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Bringing the Arcade Back
by Jason Whisler on 05/24/10 09:08:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Thanks much to Ephriam Knight and this post (read it!) for the inspiration.  I was going to reply, but I tend to get wordy.

 It's an astute observation that videogames don't really have a "big-event" equivalent to other related entertainment industries.  I think that revenue streams for games are actually very diverse right now, possibly moreso than ever before.  From microtransactions to subscription models, streaming content and more, there's lots of ways to make money from games.

But, there's not a "big-event".  There's nowhere that people can go to get a super-high-quality, one-time experience with a game that's worth paying extra money for.  There's the actual game release of course, which is largely the target of all current AAA development.  Big sales right away are largely how games are measured in terms of success, and sales usually trail off relatively quickly.  There are exceptions of course.

However, the release of a game still doesn't hold the same qualities as seeing that brand new movie on a three-story tall screen, or hearing (much too loudly) how much your favorite band sucks rocks when they play live.  I know some of us crazy gamers might get the mates together and have some beer just to celebrate how awesome Flower is, but that still seems like pretty fringe behavior overall. 

So how to create a big-to-do, social and engaging experience for when a new game comes out?  Do it like the movies.  Sorta.  Bring back the arcade, but with a twist.

The last arcade game I remember anyone outside of my gamer-folk mates talk about was probably Dance Dance Revolution, and I don't want to think about how long ago that was.  I do recall the displays of Guitar Hero at various retail outlets being the source of a lot of attention.  The original novelty of a full size plastic guitar, blaring music, and a constant brightly-colored stream of dots was enough to catch the interest of many passers-by.

First, imagine that arcades are fairly commonplace.  Like maybe any good sized mall will have one.  Now imagine big displays, big speakers, and a spot right by the window out to that mall.  Now imagine that for 3 months, this is the only place you can play Halo Reach.  This is the new arcade.  This is the big event baby.

If games had a special venue where you could go and play with your friends in a public spot, and it was the only place you could play new games, I think they would make a killing.  After a time, the game can be released to consoles/PC as usual, and folks can play for as long as they want and at their own convenience at home.  This basically follows the movie model.  They key is to make the arcade experience be bigger and better than what you can get at home.  Make it public, social, and attractive to the general public.  Give them all something to watch, if not play.  More exposure can only help a good game sell more copies.

By following the proven lead of other industries and being daring enough to innovate, we all might just find another way to make a buck.

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Vinicius Bruno
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Arcade games can bring more opportunities to your product/project ...nice look and this can work very good.

But, and if what your arcade game is just a arcade game, nothing more than that, this process can be inverted? What you think about this?

Thanks for your attention.

Ian Fisch
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This idea seems good on the surface, but it runs into a few problems when you think about it.

How exactly could a game like Alan Wake work like this? Would one person sit on the big screen for 60 minutes while other people just watched? Or would you limit the person to, say, 5 minute turns? Is it really worth money to play a game like Alan Wake or Final Fantasy for only 5 minutes?

With movies, a single big screen can entertain hundreds of people for multiple hours AT THE SAME TIME. Obviously this isn't the case for any existing console game.

With traditional arcade games, on the other hand, the game is designed to be a satisfying and complete experience even if you only play for 2-3 minutes. It's true you have games that are longer, such as Final Fight, but that is specifically designed to provide a steady stream of fun in 2-3 minute intervals.

In a game like Mass Effect, you could 2-3 minutes just equipping your character.

I just don't see how this idea could work without changing the focus of every game so that it's fun and addictive in short bursts. So you could kiss your Fallout 3's, Final Fantasy's, and Bioshocks goodbye.

E Zachary Knight
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From my article that is linked here:

"At one time we had arcades, but those did not fall into the same model as theatres and concerts do. Most games that were released in arcades never saw a home console release as the experiences were tied directly to the arcade. Those that did see console release were often vastly different due to technology constraints of consoles. The other downfall of arcades was the inability for large groups to share in the experience as is found in movies and music. "

I touched on some of the issues that prevented arcades from becoming our theatre. Ian delved a bit deeper into it.

I think it all boils down to the type of game you are making. A FPS could do well in an arcade setting each token could give you a handful of "spawns" and you keep playing until you beat it or stop feeding the machine.

