It’s been a while since we’ve seen an article that directly looks into what they call the “death” of arcades but there is a pretty popular article that was published on The Verge today that does just that. You can read it here. There is also a video which has a different tone than the article you can see there.
I don’t have qualms with a lot of the article that covers history of the coin-op sector, going from EM Games and pinball to video games. There are some inaccuracies on that part but nothing I would write this article about. Some of it seems to touch on content that can be found in the recently released book Atari Inc. Business Is Fun (which I am a little over halfway through on but where its almost 800 pages long its taking a few extra days to get through but I will have a review up soon) but you’ll have to read that book for the real and very detailed background on the history. They interview Nolan Bushnell about the industry who gives some interesting insight that I will get into a little later. They also interview a few others involved in the industry but come to the conclusion that “Everyone seems to agree that the arcade is dead and most people are ok with that”. Let me be someone who doesn’t agree. Kevin Williams also has a rebuttal of sorts, which covers more the video and you can find it after my comments.
As a rundown, I own and operate an arcade that fits into the strict definition of a traditional video arcade as presented in this article. But I am not in the heart of society of NYC as it were. I am coming up on five years in business, a goal marker that is important for any business but by the conclusion reached in this article, I should not be around. Yet oddly, my earnings recently haven’t been too shabby, this holiday season being the best I’ve seen yet. Granted, this is the best location out of the three I have been in and a major movie theater just opened in November, thanks to growth seen here locally.
So forgive me if I don’t buy this whole thing that arcades are dead because they aren’t where they were decades ago in NYC. Despite all of the great coverage of the past of the amusement industry, it baffles me that what is ignored are the evidences that there still is an industry.
We have gone over this before that it gets a little old. There are still numerous companies that produce arcade video games, not just redemption games. some of those games still manage to do pretty well. Sega just sent out a press release to discuss the availability of their latest game to the arcade market, Dream Raiders as being available in North America. Namco’s brand new Dark Escape 4D has sold out of its first production run(this should be an important point considering it is well above the average price of a standard arcade title) . Winter X Games Snocross arcade by Raw Thrills has been doing well too, not to mention it won our Player’s Choice GOTY2012. But none of these games are mentioned in the article, there is only a very brief mention of the new Tekken. I guess it would have not clashed well to try and argue that the arcade is dead while interviewing people that are actually in the business of producing the latest games. Instead more focus is given to venues that lament that they don’t make money off of primarily featuring old games people have been playing for 30 years. I don’t have anything against these models but I have learned first hand that classic games will not pay your bills unless you have an awful lot of them on hand (and BTW, if you have more than 8 arcade games in one location in NYC, how much you have to pay in taxes goes up and it becomes harder to make money compared to cities that do not have such restrictions on games). Of course they won’t – people have been playing them for 30+ years and they can also play them on just about any platform out there! You need new games to pay the bills but it doesn’t just have to be redemption either as there are brand new video games. I’m not even going to have enough space to get into the huge potential of arcades around the world in poorer areas. There is a lot of money to be made in that regard too.
Let’s not forget that among the challenges one faces in building an arcade with new games is that the cost of a new unit is nothing to sneeze at. When your average game cost is probably $7500 a unit, that is a lot to have, especially if you then need to buy two of them for the latest driving game on the market. Contrary to popular belief, the mere fact that an arcade operator is a small business does not mean that they are sitting on mountains of gold bars and that every machine is just a drop out of that bucket. Since we are speaking about money though, the Verge article does point out that a game could make $400 a week on location back in the Golden Age. Of course that is something that surely varied a bit as I have heard of locations that had Pac-Man machines which made quite a bit more but in these modern times, games like Terminator Salvation and Super Bikes 2 posted some earnings that were above $700/wk. I have the former machine and have never seen that level of earnings on my own however, the game has typically done pretty well and in my small location it has been able to pull $150-$200/wk, I have heard of higher earnings in others.
Another problem not mentioned at all is that media outlets that reach a large number of players rarely bother to even report about new games. Go ahead and place in the names of some of the latest arcade games to hit the market into The Verge’s own search engine: Dark Escape 4D, Winter X Games Snocross, Dream Raiders, Big Buck HD, Doodle Jump Arcade. Take a wild guess at what shows up currently if you do so. Sure arcades could just do fine back in 1981 without needing much marketing as the word of mouth that took place was not something that is repeated today. To be fair, I decided to do a search for these games on some other big game websites(same order on the games).
