Thought Experiment: A Blueprint For Revitalizing The Arcade Scene

arcadehero February 20, 2013 16

JAEPO is now finished and for the next big trade show we look forward to is Amusement Expo. One thing that was big at JAEPO was the continued support for online MVS type systems like Taito’s NESiCAxLive or Sega’s ALL.NET P-ras Multi. Unfortunately these systems are limited to Japan and it looks like they will be sticking to that region for the near future. I have ran a poll about this before where interest seemed to be there but I think it would be interesting to do a thought experiment along these lines. Perhaps what is needed for the ball to get rolling is for some people to know whether there is some true interest in such an idea. So let’s do a thought experiment shall we?

First, an example of how great I think these systems can be. At the JAEPO event a number of new games were announced for these systems. Some were hardcore games, and there were a few casual ones in the mix. Here’s an example of a more casual game coming to Japanese arcades thanks to Taito’s NESiCAxLIVE network, Do Not Fall:

Or Sega got a 2D fighter by the name of Under Night In-Birth through ALL.NET+ Multi not long ago:

We don’t have access to games like this in the arcade in the US because everything has to be an “event” type game for FECs.

But what if we kept event machines as a great thing for a location to have once a year, backed up by something like NESiCA/ALL.NET+ for games served year round?

So let’s say we have some motivated individuals that have worked out a plan to resuscitate *economical* video gaming for arcades—not redemption, not 8k+ ‘event’ games, but games like Mom used to make in a variety of genres, particularly the neglected ones.

The plan would include a design for a cabinet replete with 30” (or larger) touchscreen monitor, commodity parts-based hardware (read: nVidia, Intel, etc.), and a digital distro system that would be, effectively, iTunes for arcades. Oh, and it would cost less to get up and running than the average event game probably by a few thousand dollars less.
Let’s say this digital distro system allowed for free test drives of beta software to gauge customer interest before buying; pricing that was substantially less than half, per game, as the latest event game; and stocked with games from Japanese developers, indie game companies, and, oh yes, perhaps even mainstream console developers.

And, finally: Let’s say, to get this up and running, this group would need to raise about $100k to make it a reality via Kickstarter. Would you kick in on that sort of project?

More importantly, would you help get your friends and arcade operators to kick in on this sort of project?

And: would you help spread the word, far and wide, so that we can get this thing funded, and make a run at bringing back some semblance of the glory days of arcade gaming?

This experiment may or may not be for a group looking to undertake just that but I would certainly be fascinated to see what your responses are, especially from arcade operators who would be at the front lines of making such a purchase. As an operator myself I am very interested in this (if you couldn’t tell from constant coverage on the Japanese only systems) as it would be a wonderful way to get new games in my place without having to rely on a 3rd party game operator or used games to keep things fresh, which is what I have been doing for the past six months or so.

And let’s top it off another poll about the subject and get a more up-to-date idea on what all of you think about this.

We’ve asked before but are asking again. Online MVS style Arcade cabinets for the US, yea or nay?

View Results

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  1. Brent Silby February 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Great idea. I’d be interested in helping out as I have had similar thoughts myself. Over the last 12 years I have designed many web-based arcade-style games. Recently I’ve been toying with the idea of producing a game specifically for an arcade cabinet. Keeping the price down would be crucial to the success of this idea.

  2. Arcades4ever February 21, 2013 at 2:27 am - Reply

    I think it’s a great idea arcadehero but of course I also think it should also depend on what type of game it was and what controls it would use. Also having extra inputs on cabinets would help so game designers are not limited to what controls are available e.g. A gun game and one that required a PEDAL meaning the pedal would be needed for the game and would there fore need connected to the cabinet if you get me.

    I really like the iTunes type idea of downloading new games straight onto an arcade machine because if a game wasn’t successful then it wouldn’t be as much of a waste on investment apart from the amount of time a certain game was running on the arcade machine. Another good idea would be to have ads on a game for almost anything while the game is not being played or even touch or while a game is loading but the ads would only be have to be very brief though as it may mislead players that it’s not a game or put then off waiting to play the game.

  3. flynn February 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    No, because for $100k, there is no way you’ll ever make even half of what you propose.

    • ECM February 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      And the FUD begins!

      I can understand your point, Flynn–nobody wants more competition–but you’re going to have to do a lot better than that considering Taito’s success with Nesica.

      But, then, if your bread and butter is $8k+ event games, who wants anyone cutting into that that pie, amirite?

      • ECM February 21, 2013 at 2:34 pm - Reply

        Oh yeah! This Kickstarter thing? Maybe you’ve heard of it? You don’t have investors that need to be paid back, rendering your point, such as it is, entirely moot.

        Basically, there’s nothing to lose but taking the chance and, if it works, we get A LOT more games in arcades–who could hate that? Except, I mean, those that would lose market share because of it, amirite?

