It wasn’t long ago we ran a little thought experiment on some potential idea for arcades and while this isn’t directly related to that, it is similar.
At the recent Amusement Expo 2013 event, I talked for a little bit with an executive for one of the major arcade game manufacturers and we discussed this particular subject for a short time. I think it is an interesting one: what would bring hardcore players back to the arcade? What would keep them interested? Is the problem attributed to the current culture of gaming or the lack of content? Phone game ports aren’t the answer – those appeal to casual gamers but not necessarily someone who is going to consider themselves a serious/hardcore gamer.
How should we define a hardcore gamer, for starters? There are various definitions one could use. Basing it on metrics such as how many games you own, what consoles you own, how much time you spend playing games or which exact games you play don’t completely work out since who is it that decides what the cut off point is? Serious gaming is a hobby and hardcore gamers are the enthusiasts. So one metric I think could be used is how one approaches games – what I have noticed from players at my arcade is that casual players don’t give games a chance. They don’t try and learn them or their nuances. They will float from one to another hoping to find the path of least resistance until they may give up playing entirely. A hardcore gamer will not let the first setback in a new game keep them from playing. They will try a different strategy or actually bother to read the instructions. They will play a game even if the graphics are outdated or subpar as how the game plays is more important than how it looks. So old games are on the table to play as much as new. Genres also don’t always matter either, they will play RPGs, RTS, FPS, STG, action, adventure, whatever. Maybe even sports, although that doesn’t always fit the stereotype 😉
I have played enough games that I have no way of keeping track of all of them. Among arcade games I’ve played a few hundred but there are certainly many titles I haven’t had a chance to experience yet. When I think of modern games I find extra appealing I think of Taito’s Dariusburst Another Chronicle. I have raved about the game many times on the blog and in person to any of you I have met. There are various reasons I like it – it takes skill to master, it does not hold your hand, there is a ton of content to it, there’s more to the controls than is first apparent, and that’s just for starters. With some minor tweaks it could appeal a little more to keep casuals interested (simple voiceovers to explain the primary objectives come to mind). Because of what it offers I’ve been able to spend hours playing it and there is a lot more to explore. Personally, that is what draws me to the game, the multiplayer aspects and excellent soundtrack are bonuses.
There are other games which have drawn in numbers of fans. The interest I have seen in Namco’s Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 4 is higher than any other arcade title in recent time, with frequent requests about whether the game is coming West. I’ve seen that to a lesser degree with Sega’s Initial D series. I personally never got a chance to get in on the action with the previous iterations with these particular series but when I played Speed Driver 4 by IGS at some trade shows (which tries to be in the same vein as these other technical drivers) I could see why. The games find ways to integrate a multitude of features and even storylines into the action flow of the required arcade style games. Player accounts through the use of data cards certainly provide incentive to store and track data. This was also used in IGS’s Oriental Legend 2 – which with a quick glance may seem like any other brawler but look deeper and you find much more that is worth using a save card for.
Arcade titles have used many ideas over the years to bring players back to them – aside from leaderboards you have unlockable levels or characters, player accounts, randomized content, leveling up/ranking up, or complex moves pulled off using secret combos, etc. Of course these are things that games on any platform can do but they have worked particularly well in many arcade titles have done over the years. So arcades have had to use their hardware and social advantages to gain an upper hand. But has that been enough?
So the quiz, not so much a thought experiment, for today is this. It’s not for any group in particular, more just to satisfy my own curiosity and foster some discussion on a topic I have often considered but don’t always get to bounce off of others. If you are a hardcore gamer, or perhaps you just consider yourself a gamer without the hardcore label, what would arcades need to do to draw you in that they don’t do already?
Can new ideas in hardware do the trick? (Things like “4D effects”, wind, motion, water, image manipulation, etc.)
New ideas in the software?
A common complaint about modern arcades and their lost appeal is that eventually consoles caught up in terms of graphics. How much does that difference matter to you?
Is multiplayer social interaction important?
What about complexity? Arcades have to balance this in a way that allows for simplicity on the surface with potential to unlock features through skillful tricks. Fighters are a good example of this practice. One person I have talked to about the subject before uses Atari Games’ Rampart as an example of an original idea that maintains that good balance.
I’ve asked this before but how much do online features matter, if they matter at all in an arcade setting?
By all means, please comment below!