The Case For Greater Variety in Arcades

Dustin Wilcox April 13, 2020 9
The Case For Greater Variety in Arcades

Hello there, Arcade Heroes readers! I’m Dustin Wilcox, and I’ve been an avid fan of this site for about five years now. Even though I run an arcade blog of my own, it feels really special to submit writing to one of the most beloved news sources in the amusement industry.

Given the opportunity to reach a wider audience, I wanted to write about something extremely important to me: variety, defined by a quick Google search as “the quality or state of being different or diverse; the absence of uniformity, sameness, or monotony.”

In my experience, the average modern arcade can be somewhat lacking in this attribute. Many major family entertainment center game rooms, for instance, are comprised of 60 to 70 percent ticket redemption machines. The remaining video games are largely racing or shooting games, sometimes all from just one manufacturer. (I’ll let you guess which one.)

If you’re a player looking to expand your horizons, modern arcades may not be the place for you. But I believe this can be remedied, provided arcades take proactive steps toward diversifying their lineup.

As much as I love racing and shooting games, there are plenty of other options available to shake things up. Most indie developers, in fact, haven’t been constrained by the confines of those two aforementioned genres. Titles like Killer Queen, Black Emperor, Skycurser, Rashlander, Cosmtrons, Retro Raccoons, and DeathBall are all refreshingly unique compared to what’s often available on the “mainstream” arcade market.

One particularly intriguing indie contender injecting the arcade industry with much-needed variety is Exa-Arcadia, a multi-video system often covered on this site. (As Adam would say, searching for “Exa” should bring up plenty of articles.) Arcade fans and operators alike can look forward to the release of shoot-em-ups, fighters, platformers, and other genres that have been more or less untouched by the “big guys” for many years now.


In my eyes, it makes a lot of sense for arcades to veer off the “beaten path” — a.k.a. the output of major manufacturers — when striving to improve variety.

Due to this lack of varied output from the major players, another good option for an arcade to diversify their lineup is to purchase older titles. “Older” doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘70s and ‘80s games either, as the ‘90s were still full unique concepts. With decades of content available, it’s not likely an interested arcade will run out of cabinets to beef up their offerings any time soon.

Many of my personal favorite classic titles come from companies like Midway, Sega, and Namco due to their seemingly unwavering sense of experimentation in previous eras. That being said, every arcade gamer has his or her own preferences, so it’s probably wise for arcade owners to poll their patrons.

Maybe I’m too nostalgic, but I feel that it’s equally important for arcades to offer classics to provide their players a wider breadth of options.

Taking community tastes into account can make for an even more well-rounded arcade experience. Perhaps most neglected is none other than the rhythm gamers, a group continually shafted by Japanese developers that simply don’t want to deal with the historically unprofitable Western market. Fortunately, there are, in fact, some good options available for purchase on this side of the planet, such as Pump It Up XX, StepManiaX, and NEON FM.

I’ve noticed that pinball players have seen relatively uneven representation, as well. While bar/arcades and “retrocades” will more likely than not carry at least a handful of pinball machines, the average family entertainment center will tend to ignore the scene entirely. With so much focus on redemption and, to a lesser extent, video games, I personally feel it’s a shame that pinball doesn’t get more love. (Though that’s changing thanks to the efforts of companies like Stern and Jersey Jack.)

Because niche communities are often overlooked, I firmly believe serving these crowds can do wonders for game variety.

Pump It Up XX by Andamiro

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how the arcade industry achieves variety, per se — it just matters that some effort is made. As a jaded blogger, I can’t say I’ve seen too much of this effort, but the outlook is changing rapidly with each passing year.

Before I sign off, I’d like to thank Adam for letting me submitting this article. Hopefully, I’ll be back here again soon. However, if you’d like to read more of my stuff, you can always check me out at Wilcox Arcade.

Do you believe arcade game manufactures and locations need to do a better job of offering variety in their game lineups? Share you thoughts in the comments below.


