Arcades Will Rise Again, Part 1
For the past 5-10 years, arcades—and in particular, arcade games—have been gaining a renewed interest as older generations pine for them with intense nostalgia while younger generations’ mobile games continue to mimic the winning arcade formula of quick, score-based gameplay.
But arcades are still “dead” as far as the business is concerned. Private collectors and rec room designers are gobbling up the machines, and mobile games are being featured in still-existing arcades as bigger, flashier versions of their smartphone counterparts, but as a whole, the arcade scene hasn’t come back from the hit it took in the 90s.
So will arcades ever come back? Or are they destined to become relics of a bygone, pre-internet era?
Why did arcades die out in the first place?
For newer generations of gamers, it is hard to imagine a time when you had to “go look” for games to play, but during the 70s and 80s, consoles were in their infancy, there was no internet to surf, and people had to leave their houses to find fun things to do.
It was a magical time.
Every generation of teenagers have had a specific type of location at which they hung out together during their free time. In the 50s, they hung out at coffee bars. Later on, the mall became the place to go. During the 70s and 80s, it was the arcade.
The loud, dark, high-energized arcade.
Right now, you are either sighing with nostalgic remembrance, or you are turning your nose at the description. Your reaction shows your age. One reason why the arcades died out is simply due to a change in the type of teenagers running around; the atmosphere at arcades was no longer aesthetically pleasing to the kids of the 90s and 2000s.
But more importantly, consoles and computers were finally catching up to their big-brother, arcade counterparts in the 90s in terms of graphics and processing power. In other words, the games were just as good at home as they were at the arcades. Teens began wondering why they should leave home in the first place.
As more and more kids got wise to the change in technology that was accessible right in their own homes, arcades began dying off very quickly and have not recovered since.
Is there hope for the future of arcades?
The good news is that arcades do have a future, despite what many skeptics will tell you. Believe it or not, arcades have been a part of human society far longer than the existence of video games; they are not simply a thing of the past but will continue to be a part of our culture for as long as there are people who like to play games—video games, pinball, or otherwise.
The bad news is that the style and “feel” of the arcade scene in the 70s and 80s are probably not coming back. Arcades are primarily meant for kids and teens, and thus, if arcades are to make a comeback (and they will), then they have to cater to a new generation of young people with different tastes and needs.
How will they do that? Be sure to read Part 2 on this subject to find out. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, arcades will rise again.
Arcades Will Rise Again, Part 2
In Part 1, we briefly summarised the downfall of arcades in the 90s and hinted at a brighter future for them. Now in Part 2, the future of arcades will be discussed further. Be sure to read Part 1 if you haven’t already.
Why haven’t arcades made a comeback yet?
Right now, society has a nasty case of “smartphone obsession.” When people are bored or just need a little break from whatever is occupying them at the moment, they whip out their smartphones for a few minutes (or hours) of distraction. Out of all of the many possibilities at one’s fingertips, mobile games gobble up a huge chunk of people’s time on smartphones. A majority of these games tend to be arcade-like because of the necessity to play them in short bursts as well as on the go.
Thus, people are excited about getting the high score in their “arcade” games more than ever before. Just do a quick online search for “leaderboards,” and you’ll start to get the picture.
Because of the smartphone age in which we live, there are several consequences which keep arcades from making a comeback at present. Mobile gaming has the following characteristics:
A focus on online gaming with online leaderboards
Games are for individual and online multiplayer gameplay rather than local multiplayer due to the small size of devices’ touchscreens.
The player desires to be in a comfortable location (like on a couch in an air-conditioned room) with optimal Wi-Fi that is freely available.
Mobile games can be turned on and off quickly. Objectives are short, and players are greatly rewarded for completing them.
Mobile games are a step backwards from the direction games have been going for the past 30 years—competing to be bigger and better, graphically superior, and giving the most bang for your buck. Mobile games have simple graphics, simple game mechanics, are running on inferior hardware, and are distributed freely or cost very little in comparison to other video game options.
In short, arcades as we know them today cannot compete with mobile gaming. Despite the fact that arcades have games that are score-based and are played in short bursts, they are focused on local gameplay and local leaderboards. Many arcade games are for groups of friends to play together in a local multiplayer environment. That is the exact opposite of what a mobile gamer likes.
