Video games were first created and popularized in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that video arcades were finally brought to life. An arcade game is a coin operated entertainment machine, and a video arcade therefore, is a public place with a collection of arcade games. This was the next step in gaming technology that had previously been consumed by pinball. Arcades became popular with younger generations by giving them a public place to cheaply play games and hang out. Video arcades created a new social medium between gamers when, for the first ever, players were able to compete with and against each other while standing side by side.
The “Galaxy Game” is the earliest known coin-operated video arcade game which was first installed in 1971 (The History of Video Arcade Games). The original cost was $20,000 to build the machine then would play for 10 cents each game. Once video games popularized in the ’70s, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney went on to co-create a revolutionary company named Atari, Inc. in 1972. Atari went on the create a tennis sports game called PONG which became the first large success of video arcades. 1970-1985 marked the golden era of video games. Dabney and Bushnell are largely credited with the birth of arcade popularity, with their creation of PONG and the success of Atari, these two proved that the arcade business could be profitable which lead to ongoing efforts of companies to follow. During this era, there was a rapid spread of video arcades and gaming rooms (June, 2013). The most popular companies rose out of the golden era were Atari, Namco, and Sega. The release of Pac-Man in 1980 by Namco is widely considered the most popular arcade game ever released. The arcade business peaked due to the popularity of Pac-man and similar spin offs that eventually created a bubble for the industry.
Unfortunately, the golden era did not last very long. The death of the video arcade golden age was sooner rather than later. It wasn’t newer technology that drove out arcades, but rather fear of the American public. Many Americans feared the arcade takeover lead to poorly run businesses and to future gambling addictions in children as first posted in Times magazine. At the end of the golden era, video arcades started becoming more commercialized with national chains such as Chuck E. Cheese’s and Dave and Busters became popular (June, 2013). Instead of using coin operated gaming machines, larger businesses began straying away from the coin operated games and moving towards cash loaded swipe cards that are needed to play in the arcade. Video arcades began fading out during the late 80s into the early 90s for a couple of reasons. Video Arcades failed to diversify on a number of levels, namely successfully separating from bars and restaurants which were both much more profitable businesses. Video arcades also suffered as more video games were being produced from video game consoles. Many also attribute the losses that arcades saw entering the mid 1980s in response to the lack of innovation within the niche.
Bmigaming.com. (n.d.). The History Of Video Arcade Games : Who Invented Video Games ?. Visual History Of Video Games, Video Arcade Games and Computer Game. [online] Available at: https://www.bmigaming.com/videogamehistory.htm [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].
June, L. (2013). For Amusement Only: the life and death of the American arcade. [online] The Verge. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2013/1/16/3740422/the-life-and-death-of-the-american-arcade-for-amusement-only [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].
Image Attribution: Both images used are in the public domain
Written by Nick Popolizio, 2018.