Source – Pinterest

Standing with a group of people, everyone yelling and screaming and laughing together. That second is filled with so many emotions, feelings, sweat, anxiety, and perhaps even guilt. That moment, when your best mate scored the record of-  perhaps the week? Amazed by his mastery of the control panel, or maybe just blaming the rigged machine for the loss you’d just had to face.

Arcades and their games have always been the go-to place for adults since times immemorial! Playing for hours together to get your name on the leaderboard, eating, drinking beer, and having the best time of your life, all while standing around a seven-foot-tall black box was considered a great way of spending quality time with each other.

This period began with the release of Space Invaders in 1978, which led to a wave of shooting-up games such as Galaxian and the Asteroids in 1979, made by new computing technology that had greater power and lower costs. Arcade video games transitioned from black-and-white to colour, with titles such as Frogger and Centipede taking advantage of the colour palettes they had come up with.

While video game genres were still being established, they included space-themed shooter games such as Defender and Galaga, maze chase games which followed the design established by Pac-Man, driving and racing games which more frequently used 3D perspectives such as Turbo and Pole Position, character action games such as Pac-Man and Frogger, and the beginning of what would later be called platform games touched off by Donkey Kong.

Games began starring named player characters, such as Pac-Man, Mario and Q*bert, and some of these characters crossed over into other media including songs, cartoons, and movies.

Source – Pinterest

Filled with memories and passion, the arcade industry however started to decline  since the sale of consoles in the local market picked up. 

Up until the mid-’90s, arcades ruled the gaming industry. Nothing could match the power of an arcade machine on a home console.  Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Jaguar, and Neo Geo, systems up to that point, weren’t powerful enough to replicate or come anywhere close to matching what was being offered in arcades.

But eventually, when consoles started becoming serious and people could afford them, there was a rapid decline in the revenues generated by these spaces. 

According to a January 12, 2012, Business Week article, the Arcade industry was generating revenues of up to $7 Billion a year when they had started. 

However, with the onset of the 1980s, there was a massive video game crash, also known as the Atari shock which shook the gaming world to its core, primarily in the United States. Home video game revenues peaked at around $3.2 billion in 1983, then fell to around $100 million by 1985 (a drop of almost 97 per cent). However, the crash abruptly ended with the onset of the second generation of console video gaming in North America.  Sadly, the arcade video game market also weakened as the golden age of arcade video games came to an end.

By 1999, with even more powerful home systems debuting, Arcade revenues fell to an all-time low of just under $2 billion. As a March 2012 article from the East Valley Tribune stated, by 2004 arcade revenues had dropped to $866 million and with that drop, the death toll rang. 

So what led to this decline in the arcade industry?

Consumer demand had decreased tremendously. People’s willingness to go to arcades to spend time, energy, and money had reduced. Operators became more risk-averse thus passing down the risk to the manufacturers. Compounded by the rising budgets of software titles, many developers moved on, lowering supply.

Market saturation in the number of video game consoles and available games was at an all-time high. There was also a waning interest in arcade games in favour of personal consoles.

So then why were they not replaced? 

Because of the cost barrier, considerable effort, uncertain returns, lower margins caused by a high amount of power among distributors (where a near monopoly exists), and a slew of other barriers to entry (patents, safety concerns, engineering considerations etc.). Due to a large amount already paid in fixed cost, they could not replace arcade gaming hubs with console gaming hubs.

Would anyone be willing to make a modern video arcade game? 

Yes, because there is still something magical about arcades that cannot be found elsewhere. Every new arcade game challenges the developer to invent new interfaces and modes of control. Fringe and once-fringe technologies such as virtual reality, stereoscopic displays, motion controls, panoramic screens, etc are first explored in the arcade space because the end-user investment is low and the goal of arcade development is to perfect a brief but unique experience. 

Arcades did not offer just games, but experiences! No matter how updated or latest the console at home was, or how fast the internet speed was, it could never compete with the atmosphere created by an arcade. It offered the most introverted kid an opportunity to become the champion of the gaming world, for a moment.

The arcade experience will always be the frontier of gaming, and the curator of our fondest memories. 

Duncan Laurence surely got the emotion right-

A broken heart’s all that left

I’m still fixing all the cracks

Lost a couple of pieces when

I carried it, carried it, carried it home

I’ve spent all of the love I’ve saved

We were always a losing game 

Small town boy in a Big Arcade

I got addicted to a losing game!

Shreya Sai Duddu


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