Article: What Really Happened To Arcades

arcadehero April 7, 2015 19
Article: What Really Happened To Arcades

Thanks to ‘Venumspyders’ for the tip. I was just going to briefly mention this in addition to something else but then I started writing and it became its own thing (cue, “It’s aliiiiive!” here).

Here is a blog article posted to Gamasutra by Eric Yockey entitled What Really Happened To Arcades? Eric’s work has been discussed on AH before with his NEON FM arcade game.

As I have learned over the years, answering that in full is not as simple as a quick phrase that can fit onto a bumper sticker like “home consoles killed them!”. I think that dilutes the reality of the big picture, enough to the point that it misses several important factors. Eric tackles what the arcade industry has been going through, offering his perspective both as an arcade player and an indie developer/manufacturer. I do find his analysis interesting as we do not often get a manufacturer’s view of why they do things in a certain way in this business. Often on AH’s channels for commentary I see questions like “Why doesn’t this company do x?” and I think that this article does touch on that in a couple of places. So if you are wondering why they might not do this or that, give the article a read.

My thoughts:

One good chunk of why things are the way they are these days is due to high risk – there are many operators that have been in this business for a very long time, including those that were there during the Golden Age. They’ve seen many game concepts come and go, and due to negative experiences at times, they won’t touch certain games again. Some of that might be joystick games, others it might be something that doesn’t feature a well-known license. If you look at the arcade releases for the past few years, it is easy to notice that the trend towards licensed games has exploded. Fortunately we are not at pinball levels yet (where the non-license is a true rarity) but the rosters of arcade game makers seem to indicate that we might reach the point soon, where if there isn’t a license of some kind attached to it, the game will not be made. Operators feel more comfortable with licenses since that attracts a built-in fanbase, which equals lower risk on the investment for them. It also means lower marketing costs for a manufacturer.  I cannot argue against that completely as when I look at my earnings, my top stuff is usually something with a known license – Fast and Furious Super Cars, Terminator Salvation, Transformers, and now Jurassic Park (which made a little over $250 in two days, in case anyone was curious). My non-licensed stuff can earn but not as consistently. I usually have to be the one to promote them to get more plays and most manufacturers/distributors still are horrible at marketing their products to the public at large, moreso if there is no license attached to it.

Another point to make from the perspective of the arcade game maker is that the risk for them is dumping money into both software and hardware. The impression is that arcades are just PCs in a cabinet but there is more to it than that – the controls and the I/O boards are often proprietary and are not cheap to develop. Then maintaining them can be an issue. If you have to develop your own hardware solutions from scratch, get ready to pay up. Even if you want to use a pre-existing solution, it is not cheap (operators know this well when you have to pay $800 for a graphics card that would otherwise be $50). Yockey’s article also points out some good perspectives on what can

Sometimes, arcade setups can get a little on the crazy side

Sometimes, arcade setups can get a little on the crazy side

happen with location testing and it is a massive risk to undertake, much more so than getting your game on Steam Greenlight. I have two games in my arcade that were killed due to something going wrong on test, so that is very much a possibility and there are behind-the-scenes costs involved with those cancellations or reworkings that are not always made public.   I think it is amazing that any indie has ever managed to get a game into production in the modern industry, given the costs, risks and challenges involved.

The article also generates discussion of video vs. redemption style gaming, pointing out why operators love ticket redemption. Ticket redemption doesn’t need to rely on licenses, just good ol’ physics and the possibility for a prize. One line I have heard a lot in recent times is that “people don’t trust video redemption like they do mechanical”. The article does point out how people don’t have as much an issue of dropping money down on a 10 second game experience if a prize is on the line, which they find more value from than playing a game for a high score which last several times as long.

This is not an insurmountable challenge for video to overcome, given some creative thinking. I think what is lost at times is the element of surprise – video games have to work harder at surprising the player to get them coming back for more and they need some personality. A license can give a game some built-in personality but not always, it depends upon how it is used. Play too much on the license and you are just relying on the comfort sympathies of the player (i.e. I love this TV show/movie so that is the only reason why I am playing this). Have a game that is surprising and fun and people will come back to it no matter what license is slapped on the marquee.

