On the Fall of Arcade Games
Many people have fond memories of arcades – dimly lit, stinky and full of yelling. It was like going to a nightclub, but the only one popping pills was Pac-Man.
Why, then, have arcades seemingly dropped from popularity in recent years? The obvious answer is that home consoles have become more popular than ever – more than that, everyone has access to the internet, and even the cheapest of modern phones are as powerful as a lot of arcade machines.
And in this case, I think the most obvious answer is spot on. There are other contributing factors – arcade machines are very expensive to build, and won’t see a return on that investment for a long time if at all – but home consoles seem to be the biggest factor.
Now, at 23, I’m a little young to be talking about arcades. I never got to experience them in all their glory – I grew up with Mortal Kombat on a SNES (arguably not the healthiest game to grow up with), not in an arcade. I spent plenty of time at LANs growing up, and I imagine the experience is similar. Sitting around with your friends, playing games, consuming obscene amounts of sugar and caffeine – it’s great.
But the reason I grew up with LANs instead of arcades is because we were having a very similar experience without as much cost or effort. It’s true that arcades were a unique experience and I’m sure were a lot of fun to visit with your friends (or even with strangers), but having a PC or console at home that provides the same service at a fraction of the cost (eventually) is simply too amazing.
I think it’s a bit like pirating movies. Nobody rents movies any more, because if they’re not interested in buying it piracy is simply more accessible than ranting. It’s not even about the cost in this case, but convenience. Travelling to arcades is swell, but when you can have your friend/s come over to your place and do the same thing (with at least one party not spending any money) it’s pretty clear why arcades have dropped in popularity.
It’s interesting how arcades affected game design, though. The most obvious example is difficulty – arcade games were designed to be extremely difficult, so players would continue to fork out money every time they died in order to continue playing. This continued into the earlier console games, likely because many of early home games were direct arcade ports (such as Mortal Kombat). This meant that very popular games were also very difficult, and it took quite a while for the difficulty of games to move away into what we have today.
Arcade games are an essential part of gaming history, and I don’t think they’ll ever go away completely – but they’ve well and truly taken a backseat to home gaming, for better or worse.