Racing, Fighting, Brawlers etc could also do fairly well.

RTS, RPG and other games not so much. The complication of the gameplay are really not geared toward an arcade. Any game with deep story would probably suffer as well.

I would love to see something like this happen. It could be done in more of a LAN Center business rather than an arcade. Charge people by the hour per game and let them play until they are done. You would still be constrained to a limited number of patrons, but it could work out.

Soren Nowak
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No way :) All other high end console and pc games had to magically vanish for arcades to come back. Even if there were cool games at the arcade I could probably find nearly-as-cool games for my brand spanking new "3D motion sensing force feedback HD streaming surround sound online-enabled console".

Christopher Totten
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As Ephriam said, this could work with certain kinds of games. I think you hit on something by using Halo: Reach as an example. With games like that, arcades from different towns could link up. As someone who's been to some gaming cons, I like the idea of social gaming places where certain console games can be switched out, such as Street Fight 4 or Smash Bros. Brawl, then displayed on big screens.

Maybe arcades could deter some of the isolation that gamers experience nowadays; brought on by lots of games allowing them to interact with each other online; and allow them to relive the experience of having to get together with one another to play that was so common to console gamers in the 80's and 90's.

Chase Beadles
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Games are already getting leaked and pirated weeks before games even reach retailers. I can't see today's gamers waiting for 3 months to bring it home legally if they have the choice to steal it off the interwebs... We're just too impatient. We can't even wait for normal business hours on big games, we go at midnight so we can burn through the morning hours.

While I can definitely see the appeal of a super High Def big screen experience in an arcade, I would feel a bit bitter if I couldn't just take the game home that night if I chose to.

Michael Khuc
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Arcades flourished in the 90's because the cabinets were better than the consoles. Arcades died in the ps2 era when the consoles matched the arcades, when consoles had the exact same experience at home. Arcades died when the video gamers left, meaning the only real way to resurrect it is by bringing the same audience back.

If you want to bring that audience back, you're going to have to reverse what killed the arcades. You need to have an exclusive experience that is better at the arcade then at home. Face to face competition with fighting games is the only thing holding what is left of arcades today. "Motion Control" exists in the form of DDR, Driving, and Lightgun first person games. Motion feedback exists rarely in driving games. Rock Band and Guitar Hero saw their roots in arcades. The only thing arcades haven't done is 3D. Arcades could get 3D, but would this be enough to get the gamers that didn't have it to come?

I'll say it again: What would be enough to get gamers to come back to the arcades?

The answer is a huge movie starring the gamer. You'd pay 20$ to watch. A random audience member gets selected to play and star as the lead action role. He gets multiple choice cue cards, so he chooses his dialogue, and the actors react accordingly (different endings are available). The gamer/actor gets into every action sequence from every arcade game, playing guitar, shooting a gun, driving a car, fighting at a tournament, flying a jet fighter, and dancing in ddr at the end. All in stunning 3D.

Brad Borne
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I was out of town and went to a Dave and Buster's for the first time. Bloody hell what a disappointment! Has a new arcade game even been made in the last 5 years in the US (I hear they're still pretty big in Japan)? Man, my buddies and I used to go to the arcade just to slap each other around in Soul Calibur 2, even long after we all had bought it for our home systems. You're right, though, if someone wants that perfect experience, they have to buy a giant HD TV / projector, a nice 7.1 system, and a lot of room to have some friends over.

"How exactly could a game like Alan Wake work like this? Would one person sit on the big screen for 60 minutes while other people just watched?"

You wouldn't, period. We need the best minds creating new games that are played best publicly, like fighting games, shooting games, racing games... Halo: Reach, would, though, be awesome to play on a machine locally networked to 16 others, but that's more of what internet/gaming cafes are for (and are absolutely replacing arcades in my home town).

What we DON'T need, however, is app store games taking up entire cabinets. I could waste a quarter on 'Done Drinking,' but there was no pinball machines in site? Sounds like my own personal hell.

max bowman
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Yea the problem with the theater as arcade post is that it hasn't been though out in terms of gameplay experience for everybody. First forget that movie stars are always good looking and charismatic. Now replace them with a random audience member? Forget the fact that I will RARELY get to play the game given the chance of me actually beating out a large number of the audience for the role. The experience for everyone is going to be watching some random obese shut-in or teenager, grope angelina jolie around then switch to different types of gameplay? There is some though dedicated thought to the idea of a team of people going on a journey through a theater/arcade experience, but nothing really concrete came out of it.

In my opinion the only way arcades could come back is by introducing a virtual reality with advanced haptics controls. Something out of The Lawnmower Man, but without the suit. Just gloves, goggles, a 360 treadmill. Virtual Reality didn't work back in the nineties because the experience was too expensive and sub par compared to the promise of "virtual reality" The big problem back then was immature technology compared to what was needed to provide an immersive experience.

Again I don't know the state of haptic technology today and if any of this is scalable for an arcade market, but the only way people would come back to the arcade is by providing something they can't get at home.

Chad Wagner
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I hesitate to point out the obvious, but several posters seem to keep making this point.

The blog is offering the idea of "time phasing" as a way for the arcade to offer something people can't get at home. The same way movies do today. Going to the arcade would allow people to play a game today, that they couldn't (legally) play at home (yet).

lawless seamonsters
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Very intresting read and idea that reminds me of a piece i wrote on CVG forums

A return to those dark satanic arcades,following my reading of an article called "The death of games consoles – coming soon!...

A return to those dark satanic arcades.

Posted: 14 Mar 10 1:39 pm

I for a while now have held a view that many games publishers long for a return to those arcade days and that they regret the day they allowed everyone who was willing to play their game an actual physical copy that could be done with as the consumer seen fit be that re-sell,swap,lend or even pirate.Even though they tried their hardest to imply some form of mind control lawyer speak on the back of the box in the fine print.

And if I put on my limited business head,I to would be wishing for that control I had back in those arcade days.

But I hear you say even if the Onlive tech is possible to stream millions of versions of the same game at the same time into every paying costumers home not everyone is gonna wanna buy games that way.

And yes you are right not everyone will accept this as the game distribution standard.

Until you look at the movie industry and ask the question how come movie dvds can be so cheep but games are so expensive.

Well because movies before they even hit the dvd to buy market and video store rental market they make most of their money back at the cinemas.

And that is what and were i see the future of gaming going the only place you can play a game on release is by streaming it no getting a copy on your hard drive no retail copy.

Onlive and streaming services like it will be the game moviedromes.

You pay your admission fee and you can play that single player campaign for as long as it takes you to complete it and that's it just like a movie one go for one fee.

Then once that publisher has a tidy profit then the game rentals and down loadable and retail collectors editions hit the shops.

It's a crazy idea and the biggest problem is convincing a game buying audience to help the publishers squeeze that over bloated genie they let out of the bottle all them years ago to get back in his cramped cell.

And what of multiplayer well that is the bonus you get for streaming the single player a months free sub to play the multiplayer after that multiplayer becomes a fee based months sub or pay as you play game.

Veronica Castillo
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An idea that no one has touched yet is competition. Instead of banking on creating bigger/better experiences, why not host daily tourneys for prizes, glory, and bragging rights.

Also creating unlockables/achievements for visiting the arcade version of the game is a possibility too.

I have a feeling that most gamers secretly crave more IRL interaction. This is something that someone will tap into eventually and make big bucks. Just you wait.

Jason Whisler
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Thanks for all of the comments. A few takeaways from various comments I see are:

1) Certainly this would not work for every game. Games are a wonderfully diverse medium, and not all of them will work for just about anything.

2) The most important thing to make this happen would be to offer an experience that a player can't get anywhere else. To me that could include bigger screens, louder audio, social engagement, a public audience observing your uberness, and of course, content that you can't own and play at home yet.

3) Like all aspects of the business, pricing would be important. I would pay a couple of bucks to face off against someone for a badass, public Greed Corp match. I would probably pay 10 bucks (maybe more) for an hour of whatever the new killer-app multi-player FPS is.

4) Making a network of the arcades and including extras like tournaments would undoubtedly go a long way.

David Hughes
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For myself, this is the only way I'd ever play 3-D games. Way too uncomfortable (and expensive) to buy for the home, even though I have two consoles now. But I might be willing to plunk down some cash to play an arcade 3-D experience.

Other than that, I'm quite content being an anti-social gamer. Too many trolls!