Imagine knowing the hottest new game is at your local arcade and all you have to do is pay 12 dollars (the same as a movie ticket) to play it for 2-3 hours months before it officially releases.
Publishers and developers would profit by seeing a percent of that money go to them, but they’d also get to promote their new games Hollywood style. Big Call of Duty posters outside the building right next to Battlefield posters, and release dates about when each one will hit arcades. Trailers for new games just before you begin playing the one you came to see. Then once it finishes its arcade run you get to go buy the full title at home. We as fans get to enjoy games “early” with unique experiences, and above all else we get to tout our high scores to real crowds again.
The original idea of an arcade was to offer you something unique; something worth dropping a quarter in and having fun. Today arcades are terrible claw machines with little to no innovation for the customer. Some people may have local gaming hubs where you pay 10 dollars for a few hours of PC gaming, but that’s as far as it gets. Why not push them to innovate the industry again and bring to life something great? If watching Wreck-It-Ralph didn’t make you miss arcades, then hopefully this article did! What are some ideas you have to bring arcades back to life? People may think it's silly, but with arcades in full motion the industry was making more money. With a proper return, who knows what will come....