On top of that, arcades are not comfortable for the typical smartphone user. Upright cabinets force you to stand, sit-down cabinets force you to sit by yourself in a confining space, and the atmosphere of an arcade is noisy, energetic, and hot. You sweat when you play arcade games. How many people do you know who sweat while playing mobile games? That is unthinkable!
No, this generation is not interested in the arcade environment because it is the antithesis of what they enjoy about mobile gaming. Arcade owners and arcade game developers need to be aware of this and pick the only battle they can still win—IMMERSION.
How can arcades become popular again?
If you haven’t read our article on the top immersive arcade machines, stop right now and go read it. That isn’t just some random top 10 list. It is an article focused on the core of what makes arcade gaming still relevant in today’s world.
Do arcades have a graphical and processing-power edge over home-based alternatives? No. Consoles and PC gaming have caught up, and no longer can the average gamer tell the difference between arcade and home versions.
Do arcades have an atmosphere that teens crave? No. The smartphone-obsessed generation of teens prefer to stay at home or in a quiet, comfortable location with air condition and Wi-Fi.
So what do arcades still have that neither consoles/PC gaming nor mobile gaming can offer? The answer is that they offer an experience that would otherwise cost thousands of pounds to replicate at home. Just look at that list of most immersive games again—owning any one of those machines would make you the talk of the neighborhood. Guaranteed. Especially that Star Wars: Battle Pod cabinet—every gamer’s dream!
A focus on immersion is the solution
Everyone knows that arcade gaming is an expensive option, if not in the short-term then at least in the long run. Why not turn that into an advantage instead of a point of embarrassment? Arcade gaming should be more expensive because it has more to offer than the typical gaming experience. Examples are as follows:
4D effects such as air being blown, seat vibration, strobe lights, and being encapsulated in an immersion-inducing environment.
Cockpit cabinets and specialized controllers
The most advanced versions of gaming technology and peripherals available, such as light guns, virtual reality, full-body motion detection, augmented reality, etc.
Gamers are willing to leave the house and pay money for experiences like that! Yes, they also want their quiet moments of mobile gaming and hours-long adventures on consoles and home computers, but arcades are their only option for borderline sci-fi interactions with a video game.
Arcade game developers need to focus primarily on this goal of immersion as their winning formula. Will it be an expensive endeavour? Yes. But it is the only way for arcades to remain an important part of every gamer’s diet.
The next step in the evolution of arcades
There is coming a time when mobile gamers will hunger for local multiplayer again. Online gaming is here to stay, but not at the heightened levels it is temporarily enjoying at present. It is only natural for people to seek out one another’s company in person—to have same-room games and thrills as a group of friends. When that time comes, teens will once again flock to arcades for that local multiplayer action if arcades take on a new atmosphere that caters to their tastes.
No longer can arcades be dark and noisy, high-energy places that are uncomfortable to the average smartphone-obsessed teen. The atmosphere must be “photogenic”—well-lit, colorful and cheerful, and with many “social corners” where friends can sit, chat, and take selfies.
It is an absolute must that arcades provide free Wi-Fi, and their games should display global online leaderboards rather than local top scores. Future games should fuse local multiplayer gameplay with online multiplayer competition standards—imagine an immersive arcade cabinet for an MMO game!
And finally, arcades of the future need to market themselves in new ways. Take advantage of social networking power, set up worldwide tournaments for games that can only be played in a local arcade near you, and advertise like crazy for new games that are the next leap forward in immersion technology.
Arcades can’t afford to put time and money into games that are just as easily playable at home or on a mobile device. Arcade game developers need to continue the trend of making 4D-type gaming experiences that simply can’t be had anywhere else.
Then they need an atmosphere facelift. Arcades need to be comfortable for the new generation of teens and kids who are used to being comfortable and online. With the power of immersive games and an inviting atmosphere, arcades will win the hearts of new generations of kids all over again.
Home Leisure Direct is confident in the future of arcades. Arcade gaming is our passion, after all. We are looking forward to our children’s children nostalgically remembering back to their experiences in the arcade just as we do today.
Arcades will never become completely irrelevant, but here’s hoping that they will quickly rise to the forefront of society’s attention once again. The fun and memories they offer are just too good to let go of. So the next time you hear someone saying, “Arcades are dead,” or “Arcades are a thing of the past,” remember this article and look forward to the day when arcades rise again.