Not long ago, a question popped up on our Facebook page asking a question that I have read often on the interwebs:
why not sega and others make them on the pc and consoles? – GM Alonzo
I.E., where are the home console ports of modern arcade titles? Just about every manufacturer social media page gets this question asked of them in some form although they tend to not answer since explaining it in details isn’t something that fits on a bumper sticker.
The quick answer is that there are various factors to consider due to how the arcade market works that makes it more involved than simply changing the control input and printing money from there. For the longer answer, let’s break it down into pieces (as a plug, I do expand on a lot of these points in my book The Arcade Experience, in case anyone is interested):
Creative Flexibility: When you create a game with a particular platform in mind, aspects of that platform can limit how the game operates in practice. There are limitations of the console hardware itself then the limitations of the controller. Manufacturers have expanded what controllers can do, especially with the WiiU but you still generally have that framework to operate in. Exceptions are games with accessory controllers but those tend to be more niche than wide audience sellers.
The same limitation aspect is true for arcades but the limitation tends to be the budget and practicality more than the controls. Arcade games can use every aspect of the hardware to their advantage. They don’t have to try and please different kinds of monitors or sound systems and you can provide a consistent control experience without asking the customer to buy an accessory they wouldn’t use for any other game. Those aspects including the cabinet itself can all be tailored to provide a specific experience that the content creator wishes to convey. Top that off with arcades being more social in nature and they provide a different culture and mentality towards gaming than home games often do. With every play, your money is on the line but you don’t have to spend all the cash on the hardware to enjoy what the game offers. When arcade titles come home, they can lose that unique haptic factor that they otherwise stand out on. There is also the aspect of showing off your skills in public, which can be an art form under the guise of the right player. Losing that wouldn’t be a victory for gaming in general but a loss.
Some games still do come home: When you read some comments on social media, it is easy to come away with the impression that no one has done an arcade port since the Dreamcast. It is true that a vast majority of cash investment into the video game industry goes to the home market which pumps out thousands of titles a year across consoles/mobile/PC combined. A lot of those games are ports and clones across multiple platforms. It isn’t recognized very often but there have been some games ported to home consoles in recent times. Here’s a list that covers the past several years, let’s start with Sega since that is from the question:
Afterburner Climax (Sega); House of the Dead 4 (Sega); Sega Rally 3 (released as Sega Rally Online); Tank! Tank! Tank! (Namco); Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (Namco); Time Crisis 4; Razing Storm (Namco); Pac-Man Battle Royale (Namco); Dariusburst Another Chronicle (Taito); ReRave Plus (Step Revolution); NEON FM (Unit-E); Big Buck Hunter (Play Mechanix/Raw Thrills); Raiden III & IV (MOSS); the Blazblue series (Arcsys); Guilty Gear Xrd (Arcsys); Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition (Capcom; every version of SF4 came home); Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom; titles like Gunlord, Razion & NEO XYX (NGDevteam; granted the home releases were to the Sega Dreamcast and NEO GEO AES). I might be missing a few shmups here but that should give an idea.
More is on the way: Tekken 7, Mario & Sonic At The Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Taiko No Tatsujin and Pokken Tournament are coming home later this year. This all isn’t what I would call a dearth of content or ports when you consider that we only see about 20-30 new video arcade releases a year (not counting Japan which would boost that up to the 50s-60s) as opposed to the 200+ releases like back in ’82. And speaking of the classics, if they aren’t available on emulation then just about every company has released compilations or digital downloads of titles from the 80s and 90s, making those games available on just about every platform with a screen.
There are also franchises that the arcade has ‘lost’, which used to be known for being arcade games first. Now they are exclusive on consoles such as Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat X and the upcoming King of Fighters. Metal Slug has had ports to various platforms including that compilation of every MS game on one disc and it looks like SNK is shunning future arcade developments. Even the Raiden series is coming along with a console only release in Raiden V. From an arcade gaming perspective, I think that is unfortunate since it was the crucible of the arcade mentality that made these games special in the first place.
With that in mind….
The Allure of Exclusive Content – Every game console likes to tout things like ONLY ON (XBOX 360/PS4/WIIU). One big reason you might buy one game console over another is because it has games that you can’t get on any other platform. This same principal works in the arcade business to and it tends to drive long term sales. In most instances, a game that is only available in arcades tends to earn better. There might be some occasional exceptions to that rule, such as with titles that sold in very low numbers on the worldwide market. But if it is a game that almost every arcade has, the weekly earnings on it can collapse if the same or a “good enough” version of it is found at home. While light-gun and driving games can differentiate themselves better, this really affects fighting games, which are always joystick-based. Since there is a niche market of home arcade controllers and online play covers the “play a stranger” aspect, those types of games lose their appeal when offered in an out-of-home format.
