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An arcade game or coin-op game is a coin-operated entertainment machine typically installed in public businesses such as restaurants, bars and amusement arcades. Most arcade games are video games, pinball machines, electro-mechanical games, redemption games or merchandisers. While exact dates are debated, the golden age of arcade video games is usually defined as a period beginning sometime in the late 1970s and ending sometime in the mid-1980s. Excluding a brief resurgence in the early 1990s, the arcade industry subsequently declined in the Western hemisphere as competing home video game consoles such as the SonyPlayStation and MicrosoftXbox increased in their graphics and game-play capability and decreased in cost. The Eastern hemisphere retains a strong arcade industry.
The first popular “arcade games” included early amusement-park midway games such as shooting galleries, ball–toss games, and the earliest coin-operated machines, such as those that claimed to tell a person’s fortune or that played mechanical music. The old Midways of 1920s-era amusement parks (such as Coney Island in New York) provided the inspiration and atmosphere for later arcade games. In the 1930s the first coin-operated pinball machines emerged. These early amusement machines differed from their later electronic cousins in that they were made of wood. They lacked 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 both for operation and for scoring.
Popularity of arcade machines came with contention through the mid 1970s and early 1980s. During the same period that video games proliferated and were celebrated as a sign of technological progress, numerous communities organized against arcades. Efforts to regulate coin op video gaming were geographically widespread, and they also drew on long standing suspicions of the coin-operated industry, which included organized crime and influence of violence. Existing regulation in several communities facilitated the ongoing regulation existed due to its associations to money laundering and organized criminal activity and its long standing cultural and historical ties with gambling. Despite the negative connotations of the coin operated industry in the preceding decades of the 1960s and the 1950s, by the 1970s, those in the industry were working towards professionalization and acceptance as a legitimate business. Two major trade journals RePlay Magazine published in 1975 and Play Meter published in 1974 offered profiles on industry professional and updates on industry news that helped professionalize the industry.
In 1966 Sega introduced an electro-mechanical game called Periscope – an early submarine simulator and light gun shooter which used lights and plastic waves to simulate sinking ships from a submarine. It became an instant success in Japan, Europe, and North America, where it was the first arcade game to cost a quarter per play, which would remain the standard price for arcade games for many years to come. In 1967 Taito released an electro-mechanical arcade game of their own, Crown Soccer Special, a two-player sports game that simulated association football, using various electronic components, including electronic versions of pinball flippers.
Sega later produced gun games which resemble first-person shooter video games, but which were in fact electro-mechanical games that used rear image projection in a manner similar to the ancient zoetrope to produce moving animations on a screen. The first of these, the light-gun game Duck Hunt, appeared in 1969; it featured animated moving targets on a screen, printed out the player’s score on a ticket, and had volume-controllable sound-effects. That same year, Sega released an electro-mechanical arcade racing game, Grand Prix, which had a first-person view, electronic sound, a dashboard with a racing wheel and accelerator, and a forward–scrolling road projected on a screen. Another Sega 1969 release, Missile, a shooter and vehicle-combat simulation, featured electronic sound and a moving film strip to represent the targets on a projection screen. It was the earliest known arcade game to feature a joystick with a fire button, which formed part of an early dual-control scheme, where two directional buttons are used to move the player’s tank and a two-way joystick is used to shoot and steer the missile onto oncoming planes displayed on the screen; when a plane is hit, an animated explosion appears on screen, accompanied by the sound of an explosion. In 1970 Midway released the game in North America as S.A.M.I.. In the same year, Sega released Jet Rocket, a combat flight-simulator featuring cockpit controls that could move the player aircraft around a landscape displayed on a screen and shoot missiles onto targets that explode when hit.
In the course of the 1970s, following the release of Pong in 1972, electronic video-games gradually replaced electro-mechanical arcade games. In 1972, Sega released an electro-mechanical game called Killer Shark, a first-person light-gun shooter known for appearing in the 1975 film Jaws. In 1974, Nintendo released Wild Gunman, a light-gun shooter that used full-motion video-projection from 16 mm film to display live-action cowboy opponents on the screen. One of the last successful electro-mechanical arcade games was F-1, a racing game developed by Namco and distributed by Atari in 1976; this game appeared in the films Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Midnight Madness (1980), as did Sega’s Jet Rocket in the latter film. The 1978 video game Space Invaders, however, dealt a yet more powerful blow to the popularity of electro-mechanical games.
