The Fall Of Arcade Gaming

Once a brilliant flame, now reduced to embers.

Technology has done wonders for mankind. It has brought us from using tools made of stone to ingenious machinations that are able to perform complex tasks beyond human comprehension all to make our daily life easier for us.

Alongside technology, our lives drastically changed through the years of advancements and brought about many changes in several industries as a result. One such industry is the gaming industry which has not only a very unique but also an extremely rich history.

However, as tech advances, it is a given that something will always be left behind, and as such, there is a sibling of gaming platforms that has been dying out in recent years despite the significance it had and the reformations and cultural revolutions it brought about. This was arcade gaming.

Arcade gaming first started as a project by MIT students and staff, but with intervention from future Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, was turned it into Computer Space, the first coin-operated, commercially available arcade game.

Inspired by the Magnavox Odyssey, which was the first home console, Atari released Pong in arcade cabinets and its own console. Pong was a massive success and inspired many others to make their own arcade cabinets and games and it led to the start of the Golden Age of Arcade Gaming in the next few years.

The arcade gaming industry was becoming so successful that by 1974, just 2 years after Pong’s release, 15 companies were now in the arcade gaming business, including Japanese ones, and the industry was seeing innovations as well.

During these years arcade video games were still considered adult entertainment and so arcade cabinets were typically marketed and placed in locations not typically accessible to or frequented by children.

However, arcade games started entering the limelight, and one of the reasons was 1976’s Death Race which involved driving over gremlins. You may remember The controversy it caused in the USA due to its violent content and sparked the first major debate on violence and video games.

Space Invaders by Taito particularly kickstarted this Golden Age as it was very popular throughout the world, and inspired many iconic games of the Golden Age such as Centipede, Asteroid, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man. Pac-Man especially was a huge success and a cultural phenomenon that pushed arcade gaming forward.

The arcade gaming industry also boosted home console sales, which had just entered its second generation and consoles were now using microprocessors, allowing the use of cartridges to play multiple games, as opposed to consoles created to play only one game in the first generation.

However, the arcade gaming industry fell prey to overindulgence and saturation, thus starting the decline of arcade gaming. The E.T game by Atari also contributed greatly to the video game crash of 1983, and home consoles started to rise.

Arcade gaming enjoyed a resurgence again through beat-em-ups, martial arts games, and fighting games, of which Street Fighter was of particular importance, which paved the way for many fighting game franchises seen to this day.

Various technical advancements were made in this period, among which was the Namco System 21 which helped arcade games move towards 3D polygonal games.

With the 90s came the boom in arcade games yet again, particularly, arcade fighting games. This was brought about by Street Fighter 2 which introduced many mainstays and hallmark features of fighting games that can be seen to this day. Street Fighter 2 was extremely popular and boosted arcade sales throughout the world.

Arcade gaming came back in the USA as well but from the mid-90s and onwards, the fifth generation of 3D capable consoles was garnering great reviews and attracting people away from arcades. These consoles were the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Saturn. Ever since, arcades have kept becoming more and more irrelevant, being only a niche market currently.

In the modern age,  arcade gaming has declined in Japan as well. Back in 2021, Japan Times reported that according to a police white paper, in 2019 there were only 4,022 arcades across Japan, down from 26,573 in 1986, a far cry from arcade gaming’s days of glory.

With the rise of handheld consoles, games available at affordable prices during sales on digital marketplaces, various subscription services like Game Pass, and the rise of cloud gaming, it is no surprise that arcade gaming is slowly dying. However, it pains the heart to say this.

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Najam Ul Hassan


Najam is a lifelong gamer and lover of movies, and a fanatical consumer of all sorts of media such as comics, manga, and novels. Currently, he channels his limitless love for games into reporting news for eXputer.

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