An arcade game, also called coin-op, is a coin-operated entertainment machine, usually installed in public businesses, such as restaurants, bars, and particularly amusement arcades. Most arcade games are video games, pinball machines, electro-mechanical games,redemption games, and merchandisers.
The golden age of arcade video games lasted from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. While arcade games were still relatively popular during the late 1990s, the entertainment medium saw a continuous decline in popularity in the Western hemisphere when home-basedvideo game consoles made the transition from 2D graphics to 3D graphics. Despite this, arcades remain popular in many parts of Asia as late as the early 2010s.
Arcade games often have short levels, simple and intuitive control schemes, and rapidly increasing difficulty. This is due to the environment of the Arcade, where the player is essentially renting the game for as long as their in-game avatar can stay alive.
The term “arcade game” is also used to refer to a video game that was designed to play similarly to an arcade game with frantic, addictive gameplay.
The first popular “arcade games” were early amusement park midway games such as shooting galleries, ball toss games, and the earliest coin-operated machines, such as those that claim to tell a person their fortune or played mechanical music. The old midways of 1920s-era amusement parks provided the inspiration and atmosphere of later arcade games.
In the 1930s, the first coin-operated pinball machines were made. These early amusement machines were distinct from their later electronic cousins in that they were made of wood, also they did not have plungers or lit-up bonus surfaces on the playing field, and used mechanical instead of electronic scoring readouts. By around 1977, most pinball machines in production switched to using solid state electronics for both operation and scoring.
In 1971, students at Stanford University set up the Galaxy Game, a coin-operated version of the Spacewar video game. This is the earliest known instance of a coin-operated video game. Later in the same year, Nolan Bushnell created the first mass-manufactured such game, Computer Space, for Nutting Associates.
In 1972, Atari was formed by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Atari essentially created the coin-operated video game industry with the game Pong, the first successful electronic ping pong video game. Pong proved to be popular, but imitators helped keep Atari from dominating the fledgling coin-operated video game market.
Taito’s Space Invaders, in 1978, proved to be the first blockbuster arcade video game. Its success marked the beginning of the golden age of arcade video games. Video game arcades sprang up in shopping malls, and small “corner arcades” appeared in restaurants, grocery stores, bars and movie theaters all over the United States, Japan and other countries during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Space Invaders (1978), Galaxian (1979), Pac-Man (1980), Battlezone (1980), Defender (1980), and Bosconian (1981) were especially popular. By 1981, the arcade video game industry was worth $8 billion.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, chains such as Chuck E. Cheese’s, Ground Round, Dave and Busters, and Gatti’s Pizza combined the traditional restaurant and/or bar environment with arcades. By the late-1980s, the arcade video game craze was beginning to fade due to advances in home video game console technology. By 1991, US arcade video game revenues had fallen to $2.1 billion.
In the early 1990s, the arcades experienced a major resurgence with the 1991 release of Capcom’s Street Fighter II, which popularized competitive fighting games and revived the arcade industry to a level of popularity not seen since the days of Pac-Man. Its success led to a wave of other popular games which mostly were in the fighting genre, such as Pit-Fighter (1990) by Atari, Mortal Kombat by Midway Games, Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (1992) by SNK, Virtua Fighter (1993) by SEGA, Killer Instinct(1994) by Rare, and The King of Fighters (1994–2005) by SNK.
Following the rise of 3D graphics in the early-mid-1990s, racing games like Ridge Racer (1993) by Namco and light gun shooters would also gain considerable popularity in the arcades. By 1994, arcade games in the United States were generating revenues of $7 billion in quarters (equivalent to $11 billion in 2011), in comparison to home console game sales of $6 billion, with many of the best-selling home video games in the early 1990s often being arcade ports. Combined, total arcade and console game revenues in 1994 was nearly two and a half times the $5 billion revenue grossed by movies in the United States at the time.
Around the mid-1990s, the fifth-generation home consoles, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64, began offering true 3D graphics. By 1995, personal computers followed, with 3D accelerator cards. While arcade systems such as the Sega Model 3 remained more advanced than home systems, consoles and computers began approaching technological parity with arcade equipment. The technological advantage that arcade games had, in their ability to customize and use the latest graphics and sound chips, narrowed, and the convenience of home games caused a rapid decline in arcade gaming. By 1998, Sega’s 128-bit console, the Dreamcast, could produce 3D graphics on-par with arcade machines at the time.
Arcade video games had declined in popularity so much by the late 1990s, that revenues in the United States dropped to $1.33 billion in 1999, and reached a low of $866 million in 2004. Furthermore, by the early 2000s, networked gaming via computers and then consoles across the Internet had also appeared, replacing the venue of head-to-head competition and social atmosphere once provided solely by arcades.
The arcades also lost their status as the forefront of new game releases. Given the choice between playing a game at an arcade three or four times, and renting, at about the same price, exactly the same game for a video game console the console became the preferred choice. Fighting games were the most attractive feature for arcades, since they offered the prospect of face-to-face competition and tournaments, which correspondingly led players to practice more , but they could not support the business all by themselves.