Long gone are the days when the iconic American Arcades ruled the gaming industry, where they were once considered a pillar of the entertainment industry as a whole, often rivaling the classic movie theater as a favorite past time by many. Between the mid 1970’s and early 1990’s their numbers grew in astronomical proportions, mainly due to the fact they offered exclusive titles that otherwise weren’t available with the hardly comparable home gaming console experiences that just couldn’t compete. The question is what killed the classic Arcade? What was it that brought this colossal pillar of the entertainment industry to its knees and eventually squashed it for good?
Death by Technological Advancement:
One of the ways the classic Arcades of yesteryear managed to retain their popularity was because they offered state of the art gaming experiences for their time. They often presented gamers with an experience that was impossible to achieve with their lower quality home gaming console counterparts. While the typical Arcade game featured stunning graphics, incredible background music, and thrilling sound effects rendered in full stereo, most console games consisted of nothing more than blocks of pixels floating around on a screen, followed by ear screeching and often annoying sound effects. This was especially true of home gaming consoles such as the Sega Master System, the original Atari 2600 (E.T. anyone?), and a large majority of NES games. They just could not compete.
Throughout the 1980’s spanning into the early 1990’s, video game giants like Sega, Taito, Capcom and others, often reserved their higher quality games for Arcades exclusively, while sending home console gamers cheesier gaming hardware and often lack luster games that never stood a chance to compete. However, there was plenty of good reasoning for the gaming industry’s approaches during this era.
For one, both Arcade and home console games typically relied on read only memory, a technology that was still very much in its infancy at the time, and was also very expensive to produce, even on a low scale. That being said, the costs of producing high quality home console games was just not an option given the extreme costs involved, and the industry knew home console gamers would never be able to afford such advanced proprietary technologies as those that were crammed into the Arcade cabinets the world had come to love.
As you’re about to see, it was those very advancements in gaming technology that would eventually bring about the demise of the once beloved Arcade.
The Beginning of the End:
The late 80’s and early 90’s is where the major threats to the American Arcade really began to surface. As Sega rolled out its 16-bit Genesis console to North American audiences in 1989, game developers and publishers alike started to divert their attention to this new inspiring console. Many in the gaming industry predicted that the home gaming industry was about to explode, and it wouldn’t take long to realize those predictions would definitely hold true!
Soon to follow was Nintendo’s 16-bit Super NES, which featured superior graphics for a home console that, for the first time ever, actually rivaled the hardware capabilities of some Arcade games. Realizing the console gamers’ eagerness to dump out their pockets for such new gaming contraptions, both Nintendo and Sega sought to start porting Arcade titles to their consoles, such as was the case with Mortal Kombat, although the arcade version of the game still boasted far superior graphics as compared to those console versions. This was also the case with many Arcade ports during the time and not just Mortal Kombat.
As developers pumped out one 16-bit title after the other, more and more gamers began to flock to their televisions to play games, vs. the crowded Arcades that once held their might. At this point in time the death of the Arcade was set in stone; it was only a matter of time.
Despite the advances in 16-bit home console gaming, many game publishers like Capcom continued their art of developing higher quality games for the Arcades, but often producing lower quality ports of the same games for 16-bit home consoles. In fact, while gamers were buying up 16-bit titles, Capcom was just preparing to roll out its state of the art 16-bit, CPS2 (Capcom System 2) Arcade boards, which were far superior to Nintendo’s SNES, or Sega’s Genesis. Nonetheless, home gaming consoles merely continued to flourish throughout the mid to late 90’s, and this is when Arcades really began to feel themselves squeezed out of the competition.
By the time newer and better CD and cartridge based consoles like the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn hit the scene, the classic Arcades began to shutter, and by the early 2000’s they were quickly becoming almost non-existent in some areas of the country. Today, you would be hard pressed to enter a shopping mall and find an Arcade game anywhere in sight, despite the fact that almost every mall in America had an Arcade available to the public for decades.
Never to be forgotten:
Despite their rapid decline, the classic Arcade still remains very much an historical part of gaming history. Even the word itself seems synonymous with gaming as a whole today, and many involved in the industry at present, such as Microsoft, have adopted the term themselves, as was the case with Microsoft’s “XBOX Live Arcade.”
Today, those classic Arcade cabinets of the past have become a collector’s item for many, and sites like E-bay continue to auction off those cabinets to the highest bidders. Some companies even specialize in Arcade system restoration, knowing there’s still a want and need for these classic gems within the general public.
Long gone are the days when “Chuck E. Cheese” was swarmed with eager gamers and fanciful animatronics, the time when the Arcade stood at the epicenter of gaming, but the memories and inspirations these experiences brought us will never be forgotten.