"More Arcade Games" by Sam Howzit (CC BY 2.0)
While many readers will fondly remember the dazzling lights and sounds of the video game amusement arcade as being a major part of their childhood, it’s unquestionable that the industry has been in a steady decline since its golden age of the late 1970s to mid-1980s; a time where seminal titles such as Space Invaders (1978), Pac-Man (1980) and Donkey Kong (1981) were king. According to research carried out by Den of Geek and The Verge, for instance, the industry went from generating $7 billion in annual revenues in 1981, to $2 billion in 1999, to $866 million in 2012.
As home consoles have become more and more sophisticated, and gamers’ wallets have become more and more squeezed, the video game arcade has gone from being a burgeoning, ostentatious fixture in its own right in town centers to being consigned to the corners of bowling alleys and other multi-entertainment complexes. Some have even pointed to the rise of online arcades, such as the one here at Free Game Empire, as being responsible for the decline of physical amusement arcades. But with retro gaming now being cooler than it has ever been – illustrated so well by the success of the 2016-released NES Classic, which has sold 1.5 million units to date – is there a chance that there is a space in the market for the resurgence of the retro video game arcade?
Emergence of the Retro Games Arcade Club
Although what we think of as the conventional video game arcade – an amusement center packed with quarter-eating machines containing the latest and greatest in gaming titles – may now be a relic of the high street, a number of operators have looked at ways of reinventing the scene in order to capitalize on the current popularity of retro video games. For example, a number of “arcade clubs” have opened in various locations around the world, offering players “free-play” access to a large array of retro machines, often along with a licensed bar, in return for an hourly or entrance fee.
The UK-based Arcade Club, situated in Bury, Greater Manchester, for instance, charges visitors a door fee of £10 ($12.44), which provides them with unlimited access to the center’s line-up of over 200 classic machines, including the likes of 1942 (1984), Golden Axe(1989), and OutRun (1986). The venue has proved so popular with UK retro gamers since its opening in 2014 that it had to move to larger premises within a year; its owners have now opened an additional floor to cope with further demand. Here in the States, it’s a similar story for the California-based Neon Retro Arcade, which charges players $10 per hour or $25 for a full day of free-play access to the club’s 50-strong lineup of classic video game and pinball machines. The success of the two venues suggests that there is still a strong demand for retro video game arcades, and it’s likely that other operators will follow their lead in the years ahead.
Arcade Legacy Living on Online
Although some critics, including gaming journalist Guy Crocker, have pointed to the rise of home consoles and online gaming as being the death knell for the conventional video game arcade, its legacy unarguably continues to live on in both of its successors. For instance, November 2016 saw the launch of Facebook’s Instant Games, a social gaming platform that allows users of the world’s largest social network to play a variety of titles with their friends. It’s no coincidence that the platform’s launch games included direct ports of arcade classics such as the aforementioned Pac-Man and Space Invaders, along with Galaga (1981), such is the timeless and enduring appeal of retro arcade games with audiences worldwide to this day.
This appeal is also evident in other gaming sectors such as the iGaming industry: major developers including Playtech and Microgaming are combining lucrative licensing details for video slots with retro-inspired titles such as the Bet Way-hosted Fruit Fiesta (2015), which is a 3-reel, 3-payline progressive slot game heavily inspired by classic arcade fruit machines: it combines an old-school quarter coin slot with retro symbols, such as the striped seven, bar and multiple fruits. Elsewhere, the influence of video game arcades can be seen across console gaming: Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade digital video game distribution service even takes its very name from the industry it was inspired by. Over the years, a number of arcade game compilations have been released for consoles, such as Tecmo Classic Arcade (2005), while open-source arcade emulator MAME also remains popular with the retro gaming community.
Strong Secondary Market
The resurgence of retro video game arcades is also evident in the secondary games market. As the Financial Post explains, the popularity of retro gaming in general has led to an inevitable rise in resale prices in recent years, with arcade games being particularly affected by the upwards trend. For instance, some retro cabinets, which operators may have struggled to give away as the arcade decline began, now change hands online for up to $11,000. Not only that, but there’s also a growing industry for multi-game arcade cabinet makers, as users spend thousands of dollars on being able to relive aspects of their youth in the comfort of their living room.
Ultimately, while the video game arcade as you remember it may be an antiquated concept, the influence of the industry is as strong today as it’s ever been. While the misspent days of pouring quarters into cabinets may have been replaced by playing retro games online or on smartphones, or indeed attending a “free-play” arcade bar, the video game arcade continues to live on, in many different forms.