Features// From Coin-ops to Couch - what killed the arcade?

Posted 30 Apr 2010 14:05 by
At the beginning of Spring Microsoft implored the Xbox faithful to ?relive the glory days of the classic arcade? as it launched Games Room - a service that resembled a budget version of Sony?s Home and an excuse for Microsoft to charge for 20 or 30 year old ROMS.

The lacklustre response to Games Room begs the question can home consoles come close to transporting us back to the days of the arcade and more importantly, should they? Isn?t it the video gaming equivalent of watching a silent movie on home cinema system?

Arcades will always hold a special place in my heart. Despite eventually working my way through every home console, the arcades are where my love affair with video games began. Living in a village in the south east I used to get my chance to play the latest games when I?d would go on holidays to UK seaside resorts and trips to the coast. Finding which arcade had Shinobi in became a regular part of my summer holiday and I fondly remember my brother pleading with me to try out a new fighting game featuring a Russian wrestler and a green monster.

So, despite being fully aware of the demise of the British arcade it was still a shock when late last year I visited Scarborough (a regular family-holiday destination for me) only to see the venues I fondly remembered, packed full of fruit machines and crane games.

The demise of the traditional arcade and the rise of the home console go hand in hand. Back when Midway and Atari were ruling the scene with the likes of Joust and Gauntlet, gamers had little choice but to play them in the arcades. As the home consoles and PCs improved the need to visit the arcades diminished. The likes of Street Fighter II bringing gamers into the arcades in the '90s merely highlighted the arcades' flaws as fans realised that playing the game at home was a more cost affective and convenient alternative.

It wasn?t only the processing power that pulled gamers from sticky carpets of the arcades, it was a new breed of games that promoted longevity over a quick fix. While I loved the likes of Golden Axe and Double Dragon, their ports to the console exposed why they were designed for the arcades.

They were short and drained coins with ease. The first time I completed Golden Axe I was amazed by how short it was, but I?d never known it any other way as I couldn?t afford to complete it when it was a coin-op. These games were fun but they were designed to make a profit for the arcade owners.

What?s peculiar is that the spectacular fall in the traditional arcade is very much a western phenomena. In Japan the decline exists but it has been far less dramatic. If the only reason for the death of the arcade was the strength of the home console and the microprocessor then Japan of all places should have felt the bite worse than any country. However, as Brian Ashcraft, senior contributing editor to Kotaku and the author of Arcade Mania, explains, there is much more to it in Japan.

?A big reason is location. Many arcades are located in prime locations near train stations in big Japanese cities with millions of people. It's easy for players to stop by, play a quick game and leave. Arcades that have the hardest time are those that players must get in their cars and drive to. Why do that when you can play a game at home??, Ashcraft tells me.
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