See also: Timeline of arcade video game history
In 1971, students at Stanford University set up the Galaxy Game, a coin-operated version of the video game Spacewar. This ranks as the earliest known instance of a coin-operated video game. Later in the same year, Nolan Bushnell created the first mass-manufactured 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.
Main article: Golden age of arcade video games
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 US$8 billion ($22 billion in 2018).
During the late 1970s and 1980s, chains such as Chuck E. Cheese’s, Ground Round, Dave and Busters, ShowBiz Pizza Place and Gatti’s Pizza combined the traditional restaurant 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.
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, setting off a renaissance for the arcade game industry in the early 1990s. 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, Tekken (1994) by Namco, and The King of Fighters (1994–2005) by SNK. In 1993, Electronic Games noted that when “historians look back at the world of coin-op during the early 1990s, one of the defining highlights of the video game art form will undoubtedly focus on fighting/martial arts themes” which it described as “the backbone of the industry” at the time.
3D polygon graphics were popularized by the Sega Model 1 games Virtua Racing (1992) and Virtua Fighter (1993), followed by racing games like the Namco System 22 title Ridge Racer (1993) and Sega Model 2 title Daytona USA, and light gun shooters like Sega’s Virtua Cop (1994) and Mesa Logic’s Area 51 (1995), gaining considerable popularity in the arcades. By 1994, arcade games in the United States were generating revenues of $7 billion in quarters (equivalent to $11.8 billion in 2018), 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 US arcade and console game revenues of $13 billion in 1994 ($22 billion in 2018) 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, improved sound, and better 2D graphics, than the previous generation. By 1995, personal computers followed, with 3D accelerator cards. While arcade systems such as the Sega Model 3 remained considerably more advanced than home systems in the late 1990s, the technological advantage that arcade games had, in their ability to customize and use the latest graphics and sound chips, slowly began narrowing, and the convenience of home games eventually caused a decline in arcade gaming. Sega‘s sixth generation console, the Dreamcast, could produce 3D graphics comparable to the Sega NAOMI arcade system in 1998, after which Sega produced more powerful arcade systems such as the Sega NAOMI Multiboard and Sega Hikaru in 1999 and the Sega NAOMI 2 in 2000, before Sega eventually stopped manufacturing expensive proprietary arcade system boards, with their subsequent arcade boards being based on more affordable commercial console or PC components.
Main article: Video gaming in Japan
In the Japanese gaming industry, arcades have remained popular through to the present day. Much of the consistent popularity and growing industry is due to several factors such as support for continued innovation and that developers of machines own the arcades. Additionally, Japan arcade machines are notably more unique as to US machines, where Japanese arcades can offer experiences that players could not get at home. This is constant throughout Japanese arcade history. As of 2009, out of Japan’s US$20 billion gaming market, US$6 billion of that amount is generated from arcades, which represent the largest sector of the Japanese video game market, followed by home console games and mobile games at US$3.5 billion and US$2 billion, respectively. According to in 2005, arcade ownership and operation accounted for a majority of Namco‘s for example. With considerable withdrawal from the arcade market from companies such as Capcom, Sega became the strongest player in the arcade market with 60% marketshare in 2006. Despite the global decline of arcades, Japanese companies hit record revenue for three consecutive years during this period. However, due to the country’s economic recession, the Japanese arcade industry has also been steadily declining, from ¥702.9 billion (US$8.7 billion) in 2007 to ¥504.3 billion (US$6.2 billion) in 2010. In 2013, estimation of revenue is ¥470 billion.
The layout of an arcade in Japan greatly differs from an arcade in America. The arcades of Japan are multi-floor complexes (often taking up entire buildings), split into sections by game types. On the ground level the arcade typically hosts physically demanding games that draw crowds of onlookers, like music rhythm games. Another floor is often a maze of multi-player games and battle simulators. These multi-player games often have online connectivity tracking rankings and reputation of each player; top players are revered and respected in arcades. The top floor of the arcade is typically for rewards where Players can trade credits or tickets for prizes.
In the Japanese market, network and card features introduced by Virtua Fighter 4 and World Club Champion Football, and novelty cabinets such as Gundam Pod machines have caused revitalizations in arcade profitability in Japan. The reason for the continued popularity of arcades in comparison to the west, are heavy population density and an infrastructure similar to casino facilities.
Former rivals in the Japanese arcade industry, Konami, Taito, Bandai Namco Entertainment and Sega, are now working together to keep the arcade industry vibrant. This is evidenced in the sharing of arcade networks, and venues having games from all major companies rather than only games from their own company.