It makes absolute sense to resurrect old console systems from the grave. It even makes sense to put together retro game systems to play your old handheld titles. But in a world of HDTVs, VR headsets, and portable gaming, do we really need a renaissance of the arcade cabinet?
Turns out that the answer is “Hell F**king Yes!”
Arcades were where it all began
It’s hard to convey just how important arcades were to the evolution of video games. As ubiquitous as consoles are now, that’s how widespread arcades were back in the 80s. They were everywhere and arcade cabinets were spread far and wide like seeds on the wind. There’s a reason you can still find 40-year-old Pac-Man machines randomly sitting in gas stations all across the country.
Like much of my generation, I spent most of the 80s shoving quarters into machines and for good reason. While I love me some PC gaming and consoles, there’s something unique about arcade cabinets.
The earliest video game consoles were trying to bring the excitement of the arcade into the home. Let me tell you from first-hand experience…nah.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved me some Atari 2600 but those original games were basic as hell compared to the arcade.
Even a game as simple as Pac-Man…
…ended up looking like this:
Sure, I played that game until the plug overheated and burnt out, but it was never as good as the arcade version. Every chance I got, I would still pop quarters into an arcade machine and waste hours playing games my home systems simply couldn’t replicate.
Until they could. But even then, the arcade cabinets got more powerful. But with great power comes a great price tag.
The end cometh…
One of the main downfalls of the arcade was that it became unprofitable. The better the games, the more expensive each individual cabinet got. The more expensive they got, the more they cost to play to justify the price tag. The more they cost to play, the less people wanted to play them, no matter how good they were.
Much like movies in the 1950s tried gimmicks like electrified seats and really bad 3-D to keep people coming to theaters in the age of TV, so too did arcade machines try to incorporate various approaches that home consoles couldn’t match.
This phenomenon peaked with the Sega R-360. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time; an arcade machine that was, for all intents and purposes, a real flight simulator. It spun on both its Y and X-axis, giving you the ability to “fly” upside down and do barrel rolls.
The problem is the machine was incredibly expensive, making the cost to play it prohibitively high. I remember seeing a price tag as high as $10. Considering how hard it was to control and that it only lasted a few minutes before you died? Screw that noise.
If you have to spend so much money on the hardware that the price of admission turns the customer away, your business model is doomed.
The Neo-Geo cabinets temporarily solved this problem by introducing cabinets where you could select one of several games to play. They were still relatively expensive and it was too little, too late. Home consoles had crushed the arcade. For a while.
The exA-Arcadia is looking to resurrect the arcade in a big way by allowing arcade owners to run cabinets with multiple games in them again. And the games can be swapped out easily and relatively cheaply, meaning the cabinets can remain profitable long after the initial investment.
The stats for the exA-Arcadia are inline with the latest systems so when the developers aren’t indulging themselves with massive shoot ’em ups, the games would look perfectly at home on your Playstation, Xbox, or Switch.
Arcades are already on the rise again with places like Dave & Buster’s and Round One opening new locations at a fairly rapid pace. That might be part nostalgia combined with their ability to hide the actual cost of gameplay by using credits on a card instead of coins. It’s a lot easier to spend “credits” than it is to spend quarters.
Also, there’s beer and wings. Beer, wings and video games are a good combination. Just sayin’.
On top of that, there’s also something to be said for just jumping into a multiplayer game with a person (or persons if it’s a 4-player game) you’ve never met before and beating the snot out of the computer. If you’ve ever played with a friend on your couch, it’s like that. But in public. And with strangers. Trust me, it’s fun!
There are currently 21 titles available for the exA-Arcadia when it launches later this year. Somewhat annoyingly, most of them appear to be bullet hell titles with a sprinkling of fighters. One would hope there is more variety in the future. Bullet hells are hella fun but not exactly utilizing the full potential of the hardware.
Will the future be coin-operated (so to speak)?
Short answer? No. Even though arcades are making a serious comeback, they are never going to dislodge consoles, or even handhelds, from their perch as King of the Video Game Hill.
But just as television did not end movie theaters, consoles never quite snuffed out the arcade. They clung tenaciously to life and evolved, just like multiplexes did. Now they’re making their comeback (with the help of beer and wings).
It will never be the same experience as the 80s and that’s OK. Not for nothing, Space Invaders was fun. Space Invaders on an 8-foot-tall screen with 2 players is way better.
If the exA-Arcadia can help bring about a new Renaissance for the arcade, who knows how that will impact the home market? The first wave of arcades gave birth to consoles. What’s to say the next wave won’t revolutionize how we play in our living rooms again?