On a recent holiday to Somerset, I encountered more arcades than I had done in the previous decade combined. I was thrilled, I was ecstatic. Then I got underwhelmed.
I’ve always loved arcades. The noise, the demos, the excitement – it’s brilliant if you’re into video games. But when we were in Somerset there was a consistent problem. The same machines kept appearing again and again. No matter where we were, we could always rely on Guitar Hero Arcade , Mario Kart Arcade , 4 player Pac-Man , and the same racing games. Then there’s the usual Time Crisis and House of the Dead games. Oh, and Terminator Salvation .
Then there’s the quality
It’s almost an unwritten rule that arcade machines need something wrong with them. Either triggers that are not sensitive enough, uncalibrated guns, buttons that hardly work. I remember when arcade games we’re less than 50p per go. Heck, most were 20p or 30p. When did the arcade get so expensive? Arcade games at one point also trounced consoles because they were run on their own dedicated hardware. Now they almost seem 2 generations behind. One motorbike game that we tried, attempted to force us to pay to move onto the next level – something we refused to do, especially as it was a £1 per person – and both me and Emily got 1st and 2nd respectively.
The other stuff
To be fair, most of the arcades were only 50% or lower stacked with arcade games. The rest was composed of fruit machines, 2p and 10p pushers, cranes and variations of each. It was actually quite depressing seeing the same machines in all of the arcades.
If there’s one thing that the arcades did right, it was giving out tickets. If you’ve not been to an arcade in a while, you may not know that a lot of them give out tickets depending on how well you’ve been doing at them. Some are a nice little incentive, some are the main focus. It’s quite nice when you find an arcade that you can while away the time in – as it seemed that’s what I mostly did on the holiday – and you feel like you’re actually getting something back as well. Every time we went to the arcade, we decided on something to save up for and got it – which included a groovy glitter lamp (as well as some much needed mugs).
What I would want to see in an arcade…
Tickets are a good idea. They give people something to aim for and make them forget just how much they are spending (ka-ching!). You could even have an exchange between tickets and tokens to use at the arcade.
A good arcade needs space. Position your machines too close together and not only does it get uncomfortably hot, it also gets difficult to navigate when people are there.
Make sure you have something different to your competitors. Most arcade gamers would have already had their fill of Time Crisis, House of the Dead, Mario Kart Arcade, etc… Get something new. And also bring the price down – people would be more willing to play through a game (and continue a game) when it’s cheap. When three goes would buy you a beer, people might start to re-prioritise their spending.
I’d also make sure you have a free cash-point. In the area, one arcade had a free cash-point, the rest you had to pay anywhere between £1.40 to £1.80 per transaction to get money out. Guess which was the more popular arcade…
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sad about what arcades have become, but I have hope that they can survive – and not just by arcade enthusiasts. I think game designers need to tackle arcades as not just an alternative to console or PC games, but as a companion. After all, there’s nothing quite like kicking ass at a game and showing off (which makes me wonder why there has never been a camera in cabinets to take pictures of top scorers, not just a name). But maybe that’s an article for another time…