In the late 60s and early 70s, major video game players like Atari and Sega changed the industry when they introduced arcade games to the world. If you weren’t young during this era, it’s hard to describe just how popular they were.
It was the entertainment option for people of all ages. One quarter at a time, they’d go through their allowances like there was no tomorrow.
Today? Arcades are struggling to stay alive. Some companies are trying to keep the industry going by creating arcade museums. Yes, it looks like the high point is well and truly past us.
Yet, arcades hold a very important place in gaming history. And it’s not just because they were ridiculously popular, especially in the 1980s. There’s so much more to it.
Arcades Influence Modern Gaming
Arcades are not just history, but an active part of the timeline of video games. They inspired a range of elements that still exist today:
Title screens. Used to entice users to stop at a particular game, get them to spend money. Modern games have already been bought by the user, rendering this function obsolete, but it’s now part and parcel of most games.
Left move, right action. Not all games work like this. But many do. The left moves the character, the right is the action (e.g. a shot from a firing arm). It all harks back to Robotron 2084, the first arcade game to employ this. Arcades were the first to explore how intuitive gameplay is one of the most important facets of a successful title. Clunky and difficult, and the game is a loser.
Other gaming industries – casino gaming. Arcades inspired the casino industry to level up their slots and other gaming machines, creating games that entice users to play (e.g. the classic title screen). As arcades flourished and developed, so did slots. There have been very popular slot machine titles like Mega Moolah adorning the space of the most popular casinos, but as the tech progressed and the internet arrived, so did slots change and added to its format – they went digital. And we can see that today, with games like Sweet Bonanza showing just how far digital slots have come since the mechanical games of decades past.
Replayability. The biggest achievement a game can boast is its replayability. One and done may bring an initial set of fans, but the flame burns out quickly. Arcades needed a scientific approach to create games that kept people wanting more. After all, the money-making formula relied on this. We know a lot about what makes a gamer tick from research done for those initial arcade titles, like Pacman, for example.
The OG of Social Gaming
Social gaming saw its breakthrough with titles like League of Legends and World of Warcraft, right? Not quite. Social gaming has a history that goes way back to the humble arcade.
The social element wasn’t just in the players going against one another in the traditional multiplayer way, but also in that people would get together to hang out, talk, and watch others play. The smell of the old-school arcade; for many gamers now in their 40s and 50s, it’s a hit of high-quality nostalgia.
It’s these simple human elements that are so important in understanding what drives the popularity of gaming today: getting together with friends, whether online or in-person, watching others play (just look at how popular some Twitch gamers are), and simply enjoying beating another person (in video games, of course!), rather than ‘just’ an AI. We’re social creatures, and everything that makes gaming popular reflects that.
Arcades drew the roadmap to how companies design social games today. Whether it’s Fortnite or Overwatch, Apex or Rainbow Six, they’re all driven by exactly what made arcades popular back in the apex of their era. With Fortnite notching over $2.5 billion in 2018 alone, the formula works.
Arcade Gaming = Gaming
No matter what game is your go-to in 2022, an arcade classic inspired many of its features. Whether it’s the storyline, the graphics, the replayability, the social aspect; all of these elements were grasped as essential during the arcade era. Companies like Sega and Atari built the foundation of their later console success through their arcade creations.
Even if arcade games end up in museums and the only way to ever play an actual game is by buying an old school model on eBay, their place in video game history cannot be denied or forgotten. Because it’s through the achievements of developers and designers of bygone eras that we can enjoy epic AAA productions, indie sleepers, and the most recent mobile-only title.