I used to love going to the arcade as a kid in the early 1990’s. I feel like a dinosaur when I think about it. My fondest memories were playing Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and Daytona USA. The reason why I went to the arcade was because I wanted to play these games and there wasn’t a home version of them at the time. Even if there was a home version, it usually was an ugly dumbed-down port. That all changed when Street Fighter II was released on the Super Nintendo many months later, which had graphics and sound that was nearly identical. I started seeing a trend of many games releasing in arcades first and eventually being accurately ported to home consoles. Most people might argue that home consoles ultimately killed off the arcade industry. If you can play the same game at home, why bother going to the arcade? That is absolutely reasonable logic. It’s sort of like saying, “If you can watch the same movie at home, why go to a theater to see it?” Wait a minute, hold on, I just had a crazy idea… What if the videogame industry used the same formula as the movie industry?
Imagine an awesome game franchise that you have been looking forward to for quite a while, but instead of it launching directly to consoles. You can play it at a local arcade 6 months in advance. You could have a card that keeps track of your PSN, Steam, or Xbox Live ID to earn trophies, achievements, and leaderboard stats. The key to this being successful is that the game has to be exclusive only to arcade businesses. The arcade machines would be capable of easily swapping out new games and the arcade owner can just put new promotional artwork over the machine to display which game is featured. This could bring the arcade industry back to life and make playing videogames a much more social activity. Arcades are great places to meet real people that have similar interests. Playing online with a headset is not the same. When you make eye contact with other people and are physically present, you have to show a decent level of respect, or risk getting into a hostile situation. In order to keep people going to arcades, you have to give players something to look forward to, such as an exclusive launch of a popular franchise.
I remember when I was a teenager and Mortal Kombat II was just released in arcades. I actually called my local arcade named “The Electric Circus” and asked them if they had Mortal Kombat II. The guy answered the phone “Thank you for calling Electric Circus, we have Mortal Kombat II, how may I help you?” I was overly excited and asked again “You have Mortal Kombat II?” and the guy replied with a sigh: “I just said that.” I miss having that feeling. It’s no different when an exciting new movie gets released. People will spend $11, $13, or $15 for a movie ticket to see “The Avengers” or any other mega-popular title. Why can’t that work for arcades? If Mortal Kombat X, Street Fighter V, or the latest Super Smash Bros was exclusive to arcades for 6 months, would that tempt you to go the arcade? What about games in other genres? Would you go to an arcade to try out a “multiplayer only” Destiny 2, that allowed you to level up before the game is released on consoles? There are so many awesome franchises that could benefit from this, but for it to work, the game publishers and arcade owners need to work together.
The most important aspect to this of course is profitability. There can’t be insanely high fees to burden arcade owners, and there needs to be a fair distribution of profits so that everyone benefits. I completely understand why the arcade industry is basically dead with its current business model. I thought about running my own arcade, and when I priced out how much a single modern arcade machine costs, my jaw hit the floor. $7,000 for a single game?! Are you crazy?! If you charge even a dollar per game, by the time you earn your money back, people will no longer have an interest in the game. How do you expect an arcade business to survive if you are ripping off the place that is trying to promote your product? This needs to change. I want to see the arcade industry make a comeback. It deserves another chance, but the only way it can work is it will take a great deal of cooperation with many gaming giants that are willing to take risks to produce something that could be as popular as going to the movie theater.