It should be noted that arcade operators have to take big risks on every game purchase. A new game on average costs about $7500 right now and a lot of new releases are driving that average higher with some games costing in the $20,000-$30,000+ range. On the developer/manufacturer’s end, most games cost millions of dollars to create and produce. The price of a single game and its potential for generating revenue also doesn’t take into account all of the other costs of business that an arcade has (rent, electricity, insurance, taxes/fees, maintenance, wages, etc.). It has been shown that porting home games to the arcade can work if the hardware is different enough but that also does not guarantee a top earner. Let’s also not forget that most redemption product is exclusive to the arcade sector since they are heavily or purely mechanical in nature, playing a game in exchange for a physical reward.
I remember right before I opened my arcade, I was waiting in line at a store when the conversation with complete strangers led to the mention that I would open an arcade. The gamers in the group said something to the effect “why would anyone go to the arcade when I can play all those games in MAME”? It’s a good question that pops-up often, seeking to find the value in what the arcade experience offers. All-in-all, the more I can tout “ONLY IN ARCADES”, that’s a little bonus that shows to visitors that not everything they find in my place is playable at home in MAME or via a port or on the phone. If there was no content that could be exclusive to the arcade, that makes it a little harder for an arcade business to stand out. Standing out in some way or to some degree is necessary if you want to stay in business and most arcades can’t develop their own games. That is why many will have other attractions – food/drink, rides, batting cages, laser tag, etc.
It is worth noting that Dave & Busters has been driving a lot of development in trying to get exclusive concepts for their venues or at least timed exclusives as they understand the value that having games that their competitors can’t have brings to their bottom line.
While the counter-argument might be that there are plenty of areas where new games won’t show up, that has become less of a problem as large arcade chains like Dave & Busters, Round 1 USA, Main Event, Boomers, or Chuck E Cheeses have opened more locations out there and more independent arcades are popping up all the time as we like to note here on the site. If there weren’t places to sell new games to, there wouldn’t be new games!
Licensing – Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Transformers, Mario Kart, Batman, Aliens, Terminator Salvation, Angry Birds, Ghostbusters, Pink Panther, Flappy Bird – these are all properties which have been found in an arcade in the past couple of years. Licensing a popular media property is becoming big business as there are certain advantages to using a license. Primarily in that the license itself markets the game for you and it helps develop the game concept without needing to start from complete scratch. This is also why a vast majority of pinball machines use a license – license = built-in fanbase.
With licensing, certain restrictions tend to be placed on the developer, such as what format they can release the game on. That can mean that there is no legal way for the game to be released to a modern game console or it would be too costly to be worth it. The best example I can think of is with Terminator Salvation. The movie was released in 2009 and a particular home console developer obtained the rights to make the version that was launched to various systems. In that instance, even if Raw Thrills had wanted to bring the game home it likely would have been a real legal headache since the rights for that home version belonged to someone else. It also would have been confusing to buyers.
This issue existed back in the early 80s too, sometimes with movies, sometimes with arcade games themselves. Atari had the rights to do Pac-Man at home but it was Midway who bought the rights for the arcade. Due to those kinds of contracts a company like Atari was able to release Donkey Kong & Mario Bros. to their Atari 7800 console right in the middle of the NES’ reign on the market.
Many games on the arcade market are ports from the home: Along those same lines, more and more titles are being ported from a home device over to the arcade, although this is stronger with mobile titles than consoles. That makes porting them back pointless. Any changes made to the software are to make it work properly in an arcade environment and those changes are not always conducive to what works at home. Some examples: Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, Crossy Road, Fruit Ninja, Infinity Blade, Doodle Jump, Flappy Bird, Jetpack Joyride, Plants Vs. Zombies, Showdown (based on DiRT: Showdown), GRID, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Virtua Tennis 4, Bejeweled, Redline Rampage, Twisted, Blazing Angels, Paradise Lost (Far Cry), Timberman, Guitar Hero, Temple Run 1 & 2, Subway Surfers, Rail Rush, Left 4 Dead, Skullgirls, and several others with more on the way like Q*Bert.
The Bottom Line?
I completely understand the desire for arcade-to-home ports and own my share of them but I think it is important for players to understand that there are valid reasons for why arcade manufacturers don’t port every single game over.
To arcade game makers, their primary target market is the operator. Players are still important since they determine whether or not a game earns but if a developer can’t make a game that convinces the operators to purchase the game in the first place, the game won’t go anywhere. Being arcade exclusive (timed or permanently) has proven to be a benefit to the arcade market; then you have the flexibility to do more with an idea thanks to the hardware which can be tailored to that experience (moving seat, dome screen, moving screen, unique sound system, etc).
In the case of operators, you can’t make a living off of buying a $10k/$20k/$30k game that makes its money back over the course of several years so if exclusivity helps it make the investment back faster, it isn’t hard to see why that can be a deciding factor.
What are your thoughts? Agreed or disagreed and why?