What Happened to Arcades? Will They Ever Make a Comeback?

Arcades used to be on every street corner. Now we’re lucky if we can even find one.
Image Credit: Francesco Ungaro/Pexels

Everyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s has fond memories of visiting the local arcade and wasting quarters on classics like Rampage and Street Fighter. Nothing could beat the environment of an arcade—the hypnotic sounds of pinball machines, chiptune music, and laughing kids as you tried to beat the next level of Dig Dug.

Arcades were once on every street corner, but now you’re lucky if you can even find one of these relics of the past. This leaves many former arcade-goers wondering: why did arcades die out, and will they ever come back?

A Short History of Arcades

Arcades started popping up as early as the late 70s. The trend started with popular games like Galaxian and Space Invaders and later incorporated instant classics such as Centipede and Pac-Man in the early 80s. Arcade games quickly caught on among gamers, as they were more advanced than consoles like Atari’s Home Pong, and offered better visuals.

By the time the 80s came around, the golden era of arcade games was already underway. Thousands of arcades were sprinkled around North America, Europe, and Asia—even liquor stores, restaurants, and gas stations tried to get in on the action by adding arcade games to their stores.

During the golden era, game developers like Namco, Sega, Atari, Nintendo, and Capcom started using vector displays, rather than raster displays, for clearer graphics. As time passed, developers brought a variety of game genres to the table, leading to the birth of shooters, racing games, fighting games, and more.

Every game introduced something new to the scene, making each one an exciting and fresh experience. This novelty caused thousands of adults, teenagers, and kids to flock to arcades to get their hands on the latest addicting arcade game.

The Introduction of Gaming Consoles

People loved arcade games so much that they wanted to take them home. As a result, developers made the wise decision to capitalize off of this need. The introduction of consoles lead to the rapid decline of arcades.

It took years to port an arcade game to a console in the 80s, and developers didn’t have the technology to create an accurate rendition. Things changed in the 90s when developers were finally able to create an exact replica of arcade games for consoles.

Once Nintendo ported games like Punch-Out!! and Bubble Bobble to the NES, people didn’t have to go to arcades anymore. As the sales of video games and consoles increased, more arcades began to close.

Is There a Future for Arcades?

The arcade scene in Japan is still alive and well, but the Western world has a severe shortage—we’re left with a shadow of what arcades used to be.

Dave & Buster’s and Round One arcade chains have popped up all over North America in an attempt to revive the arcade industry. You’ll still find a genuine arcade sprinkled here and there, but they’re rare.

Arcades like Dave & Buster’s have established a new generation of arcades that involve gaming and social drinking. More bars are incorporating arcade games into their venue, hoping to attract the nostalgic gamer. The trend of combining of bars and arcade games only continues to grow.

Will this new type of arcade last, or will it disappear just as quickly as its classic predecessor? The young people who didn’t get the chance to experience a real arcade during the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s might not be interested in classic arcades at all. What’s even more concerning is that these neo-arcades cater specifically to adults. How can kids get involved?

Classic Novelty Outshines New Games

In order to keep arcades in business, we have to go back to the basics. The younger generation is mesmerized by the high-end graphics and bright lights that come along with modern arcade games. When we see classic games like Tetris or Donkey Kong completely remastered, it’s hard to remember the simplicity that came along with the originals.

When no one appreciates the art and authenticity of an old arcade game, nobody will play them. Original arcade games should be a novelty for kids and adults alike—why go to Dave & Buster’s when you can play games of the same caliber at home?

In the end, you just can’t beat the simplicity of retro games. Hopefully, people will realize the advantages of playing retro games and will start favoring authentic arcades over chains.

We earn commission if you purchase items using an affiliate link. We only recommend products we trust. See our affiliate disclosure.

5 comments
  1. I think the ability to play good games at home is part of it, but we saw arcades dying off as they replaced the video games w/ skee ball and other things to give tickets to get prizes. Add in the cost to play some of those games, even if they’re a better experience in the arcade and you have some limitations built in. I could play Gauntlet 10 times at an arcade or own the game and play it as much as I want. But some games, especially driving/racing games, don’t translate as well to at-home versions.

    As much as I miss those old arcade days, I don’t tend to miss the price tag that came with playing. Trying to pick a game that was worth my quarter or even dollar to play when on a limited budget was challenging. There’s the National Video Game Museum semi-close to me, but after you use up your credits to play, you have to put in real money to keep playing (which makes sense, but….). We also have a couple of arcades nearby with unlimited play time for admission, but the selection seems to have moved more towards the modern fighting/racing/dancing/shooting games so those older games that I remember are rare or not found.

    1. That’s very true. All those quarters really add up after you keep playing over and over again. I personally don’t think that space/plane shooters translate that well at home either—I think they’re best for quick plays at the arcade.

      I’m surprised that you actually have to pay for the games at the National Video Game Museum! You must have to pay for admission on top of that, right? I also noticed that Arcades like Dave & Buster’s and Round One capitalize off of newer arcade games unfortunately.

      1. You get some for free, but it’s a museum. Paying your cover charge to get in, then hog the machines would bring back _another_ fun time from those old arcade days. At least then you could put your quarter on the machine to signify that you were up next. They use tokens so you’d cash in for tokens and use those, but I think they want to give the experience to people – you get like 4 games included. After you use your allotted included games, you need to pay.

        The idea is interesting, but it’s just far enough that I’m not going to head out there on a whim. I’m also the only one in my family who’d really appreciate it, so not in a hurry. The concept sounds cool, though.

        Totally agree about Dave & Busters. I can’t say how many times I’ve been given some “game card” at a corporate event just to give it over to someone else because I’m not a huge racing/shooting/dancing/street-fighting game fan. (Though I made an exception for the TMNT games)

        1. That sounds interesting. I’m going to have to check out that museum one day if I ever get out to Texas!

          Same here. I haven’t played the TMNT arcade games yet, but I have to admit that I kinda like the Luigi’s Mansion arcade game.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts