Here on Arcade Heroes we have rarely touched upon “bartop touchscreen games”. While they do fit into the out-of-home entertainment angle, they are an oddball, at least among other options that can go into a bar. That said, they have been a very popular oddball in the past but it seems that time is running out for them as the biggest name in that part of the business announced today that they are ceasing “all development and production of touchscreen terminals and associated software”. This means that the ML-1 will be their last hardware to go out the door, something that attempted to offer an Xbox Live style online setting with player accounts and tournaments. Despite those features and an HD 22″ touchscreen, it appears that it came too late to save the brand as a whole. The press release mentions that support will still be offered in terms of warranty and parts. They also will be releasing a kit to give the ML-1’s offline support and the other divisions of the company that support jukeboxes and change machines will continue normal operations.
What will that mean for the out-of-home entertainment industry at large? Well I don’t think this bodes any bad omens for arcades. While one could look at the explosion of gaming on smartphones and tablets as a threat to arcades, I don’t share that conclusion. If anything it was the smaller screen bartops that suffered since they didn’t offer as different an experience as what arcades can do. Bartops had an advantage in the 80s and 90s since they were one of the few places you could find a touchscreen experience outside of a museum or perhaps an airport. But once touch technology was available in every pocket, the luster of it being cool tech was lost. Among the problems that the arcade industry might/does have, hinging everything on a single control scheme is not one of them (yes I know some bartops had those little joysticks but they were mainly used for the touchscreen). And in cases where a touchscreen is used, generally they go big, up to 46″/47″ in the case of the TouchFX or ReRave cabinets which you’re not getting on your phone (although with some of those tabletphones I’ve seen, you almost have to wonder when the Backpack Model is coming). As further proof that the arcade industry is not being damaged by phones in the same way bartops have, it has been getting a lot of traction from offering simple phone games in an oversized format with a physical controller, Doodle Jump, Temple Run, Rail Rush, Jetpack Joyride are just a few that immediately come to mind. I can’t comment on the quality of the games that bartops were offering but in the limited exposure I’ve had to them, they usually were not impressive. Often they felt to be just a step above Flash games and I think you would have to do more than that to get some earnings. The only “killer app” I have heard of for these kinds of setups was either that polar bear hitting a fish with a bat game or as pictured above, a Photo Hunt game. Those aren’t winning any Game of the Year awards or producing long lines of eager customers but just something to hopefully soak up a quarter or two from people with nothing better to do at the bar.
Interestingly enough, there are a lot of people that would buy Megatouch bartops for home use. I don’t know what the percentages are but for a high-end home bar its been a popular option as well. My guess is that it helps a home-bar feel like a professional bar, much like adding a jukebox or a shuffleboard to a game room. But with a lot of new models going for around $3000 at non-coin use, that’s a hefty price tag for something that could be just as easily replaced with a different gaming option. As far as I know there is at least one other company out there called JVL that is making bartops although their last model, the Echo or the Encore 2 whichever you prefer, has not been updated since 2011 from what I have heard. I do not follow bartops very well so I could be wrong. If they are still supporting their bartops with new updates then I imagine there will be some news about that pretty soon.
What are your thoughts on the downturn of the bartop game? Do you agree that it is isolated from arcades or do you have a different take?
[Via Replay Instant E-News]