The surprise element I think this is lost when games try and handle things to the level of the Prompt ’em Up (my name for modern game types like The Last of Us, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, The Order 1886, Thief 4, etc. etc. that have to label and script EVERY usable game element, assuming that the player is a complete idiot) as there is no real surprise there – it is going to be the same hand-held semi-interactive cut-scene every time you play, which is less enticing to spend continue money on. Of course that is why laserdisc games died such a quick death back in the day, although gamers were less forgiving of such gimmicks back then. Now most of the current top-selling AAA console games now use Prompt ‘Em Up style to one degree or another.

I think good games find ways to properly balance what is scripted and what is randomized, while not treating you like a Luddite moron.  Doing that does take more work and money to develop than ‘get the coin through the target and win a prize’ but I think when achieved it is more memorable, which for the operator can equal more money.

I also miss stuff like bonus rounds

Good ol’ bonus/challenge rounds are rare these days

People loved Asteroids since you would create your own chaos while breaking down rocks or Street Fighter II because it was a memorable surprise to pull off the special moves, or Mortal Kombat’s fatalities, or when coming across certain unexpected boss battles like the baby in CarnEvil. I was surprised by the depth of what you could do in Dariusburst in using your Burst lasers in different ways to create different scoring combos. For a more recent example, I was surprised by the humor elements in the new Doe of the Dead zombie game on Big Buck Wild. I wanted to play through the game to see how it would present the next zombie class with a funny line.

I think one reason pinball is enjoying a high right now is that people love that random surprise element to each game. In the case of Star Trek pinball, the game surprised me moreso than other pins due to a couple of features. I can still remember that moment when I activated the projected laser starfield, which I wasn’t expecting. That is when I told myself “I have to get this” and it was a good buy as the players have enjoyed it too.  Speaking of indie challenges, we have seen that making a new pinball table is not as easy as drawing out a design on paper and getting the parts together. I guess you could say that there is no “get rich quick” scheme to creating a successful game for this industry.

The amount of casual players approaching gaming is larger than ever and given that trend, the way to make a top earning game is seen as toning down the skill required/challenge confronted.  I think that can be overcome based on how a game presents itself on the first play. In the home space, there are creative ways some games have approached on how to tutor a new player and the best is finding a way to teach them how to play without them realizing that what they are going through is a tutorial. Arcades have the challenge of that requiring a condensed form of that given that people want quick play and instant gratification. This is of course why racing and light-gun games are so popular – you already know that you need to drive the car or point and shoot. They are ubiquitous enough that they teach you most everything you need to know upon a glance. But I think other types can still be done, as long as they present it correctly.

Anyways, I’ve rambled my bit for long enough, what are your thoughts on the article?


  1. CD ageS April 8, 2015 at 12:32 am - Reply

    I like like. Very valid points made.

  2. arcades4ever April 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    There’s some good points made in this article especially with the licence game but I think the other safe side of arcade games is sequals to popular games like time crisis if done right and offer something that wasn’t possible before while at the same retaining what made games like that great in the first place. I feel like music games are pretty much dead apart from the ones released years ago like the original DDR and also seeing the lack of original music games. Of course music games aren’t popular if the songs are unknown to the west like I said before it just alienates the player. I can understand that operators like to stick with the tried and true with racing games and shooting games but I can’t stress enough that we’re seeing too much of it and the worst part is I feel like most arcade games are becoming more of a casual rather than proper racing and gun games. Namco’s dark escape for example is just a proper money gobbler and is set too hard on purpose and then dead heat is just too bland. As soon as the race is over and if you win or loose it’s game over straight away and it’s the same with the latest mariokart game when you win or loose the game is over and you don’t even get to put your initials in. Regarding the licensing of games I feel like namco have been a bit crafty with their games in the arcade over the years by making the appearance based on films e.g. Dead storm pirates = pirates of the carabien, dark escape = saw series etc.

