Fading lights: the rise and fall of video game arcades

Is the arcade parlour dead or just pining for the fjords?

So is converting to a family-friendly focus really a step in the right direction?

“As far as a step in the right direction, I would have to ask, to what end; for families, or for the industry, or for players?,” Wolf said. “It all depends on what you have to offer... If public places can come up with new gaming situations, especially ones you can’t duplicate at home, they will flourish.”

Survival of the fittest

Arcade games like Dance Dance Revolution boast increased physical interaction, but consoles are gaining pace and threatening to overshadow arcades once again.

The Wii continues to climb the popularity ladder, Sony is bringing out the Move for the Playstation and Microsoft is pushing Project Natal — now called Kinect — all of which aim to be interactive and keep families at home. Arcade gaming may lose its edge yet again.

To rub salt into the wound, Microsoft recently launched its Xbox LIVE Game Room, which is pretty much a virtual arcade loaded with retro games delivered straight to the home. You can even wander around its virtual playground as a spectator — just like the parlours of yore.

As for face-to-face interaction with other human beings, it doesn’t seem to be much of a concern for modern gamers.

There are more than 20 million Xbox LIVE users, the PlayStation Network has 17 million and Valve’s Steam now boasts over 25 million members. So many people favour the online multiplayer experience.

Game over?

From cutting-edge graphics to multiplayer games, everything that made arcades unique has been replicated on our PCs and consoles. So the question is: do we still need arcade parlours? I'm partial to saying yes.

Don’t you want to be able to beat somebody in a game face-to-face and be able to shout “in your face” while simultaneously doing a happy dance to shame them? To a complete stranger? While a bunch of other strangers watch on?

I think that arcade parlours still have a role, as a way for gamers to network on a more personal level; where the opponent beating you in Street Fighter IV isn’t just some disembodied voice streaming through a lopsided headset.

It's nice to have a place to meet likeminded people face to face without the pressures of making awkward conversation. Just pop some coins into a game cabinet and let the fingers do the talking.

So it is comforting to know Hankin is optimistic. He knows the golden years of arcades are well and truly gone, but there is definitely improvement.

“I think the market has shrunk but it starting to pick up momentum,” he said. “The industry has rationalised; we know the formula that works. It is a combination of the right machines and the right location.”

Uribe was also adamant the arcade business will endure. “An arcade might die, but the industry will not die,” he said. Now as before: its life force is in our change pocket.

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Spandas Lui

GamePro Australia
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