        • flynn February 21, 2013 at 3:58 pm -

          Ideas are cheap. Execution isn’t. That’s all I’m saying.

          If anyone thinks they can pull a system together like that for that kind of cash, they’re not playing in reality. The cabinet prototyping alone would cost you close to the $100k. (UL standards, testing, parts & iterative design). It’s not just as simple as a drill & some plywood.

          Look…I, and everyone else who read this site, are all for revitalizing arcades, but the idea that an operator can pull together a Steam-esque distribution system WITH hardware for $100k is just not reality.

  4. andy February 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    Sounds like an exciting idea, arcadehero! Fresh concepts keep our industry going, and sourcing indie developers and games is a great way to bring new games into the arcade!

    • arcadehero February 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm - Reply

      Not entirely mine persay. Something I would certainly like to see so am happy to help gather some idea of interest, to a very, very small degree that this reaches. I have heard of some game ops approaching Taito and Sega about them bringing their systems over here which I would support but it looks like the business model that they use in Japan wouldn’t work here (the whole profit sharing idea, as I understand it) so its not happening. But if someone over here that understands the US market better were to give it a whirl, that’s something I support

      • Arcades4ever February 22, 2013 at 4:37 pm - Reply

        I would say that in order for this sort of thing to work one should draw up a plan and think back to when arcades very first started, what made them popular, what people with technology were limited to e.g. No realistic graphics and no Internet, how things have change and unchanged now and what could be done now which wasn’t possible before and adding new ideas e.g. Streaming game downloads from the Internet with taito’s NESicaXLIVE wasn’t possible before and therefore had to import the game jamma boards or scan codes for smart phones that has an app which could e.g. Instead of buying card for a game that acts as a save data they could use an app on a smart phone. I believe that there is an market area that has not been tapped into and rather most people would stick with the tried and true. New ideas as well as traditional games would work depending on which controls work best for a certain game along with other technology like touch screen input. This would especially work for a shmup where you tap or drag and draw lines from enemy ship to ship which then locks on and shoots them all at once. The ideas are only limited to what the person making the games for are thinking but of course it all depends on what type of game meaning which sort of cabinet would it use say if it was a racer, a shooter, joystick game etc and then of course if it use any sort of special controller e.g. The pedal from time crisis.
        A good example of what I mean is look at sega’s Naomi cabinet they use in Japan or Europe where they have different various games with different control setups while still all while still using the same cabinet, but of course special or certain games would need a dedicated cabinet like dead storm pirates but then again this sort of thing may work as a cheap alternative for an operated that is only a small business that are starting off small while working their way up

  5. ECM February 21, 2013 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Following on from the exchange above:

    Try to follow me (I know, it’s hard):

    1. It’s called Kickstarter–not fund a million-dollar corp. in one go starter.
    2. The software back-end is priced; the hardware is priced; 100k to build a few machines is *way more than enough*–the only reason we’re targeting 100k is to play it *safe*, i.e. you just never know when something unexpected is going to pop up and, if it doesn’t, that money just goes right into marketing and licensing. You can tell me this is not the case, but I am telling you it *is* the case. In fact, I don’t think anyone reading this would believe, for a nanosecond, you can’t do *exactly* what is proposed for 100k even without doing the math.
    3. Now, hang on, you’ll like this: with a couple of machines we take them to these arcade shows **you** are intimately familiar with–you know, where you hock your wares.
    4. We take orders with deposits.
    5. We *then* go and build a the retail units and ship ‘em out.
    6. It succeeds and more people buy machines OR it fails like, oh, a billion other games.

    And hey! This is crazy, but! If we need more money, we go to these thigns called banks and/or private investors and plead our case, something that’s infinitely easier and realistic with an actual machine to sell. Cause, ya know, we got the company KICKSTARTED.

    The point is, you are spreading FUD and guess what? No one is buying. You build ‘event games’ for a living, it is understandable that you wouldn’t want this to come to fruition. Duh? NO ONE likes more competition, even better if you can put someone off of it before they even *try*. But the great thing about America is that people aren’t put off by incipient *competitors* telling them what is and what isn’t viable. Capiche?