    • clifford Ahn April 9, 2015 at 3:36 am - Reply

      the article is valid points but to me some of the reason why arcades is what it is right now is because arcade games became network required just to play them such games like ddr, beatmania IIDx and other music games that konmai makes, It also goes the same for racing games and fighting games. Our region was either not ready or wouldn’t put in the money to establish that ( i would say both). In the end i think both popularity going down and licensing was a big issue.

  3. voltz15 April 11, 2015 at 2:03 am - Reply

    I know what really killed the industry was the lack of sense to compete with killer product like what’s been going on consoles this past decade. Everything is “theme” and “amusement”, but you know something? Do you see any serious fighting games? Do we have the type of action/RPG’s that Japan does? No and that’s totally the fault of publishers who put too much focus on listening to what marketing analysts tell them. If you want that market back, you’re gonna have to put some real break out titles that make people ask why this isn’t at home and they’ll have no choice but to go out looking for them. You’re going to have to take the risk.

    You can keep your driving and gun games. Give me something that has a real point beyond just passive amusement.

    • voltz15 April 11, 2015 at 2:12 am - Reply

      I could also add another thing to this. Arcade locators… do we have them?? From my past search attempts, there has been nothing but a bunch of expired databases and many of the locals listed are either moved, or closed down. Know of any locations in your area? How about that one specific title you’re so interested in, but it’s located way the eff out in Seattle? We don’t have a national database that everyone and I mean EVERYONE can sign up for with the sense of keeping the goings in this industry updated. Nothing that’s current or capable of pinpointing to locations that are convenient.

      Just think of how consumers have changed… instant convenience on either consoles, or those silly little mobile devices I’m sure many an operator has so much disdain for… “I don’t need to waste all my time and money looking for games to play, I got just what I need… right here! heyuk! heyuk!”

      Yeah, better get that idea going.

      • arcadehero April 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm - Reply

        Site locators certainly need improvement. Aurcade is the best one but there are some technical issues with the site that are holding it back from being stellar. It still has active mods/admins who try and keep things up to date however.

        On your comment about fighters, I’m sure we’ve discussed it before but aside from places like Round 1, Arcade UFO and Super Arcade, chances of having a hit are low as long as we have that issue of a guaranteed console release. The idea is radioactive to operators, at least for the prices that are asked for on a big AAA fighting title. Granted, manufacturers *could* do more for the rare occasion one comes along – in the case of Tekken Tag 2, Namco had kits but they didn’t even mention them on the website, no promotion for it via distributors.

        I don’t think it is impossible to pull off but attracting investment to make arcade exclusive AAA fighters is an uphill battle.

        • voltz15 April 11, 2015 at 7:43 pm -

          Fighters are a worry, but as you mention the price for a kit is a little beyond what is considered acceptable, especially after seeing what happened to the way Capcom treated operators over SSFIV:AE (I remember the article). We still have a problem area that there isn’t a standard setup we can use on all cabinets as a way to cut down the costs, but the other half of it is Japan with their lack of support in general. When they left us, they took roughly 75% of the industry with them and we just haven’t been able to recover. The only answer to that is to make the type of games we would have otherwise had them bring and that’s not exactly happening. So many rarer and quirky titles released in their region while we continue to get swamped in race and gun games. Something I personally label “play and forget” because they’re nothing but 5min thrill rides, which I’m sure the majority of the public feels the same.

          I’d talk about the costs of credits driving off interests as well, but I know that’s gonna go nowhere.

        • arcadehero April 11, 2015 at 8:24 pm -

          It is true that there is an effect there but there is a side where it appears that most of the public is getting used to it. On jurassic park, I haven’t seen earnings like it since SSFIVAE and the operator that is running it for me has it at $1 to start and continue (I usually don’t have that for any of my games since I do keep that idea of cost in mind). It would be nice to survey it out and see how many sales are lost from $2/play that many places do.

        • voltz15 April 11, 2015 at 8:26 pm -

          You should see how bad they are when a game of Mario GP is $2.50.