  1. Voltz April 14, 2020 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    The truth is just about everyone wants their games to be on consoles. After hardware got powerful enough, franchises and certain genres fared far better at home and were given more focus on the long term experience rather then the short term enjoyment you’d normally pay a credit for.

    Add to that the mentality that people have to keep paying to continue playing is a huge turnoff and as long as players want to have control of their content or develop communities around them in the way they do today, you don’t have many options for a game in arcades to be a success unless it’s either a game specifically made for amusements, or the cancer that is redemption gaming. Classics at barcades work because of nostalgia. Fighting games work in Japan because their environment supports it (unlike the US). Ask Aries about this and he’ll tell you he worked at some of the biggest chains there is and he saw that NOBODY played many of the games they had because they don’t hold an interest.

    Sometimes I’d like for the industry to make a comeback, but like many I’d rather be the one in charge of my content and ownership of a game rather then what the operators decide on. This is why it’s so hard to expand, but we did pass a certain point where you really can’t run an industry with what is almost exactly what people can do at home and playable for anytime they want. Just about everything an arcade does these days has to be an attraction in order to profit.

    • Dustin Wilcox April 16, 2020 at 12:52 pm - Reply

      I get a lot of your points. You’re right that a lot of games have seen even better days on consoles, and that comparatively niche genres like fighting games don’t hold the average player’s attention in the modern arcade setting. But I dunno…after spending time talking with members of these communities, I still feel like there lies such incredible potential for developers and operators to cater to a “core” demographic. Maybe, if we give people good stuff, they will come. I unfortunately can’t confirm that myself, though.

      One really interesting point you brought up that I 100 percent see merit in: being in charge of content. As someone who’s adamantly against streaming because content can be taken away from me at any moment, I’m actually kind of a hypocrite for loving arcades so much, where the games can be physically removed at any time. And that’s not even mentioning the lack of control we, as players, have over game settings. I don’t have much of a solution here…but I think player acceptance of such a system just depends on personal preference. As long as developers give us better control over content — more settings, transferrable save data — and operators aren’t brutal with settings, I’m fine with it myself.

      I will say that I don’t much care for many of those lousy “attraction” games…so you’re right on with that, too. That seems to be what the market craves at this point. Thank you so, so much for your comment. It’s definitely got me thinking about how the overall arcade experience can be improved going forward.

  2. Voltz April 14, 2020 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    I could also add that INJUSTICE is an idea of why we don’t have real fighting games anymore. People who want the real thing will have a custom cabinet or games like it will be released exclusively for Japan since only they will play them. Dud it up, revamp it all for the lower level consumer market here in the states and it’ll gulp tokens like hotcakes since the parents are seeing the kind of approval they welcome for their kids to touch it.

    Believe me, the era for us 80’s and 90’s gamers has long passed for this industry, The silly truth I’ve realized is they still continued to release at home over the years and whether or not anyone wants to come to terms with that is their choice. Everything changes, but in a way all the games still continued.

    • Dustin Wilcox April 16, 2020 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      Injustic Arcade makes me so angry, haha. It’s such a joke. But yeah, you make a good point: All the games we want in arcades basically still exist on consoles. While I do play many of those games (a lot of arcade-style fighters) on consoles, I guess I’ll always enjoy playing them in arcades. I’m not an ’80s or ’90s gamer (born in 2001), so I can’t really speak to that era, but I kind of want something…new and unique, ya know? Not just the same racing, shooting, and redemption drivel we get now. I think that’s still very possible.

  3. Toby na Nakhorn April 16, 2020 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Great contribution Dustin! Good read.

  4. 56671 April 18, 2020 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    honestly i just want to be able to play maximum tune 5

    • Dustin Wilcox April 19, 2020 at 5:51 am - Reply

      You and me both. The closest MT5 to me is 3 hours away.

  5. Voltz April 19, 2020 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    I wish I had a Round1 close by with all the japanese games imported.

    Instead I’ve got a D&B’s opening and even that could be in limbo.

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