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Domination 101: The Once and Future Arcade

Domination 101: The Once and Future Arcade

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Published by jmuzz
About the state of Arcades in America.
About the state of Arcades in America.

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Published by: jmuzz on Apr 16, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/19/2013

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The Once and Future ArcadeBy Ponder of shoryuken.comFrom http://forums.shoryuken.com/showthread.php?t=34763I want to talk about something slightly bigger than just winning at SF today, butsomething I suspect is of interest to all of us anyway- the status and future ofarcades. I was inspired by the remarkably shoddy discussion of same that I had themisfortune to read on Gamespot. What’s most depressing is that this simplistic,lazy, and ultimately worthless piece was the product of a combined effort by theentire editorial staff of one of the popular sites in the gaming world. [editor'snote: Gamespot's original story can be found athttp://www.zdnet.com/gamespot/storie...686662,00.html] Is this really the bestthat can be done? Is the current state of thinking about arcades really thispathetic? No wonder they’re in trouble.That’s what we agree on: arcades aren’t doing nearly as well as they once were.The further question is "why?". Here’s where the gamespot think-tank and I partways. Their claim (re-iterated by essentially all of the authors) is that arcades"can’t compete" because their games used to be technologically superior to homesystems, but aren’t anymore. In a nutshell, they’re claiming that people aren’twilling to pay for what they can get "for free" at home (we’ll ignore for themoment that the cost of a newish console + games is hardly "free"). A lot ofarcade-goers have noticed the same thing, and have probably been satisfied by thesame explanation. Should you be? My claim is: "no".In fact, I think this is a terrible answer. By "terrible" I don’t mean simplywrong- instead I mean that it’s incomplete, lazy, and totally unilluminating. It’san answer that no one who actually cares about the question should be happy with.While it’s obvious that the development of consoles has affected the arcadeindustry, it’s hardly the whole story- or even particularly important. When youlook at this from a business perspective (which is the whole point- the failure ofarcades is a business phenomenon), ask yourself- does this line of reasoning ("whypay when I can get it at home for free?"), in itself, explain the failure of thebusiness? Since neither Gamespot nor anyone else of whom I’m aware offer anythingelse, they apparently think it does.Blaming consoles because "they let you play the same thing for free!" goes wrongin at least two serious ways. First, it doesn’t explain why the same thing doesn’tseem to affect other industries of which EXACTLY the same thing is true. Take forinstance the absolute *explosion* of coffee houses over the last few years.Gamespot reasoning: "Can’t people get coffee at home? Virtually everyone has acoffee machine- and they’re cheap, too. Sure, the coffee houses have fancymachines with lots of chrome- but that’s essentially just a gimmick, right? It’sstill coffee. And 3$ a cup?! Who do these coffee places think they’re kidding? Nothanks- I think *I’ll* just stay here and drink my perfectly-good coffee in thecomfort of my own home!". Seems "logical" enough, right? So coffee houses then tooare doomed? And what about of our precious pubs and taverns! What will become ofthese community pillars if (as liquor transportation technology continues toadvance) we’re someday able to transport beer into our own homes? Will they bereduced to nostalgic memories as well? The Gamespot editors (and anyone else whowants to single out consoles) owe us an explanation of why these (and MANY other)industries are somehow immune to the problem. The second way merely blamingconsoles goes wrong is this: It doesn’t explain the history of the arcadebusiness. If you’ll recall, arcades were in an even more serious recession around1991, only to be saved almost single-handedly by Street Fighter 2, and thesuccessive wave of fighting games. Despite major advances, consoles of the time
 