IGN: Thousands of completely non-related results / nothing related to the new arcade game / entries for Tomb raider but not for Sega’s new game / nothing about the new game, a few entries about Big Buck Hunter console entries / plenty about non-coin-op arcade Doodle Jump but nothing about its existence.
Joystiq: Nothing / Nothing / Results show articles mentioning Tomb Raider, but nothing about this specific game / Nothing for the specific game
Kotaku: Nothing (although if you type Dark Escape 3D, it pulls up results, none of them have anything to do with Namco’s newest arcade game) / Nothing / Nothing / A link to an article about the Big Buck Championships last November appear, but it links to Deadspin.com. Nothing appears for Kotaku.
Destructoid: Nothing specific / Nothing / Articles about Tomb Raider but nothing specific to this game / nothing specific to the game / nothing specific to the game
GameSpot: Nothing specific / Nothing specific (mentions of console games with the same names from years ago) / Nothing Spedific to the game / Big Buck Hunter Pro and Safari are mentioned but nothing about HD (or Big Buck World) / Nothing specific
Game Informer: nothing / zero results / various unrelated items / various unrelated items / almost nothing
So what does this say when seven websites visited by tens of thousands of gamers daily don’t have pretty much any information, even hints about the latest arcade titles on the market? Take from that what you will but I think it shows that the media who deals with games seems to have a pretty shocking disinterest in covering arcade games. Sure there is some blame I think can be put at the feet of arcade manufacturers too who do not reach out to these sources to focus their efforts on reaching game distribution channels instead but unless you constantly check Arcade Heroes then chances are you don’t know much about these games sadly. One has to wonder how things might be different if some attention was given to the latest arcade games on the market. It couldn’t hurt, now could it?
One thing I will close with is that I agree with Nolan Bushnell on his last point. When asked if the arcade can come back from this dismal state it has been painted in, Bushnell is optimistic and replies with “Absolutely it can come back, creativity will bring anything back.” How I agree is that it just takes one game to change everything, as it has so many times in the past. This article hints at that, although they gloss over the effect that games like DDR had on the industry, which was just as important as fighting games. Now I do believe that video arcade games have been mostly stagnant when it comes to innovation in recent years, with there being a few games taking the greater risk of trying something really different or creative, but a majority “playing it safe”. Sure, you will always have 25 safe games for every single risky game. But the more creative and unique games that could reach the market, the better in my view.
I appreciate that the Verge is covering arcades at least and as I mentioned, for the most part the article is something I enjoyed reading. The video looks great too as Kevin gets into below. I just wish that the message we constantly have to put out there about the existence of arcades would take root.
As you would expect, as one still have involvement with the amusement scene, I would balk at some of the statement presented in what was a great video:
– “Today, the American arcade is largely a thing of the past” – though it may be semantics, the perception of the statement is the industry is a thing of the past, when what is really meant is that the video amusement is not the stand-alone property of the amusement business (arcades history, amusement continue)!
– The explosion we have seen in new ‘Gamebars’ (what was called in the video Barcade) is a factor in the new look towards digital out-of-home entertainment (DOE) – facilities that install the more traditional amusement machines in brew bar and nightclub style facilities – the audience that was captivated in the arcade in their youth, replaced by adults captivated by the social-tainment atmosphere while they relax!
– The cry from the current Chinatown Fair proprietor on the video that there are “…only so many video games out there people want to play in the arcade…” has to be matched with the other cry from street operators that “…hey why are these games so expensive, they use to be cheap…”! The traditional street operator or route is a dying breed and it is their intransigence to change and embracing the new that has caused much of the collapse of the old style arcade approach to business.
– In reality, we have seen a continuation of amusement titles from the Japanese and American manufacturers – though they are a shadow of former glories, there are still amusement release – that also now how to compete with the new Mid-Scale Attraction technology being launched into the entertainment arena – the future is with the immersion of the playing experience “unachievable@home”.
– I agree that the kids have been conditioned by what would be Redemption playing (what was called in the video the ticket games) – but we also see a level of sophistication from the players wanting to embrace the social element of play with a heightened immersive entertainment system – so the simulators and the physical interface games are strong players (Dance Dance Revolution proved arcade still originated strong ideas).
Fundamentally, this was a great video of what the ‘traditional’ amusement industry did to avoid growing and maturing its audience – as said by many, “an all cash industry dose inevitably become complacent”! What I am trying to say in my comment – that arcade is dead!, but the next generation of the public-play scene (DOE) is alive and growing and is very very attractive!
Still, a great video Verge – but not the end of the story!