Death of the Arcade Part 3: Home Gaming (Duh) and Dying Genres

It is a no-brainer that the advancement of home gaming console technology, as well as the rise in PC gaming, particularly online gaming, is largely to blame for the decline of arcade culture.

The arcade used to be a place where gamers could meet new opponents and hone their gaming prowess against other skilled challengers. Arcades attracted the gamers because they offered competition, and a chance to earn respect. Those days, a high-score board actually meant something. Games such as Super Off-Road kept track of player's stats and earnings in memory, so that even across sessions, you could tell who was in the top ten, or top 100.

This is still true, but to a lesser extent. Only those types of games which are not well-suited to the home environment persist. Rush 2049 is a more modern racing game which keeps track of a large number of player stats. DDR machines have given arcades a huge boost in attendance to those more physically fit and less rhythmically challenged gamers. The fighting game genre still endures, partly due, I believe, due to the fact that online console gamign is still in its infancy, (only the Xbox Live's Capcom vs. SNK EO exists as far as online fighters go, to the best of my knowledge) and even the smallest lag can break such a fast-paced game genre.

It used to be the case that one went to the arcade to preview what the hottest thing was. What was going to be ported to the home systems, albeit with a noticeable dip in quality, this year? Consider the difference between the arcade Pac-Man and the Atari 2600 Pac-Man. This is an extreme case, but the principle is the same. Nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to find an arcade game that displays graphic capabilities beyond that of the current generation of home consoles, and none that can compete with high-end PCs.

In order to compete with the more involved and longer-lasting gameplay of home gaming, arcade developers compensate by making their games more intense, short-term experiences with higher replayability. In many ways, it is analogous the difference between watching television and goign out to the movies, for many of the same reasons. At home, the experience is longer, less intense video- and audio-wise, and less expensive (considre $25 a month for cable or $50 for 50 hours gameplay). In the arcades, it's bigger, louder, more intense and expensive ($9 for a 2-hour movie or $1 for 3 minutes gameplay).

On the surface, nothing is wrong with this arrangement. After all, people are willing to enjoy both television and cinematic entertainment currently and consider them realted, but distinct experiences. This is also true of home gaming and arcades, but in the end, there are certain forms of entertainment which lose. In the cinematic world, the newsreel and movie serial are now long-dead and forgotten phenomenons. In the arcade, it is genres like scrolling shooters and platform games which are falling by the wayside in the push for more cinematic gameplay experiences.

Scrolling shoot 'em ups (shmups) (Defender, R-Type, Aerofighters), Puzzle games (Tetris, and 2D Platformers (Metal Slug, Shinobi, Bad Dudes) are now a dying art form. Maze games (Pac-man, Burger Time, Crystal Castles), Beat 'em Ups (Double Dragon, Final Fight, TMNT), and are pretty much extinct. It used to be that a whole section of an arcade could be dedicated to each genre, and unfortunatley, due to their tendency to be short "twitch" style games, they do not really have a place at home either, where casual gamers expect longer, less difficult experiences from their purchases, rather than a short, intensely difficult game that requires many playings to perfect, as arcade games generally do.

It was not too long ago that classic titles like the Raiden or 194x series were eating up my quarters like mad. The alternate mind-state one must enter in order to see the screen as interlocking geometric patterns of enemy bullets was a groovy kind of geometric high (that sounds pretty wack, but anyone who's played Strikers 1945 or Gunbird should know exactly of what I speak). A good number of these titles have been released for PSone and PS2, but they typically get poor to no marketing attached to them (and sometimes really great games just get flat out fucked-up as they are ported), the recent release of Ikaruga for the GameCube being a notable exception.

2D platformers have been abandoned in favor of 3d platformers for the home gaming market. If there is a 2d platfomer, you can be sure that the format has changed from arcade action to adventure, and that it's probably on the GameBoy Advance. Don't get me wrong, Adventure Platformers have yielded some of my favorite games, but one gets that itch for the running and gunning of days gone by. Contra: Shattered Soldier is the only home arcade 2D platformer that comes to mind, and while it is a fine game, it stands alone.

Puzzle games have found a home in our homes comfortably enough, though mor ethan likely they are in our pockets. I haven't seen a new Beat 'Em Up on a console for years, but if Viewtiful Joe is the modern incarnation of River City Ransom it promises to be, I will be the first in line to mess myself with excre excitement. Maze games are now the domain of emulators and Flash training manuals. Side scolling shooters? Well, we're getting a new R-type soon, hopefully... aside from that... err....

I may be getting a little off track, but my point is that the games in a modern arcade have become very homogenized. Chances are that if you step into even the largest of modern arcades, you are given essentially 4 choices of game to play: Shooting, Racing, Music/Dance, or Fighting. What do the first three have in common? Big/loud audio/visuals, large cabinets, and unique interfaces (all of which I discussed in Death of the Arcade Part 1). Fighting games are still holding on strong in the world of hardcore arcade competition, and will probably continue to do so until online consoles really take hold. Notably, Fighting games seem to be the last genre around that still uses a joystick.

Most gamers now prefer to game at home almost exclusively. The connectivity of the internet has replaced the socialization and friendly (or otherwise) competition one once found at arcades. Many styles of game which once captured our attention in the arcades of ten years ago now hav ebeen phased out in favor of more expensive and more immersive game experiences. These same genres either cannot seem to find a place in the home market or have been transformed in the transition from the stand-up to the sit-down world. It is no wonder that so many people turn to emulators in order to try and revisit the games they played as youths.


Don't worry, it's not all bad, the next installment will talk about the hope for the future, unless i can think of something else that's worng with arcades today. In case you were wondering, yes I am a bitter geezer, but no, I don't think modern games are bad, they're just typically not for me, and I miss the way things used to be. If you are even older than I, and 80's arcade gamer and consider me to be a 90's punk who doesn't understand the real way it used to be, you may enjoy this. If you like goofy-ass arcade games, look here. There is also a series of articles at classicgaming.com written by a guy in the arcade machine industry. If you can get past the akward writing (and if you read this site, you probably can), it has some informative views on what happened to arcade machines.


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