were a *far* cry from real arcade machines. So arcades seem subject to disasterquite apart from home systems co-opting their product. The lack of enthusiasm wascoming from somewhere else.Next: The complaint that the modern arcade is filled with "gimmicky" games withspecialized cabinets/interfaces? ALL the old favorites the editorial staffreminisce so fondly about were "guilty" of EXACTLY the same thing they’recriticizing in modern games. From Defender’s insane controls, to Tron’s annoying"dial+trigger stick" all the way up to the six buttons (! remember when that usedto be a lot?) on Street Fighter 2 and beyond, arcade games have ALWAYS hadspecialized, frequently non-interchangable controls, which could often not bereplicated at home (much less the games themselves). Suggesting that games todayare degenerate merely for committing the same "crime" is- what?- you know theanswer by now- that’s right!- it’s dumb. It’s thoughtless. It’s lazy because itignores history. Simply crying "gimmick!" as a criticism is ridiculous.A non-ridiculous criticism would be that these "gimmicky" games are also BADgames. Unfortunately for the Gamespot team, however, many games that havespecialized interfaces are still good (obviously SOME suck, but the percentage ofgimmicky games that suck seems roughly similar to the percentage of more standard,you-could-play-this-on-a-pad-at-home games that suck (re: most, but not all)).Some are even better than good. Dance Dance Revolution, for instance, is a trulyexcellent game. It’s fun, extremely interactive, challenging, addictive,competitive (or cooperative!), and even healthy, boasting a huge following despitea US "release" so limited that it scarcely deserves the name. It’s also the #1money-maker in most of the arcades that it’s made it to. These "gimmicky" gamesaren’t using the interface as a substitute for an interesting game- the interfaceis an integral part of the game itself. Ignoring this and dismissing them as"gimmicks" is just more laziness- maybe okay for Senator Lieberman and co., butunacceptable from gaming "professionals".A lot of explanations for the decline of arcades simply overlook the very obvious.Remember back to the heyday of arcades... Remember who ran them? Almostuniversally, they seemed to be run by remarkably unpleasant troll-like men, who(apart from their overwhelming greed) were distinguished primarily by the factthat they didn’t like games, and they didn’t like the people who played them. Alot of them came from the vending machines business, and most of them seemed likethey wished they’d never left. Their new arcade "businesses" typically consistedof renting a dank hole someplace, often in shady neighborhoods, and then justcramming the games in there. Voila! Instant money. Some arcades noticed that theycould continue to rake in the cash without even doing things like bothering torepair obviously broken machines (the vast majority of arcade employees arecompletely incapable of even the simplest of repairs). Better still, they could beopenly hostile to their customers! Should it really be such a surprise to see alot of "businesses" like this fail? Especially when you consider that as theirclientele ages, they become less interested in being openly and needlessly abused?Can you imagine a restaurant with the same kind of service? Should we blame itsfailure on advances in refrigerators and improved home-cooking? Please. A lot ofarcades fail because they’re badly run by non-geniuses out for a quick buck, whoneither like nor remotely understand their product. Duh.Contrast this with, for instance, Southern Hills Golf Land’s operator, JohnBailon. He runs a premier arcade with a steady business, home to some of thegreatest players in the country. He does such shocking things as (gasp!) *talkingto the players*. He finds out what games appeal to them, then gets those games. Heperforms *routine* maintenance on games, sometimes replacing parts even beforethey’ve broken (standard operating procedure just about anywhere else, but unheard
 
of in arcades). He also runs simple promotions like tournaments, that encouragepeople to come in a little more than they might otherwise. And he’s a success.Maybe people in LA just don’t know about consoles or something, right?Arcades have also completely failed to promote themselves. In "the good ‘oledays", it seemed as though the games needed no advertisement. They were soirresistible that people would go anywhere to play them. This is no longer true,but arcades continue to act as if it were. There’s been essentially NO effort atpromotion whatsoever, despite their diminishing profits. To this day, about themost advanced marketing technique you see from an arcade has been some kind ofpathetic "special" deal on tokens. Even today, sickeningly enough, tournamentorganizers in some locations actually have to hunt for arcades even willing tohost them. Operators are so resistant to the idea of change, much less doing ANYextra work, that they’re happy to pass on the chance to generate easily 10x theirordinary business. I mean, think about it- you see ads for EVERYTHING. But do youever see ads for arcades? I haven’t. Ever. For that matter, do you see ads forarcade games? Nope. The only people who see those, are the arcade operatorsthemselves. Apparently Capcom/Namco/Konami, etc, seem to think that once they’vesold the machines to the arcades, their job is done. In one (very short-sighted)sense, this is true. However, in a market as crowded as the one today, you can’tsimply expect a game to sell itself. The companies seem to realize this as far asconsole games are concerned (even where the "console game" is an EXACT PORT of thearcade version), yet nothing seems to be spent on their arcade counterparts.Apparently that job falls to the operator alone, and the operators simply aren’tdoing it.The early success of videogames seems to have bred some incredibly bad industryhabits in arcade operators. The initial arcade craze was powered by games thatpeople played compulsively, against the computer. For the most part, these tendedto be relatively simple. It wasn’t graphics that made these games popular- it wasa more basic cleverness behind them. This, however, plays directly into the handsof consoles. If you want to obsess over some puzzle game, you don’t need anyoneelse around to do it, and you also don’t need a very sophisticated piece ofhardware. This is part of what I suspect was behind the initial decline in arcaderevenues, and should have been a lesson learned. Competition (in fighters likeSF2) revived the industry, because you couldn’t get that by yourself, or even athome (and you still can’t, with at least a lot of popular titles- there’s still nonational network in place in the US, internet speeds simply aren’t good enough fora lot of games, and all of this still omits the face-to-face factor, which can bea lot of the fun). However, success again spawned a still larger number of games,and constant imitation of successful titles. Both of these things make sustained,focused competition that saved the arcades difficult to maintain. With everyonetaking a small slice of the player base, there’s less people to push things to thenext level on any particular game. With a market as crowded as today’s, operatorscan hope for that lucrative intense competition in two ways. They can wait until agame comes along that’s so magical, so involving, that people everywhere can’tstay away. Good luck on that front. The other way is with some damn promotion.Does anyone remember Capcom’s "Saturday Night Slammasters"? Probably not. It was astrange wrestling game/fighter hybrid, featuring none of wrestling’s actualcelebrities, and while moderately interesting, was nothing to get very excitedabout. What was something to get excited about was the fact that Capcom sponsoreda national tournament for the game, which brought players out in droves. Withoutquestion, the cost for the entire promotion was less than the cost of a few simpleprint ads, yet it drove the players in many areas into a complete frenzy over anotherwise unexceptional game (the success of the national Tekken Tag tournamentwas another more recent example). There seems to be absolutely no reason the samething can’t work again, and *especially* because no one else is doing it.

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