    As a final aside: are you semi-familiar with the concept of ethics? (I’m guessing not so much.) As in, do you think it’s ethical to pop onto a forum and start posting FUD without letting the other people know you work for a fairly popular event game manufacturer and that, possibly, it might just somewhat color your opinion of the situation? Probably a nice shade of green, in fact…

    For everyone else reading this:
    The point is, this is an opportunity to get more *games* at a *reasonable* price into ops’ hands. Period. Nobody running the numbers on this expects to get rich–that’d be great, but let’s get real–we just want *more* games and we’d like to see arcades recapture some of their past glory, something that’d be *a lot* easier if they weren’t being crushed under the weight of machines that cost 7-8-10k and up, and is so cost-prohibitive that it scares off 99% of game devs from even bothering to consider it as a venue for their titles. With this set-up we can price games reasonably (no overhead; no boards) and we can play host to *tons* of games you would, quite literally, *never* otherwise see in an arcade. No, not everyone of them is going to be a hit, but the way this is structured is it gives the little guy a chance to get a game out there and, even if it isn’t a primary revenue source, it can be *another* income stream to add to XBL, PSN, WiiWare, Steam, etc. which is a good thing for (almost) everyone…

    • flynn February 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      Ok, last comment, then you can go back to your jungle gym, cuz I ain’t playing anymore.

      No one is talking about getting rich. I never addressed you giving anything back to Kickstarter backers. I haven’t talked at all about how much money anyone could make or not make.

      I merely said that you can’t develop what you say for $100k, and the idea that you think you do shows exactly how out of touch you are with hardware development, software development, or electrical engineering. You don’t want to hear that? Aw. SOMEONE ON THE INTERNET IS WRONG…HULK SMASH!!!

      Also, what I do or don’t do has no relevance to anyone’s ability to carry out this task. I guess when reality comes crashing in, the easiest thing to do is shoot the messenger, huh?

      Can you make a (single, prototype) touchscreen cabinet with a game on it for $100k? Maybe. Can you have some sort of iTunes-ish network to download other games to it, monetized? With some sort of API to encourage other developers to make software for it? No way.

      Without the back end, all you have is another game, which, to the best of my knowledge, is completely undefined. “Hey guys, I have an idea for a movie. I won’t tell you what it is, but it’s gonna be amazing. Will you fund it?”

      Go ask the TouchTunes guys about this while you’re at it. Maybe they can share how much it cost when they tried.

      As far as FUD…F,U, & D is the normal response to someone with no experience or reputation asking for money to do something they’re clearly in over their head with, especially when it sounds like they want to build a car that runs on water, if you’d just give them $2000…

      And If you think that I, or anyone else, wants games to be expensive…wow. Just wow. You have zero idea what you’re talking about.

      Best of luck to you, though. I’m sure all of your engineering & software development knowledge is going to waste making conspiratorial accusations on a website.

  6. Brent Silby February 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    These guys seem to be able to get indie arcade games into cabinets pretty cheap. This is probably a far way from what you had in mind, but it shows it can be done:

    • Wild Bill February 22, 2013 at 10:54 pm - Reply

      You are on to something there, Brent. I was going to post the same thing. I’ve played the winnitron, and it’s pretty cool. They have issues with it, but that is mostly due to software/hardware integration. It’s the biggest hurdle in video game development for arcades, and they haven’t quite bridged that.

      Another consideration, and almost touched on here, is business models. Arcades are operating on a fairly antiquated model – coin in, game out. With the amount of eyes-on that arcade games get, there has to be other methods to generate a revenue stream. It’ll take some smart business to make it a reality, but it’s worth considering.

      To get arcades back to their glory days, they need to celebrate, and focus on, what makes them different. The recent trend of porting mobile games directly to arcade is a cool idea, but falls over in one of the most important areas of game development – make something that plays to the strengths of the platform. Why would you pay 2 bucks for a physically located game, when you can play the exact same one anywhere on your mobile, for free? Arcades are places where you experience things that you cannot experience anywhere else. They need to celebrate and build on that.

      I’d back a kickstarter like that for sure, and would love to be involved.

  7. Gamefan72 February 22, 2013 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    If I had some money to donate I’d certainly drop some for this. The idea sounds pretty solid and while I’m not completely sold on an MVS idea (similar to a Neo-Geo kind at any rate) I think a low cost interchangeable system in whatever capacity is a good one. I’m tired of the contemporary arcade scene and their ginormic “event” games too when part of the appeal was always casual enjoyment and not having to think too much about it. It was sort of “Hey I’m here at the mall and have a few minutes and I love videogames so I’ll plunk a quarter in this and enjoy it”. I think something like this could bring that back. I also think of some arcades’ ingenuity with regards to making machines and marquees for games that otherwise didn’t have much in that department (check out The Galloping Ghosts Arcade website and Facebook page pictures).

  8. kiwasabi February 23, 2013 at 1:34 am - Reply

    Just a question for any ops on here. Are you willing to participate in the 70-30% revenue split that NESiCAxLive has so long as you turn a profit? From what I’ve heard it sounds like operators are resistant to change. But what if that change brought about a boon to their business? Would they be willing to harbor the tradeoff of having to give up some of their revenue in exchange for new content?

  9. Joey February 24, 2013 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    ECM telling people how to execute a start-up idea/business plan?


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