  4. voltz15 April 11, 2015 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    You know I’m also wondering whatever happened to that Gamergate idea for putting whatever title you want in and playing for time? Wouldn’t it still be a cheaper-better alternative in some cases with the newer systems on the market and have specialized versions of games that accept credits per play rather then basing the idea on a timer system? I really could see Mortal Kombat X or possibly a chain of Call of Duty cabs lined up next to each other. Maybe not original, but granted they’ll still work because of how they relate to what the consumers are interested in.

    • voltz15 April 11, 2015 at 7:54 pm - Reply

      I probably got the name wrong, I meant to call it Gamegate.

    • arcadehero April 11, 2015 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      That died an early death due to the company going bankrupt. I never found out the full story as to why as I heard there was interest in the general idea but my best guess is that players weren’t enticed by the console games. I think that it must depend on the area; on one hand it is a lot like gaming PCs that you charge hourly for. In my area, PC gaming LANs have all but died out (mine included – customers just stopped coming since they could play CoD at home for much cheaper and they only wanted CoD, not even WoW).

      I hate to sound like a broken record but my gut feeling remains that something like that needs good content that is exclusive 😛

  5. voltz15 April 17, 2015 at 5:08 am - Reply

    It’s too bad I can’t find a forum with this site. It would be an interesting topic to discuss why certain genres are basically by the point “forbidden” from having a place in this industry. I know I’ve rambled on the gun and race bit long enough, but I feel as if this issue needs to be addressed in order for arcades to be of anyone’s interest again.

    • arcadehero April 17, 2015 at 9:47 am - Reply

      Aside from Facebook, we don’t have one – yet 😉 Big changes are in the works behind the scenes and a forum/community is part of the plans

  6. asdf April 25, 2015 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Sony killed the aracdes. Before 1995 there was a simple unwritten law, i am sure most of us here still remember, that jamma games always had to be better than the console games. That’s the only reason to leave the comfort of your own four walls, to play and experience games that are far superior than what is offered for the home market. By the mid nineties sony had taken over with massive marketing terror and billions of pirated games on cdr blanks for their playstation. It’s surely unfair to say that the massive piracy is sony’s fault, but still it was their incompetence and benefit at the same time, since they sold a lot of hardwware back then due to the fact. Although the hardware wasn’t quite as powerful as the arcade boards at that time, it still came close enough to fool the average consumer to believe it was. When you combine all that with the quick release policy of many major home ports of popular arcade games during that time you have the answer why arcades largely didn’t survive the 1990’s. It was corporate greed that killed our arcades. And it is corporate greed that will kill gaming in the long run. Which probably isn’t such a bad thing.

    • voltz15 April 25, 2015 at 11:19 pm - Reply

      I actually thought it was when FF7 came out that the market accepted gaming and went mainstream. Now there were publishers that didn’t follow the rules you mentioned, such as Capcom and Namco who brought us ports with many content extras. We were getting to the point where it was only a matter of time before a game comes home and just looking at what kind of games being released was a clear sign of what they were intending. Arcades got to keep most of their gun and race games, but the interest shift took everything else.

      Home gamers like myself are rather content, but I don’t any operator is impressed by it. I know I’ve said it before, got you’ve got to actually compete with games that will make you want to get out there and play a favored game just like you did in the old days, but it can’t be a 5 min thrill ride at $2-3 a pop! Any sane individual would rather pay that for an actual fair ride.

      • voltz15 April 25, 2015 at 11:21 pm - Reply

        I managed to hit the post button a little early, so bare with me.

  7. RJAY63 April 26, 2015 at 8:43 am - Reply

    In the west, Sega, Namco and Konami are running scared of Raw Thrills! Raw Thrills produce unique, western themed, arcade only experiences that appeal to casual players and bring the money in for operators. Sega have responded by revamping “Sega Amusements” to make games for these audiences and Namco have joined up with Raw Thrills to produce games like Super Alpine Racer. The days when Japanese games dominated arcades is over (for now).

    • voltz15 April 26, 2015 at 8:59 pm - Reply

      You do have to remember that developers left when they saw their profits dwindled. RT pretty much had the playing field to themselves these past few years.

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