An arcade game is a coin operated video game machine. These have been around for decades in one form or another, although they peaked in popularity back in 1983.

There have been literally thousands of different arcade games made over the years, from Computer Space (the first real arcade game), to the latest Super Ultra Capcom Vs. Mortal Kombat Special Rainbow Hyper Fighting Edition 3.

Arcade games come in four basic form factors; upright (a free standing machine ranging from 4.5 to 6 feet in height), cocktail (a small table unit with a screen inside the table top), cockpit (a sitdown style cabinet), and bartop (small machine, usually touchscreen, meant to be set on a table or bar). There have been a few machines that have defied the normal form factors (such as Time Traveller, a standup cocktail, and several sports related titles), but the vast majority of games fall into those four groups.

Arcade games are often converted into the latest titles, which is why you rarely see older games in your local arcade. That Neo Geo machine you are playing on was probably 6 other games between the time it rolled out of the factory as an Asteroids back in 1979, and now when you are putting in your quarters.

Most modern arcade games conform to the JAMMA standard, which means you can take your Final Fight boards and plug them into a Moonwalker, Streetfighter II, or any one of hundreds of other game cabinets. This standard was made to cut down on the senseless rewiring of cabinets for every new game. Even some gambling machines now use the JAMMA standard.

Controls are varied, although joysticks, trackballs, and pushbuttons are most common. These are industry standard parts in most cases. Meaning that you can replace your Double Dragon joysticks with a set out of a Clutch Hitter with no ill effects.

The vast majority of games use a standard color arcade monitor, and produce graphics in the same manner as your computer. But a few older games use vector graphics, and games with laserdisc generated graphics are not entirely unknown.

Older arcade games are often sold on the secondary market, and can be purchased for rather reasonable prices for home use (you can probably get two full sized arcade games in nice shape for the same price as a Playstation 2 with 2 games).

There are thousands of individual games that have been written up here on E2, it wouldn't even be possible to list them all in this node. But I will list some more nodes about arcade games in general, and arcade terms and technology.

Arcade Related Nodes
Feel free to msg me if I missed something. Pinball machines and other electromechanical games are somewhat related to arcade games (they came first). But collectors usually consider them to be a separate category.
Money In vs. Playtime

Back in the early 1980's the average game cost between $2500 and $3000, average employee wage in an arcade: $3.25/hour. Videogames were a fairly new concept in the 1980's, although they had been around since the early 1970's, their popularity didn't really take hold until Pac-Man came out. Like the game or not, Pac-Man really started the videogame boom years. Back in those days, arcades were popping up everywhere and in any place that had a vacancy. For those of you who remember, you know what I'm talking about. It was crazy to watch, but if it had a monitor and a coin slot, people would play it. At that time, there were many operators who were new to the business and relatively few people were paying attention to the amount of time players were spending on a game. All that mattered was how much money was cashed out at the end of the day. The guy playing Asteroids for 5 hours straight on a quarter wasn't drawing too much attention.

Fast forward a few years to the mid 1980's. Now the industry as a whole is starting to decline. Players are getting more particular about what they want to play and they want better graphics, better gameplay and so on. That, coupled with the decline, weeded out some of the lesser game manufacturers. Now you're left with a few major game makers who have less competetion than they did a few years back. The game graphics do get better but the game prices go up also. With prices going up and the arcade industry in a slump, operators start to carefully analyze their income potential. A few years back, that guy playing Asteroids for 5 hours on a quarter wasn't drawing much attention but now he is. Operators were getting scared and they relayed their concerns to the manufacturers. This is when you started to see games that would either have a set ending point, or would allow you to continue if you inserted more money. Operators needed to maximize their income to survive.

Fast forward again to the relatively recent time. The 1990's brought some good games to the industry that have been mentioned here before; Daytona USA, The Cruisin' series, Star Wars Trilogy and so on. Now things have really changed since the early 1980's. We bought four sets of Daytona USA which are still linked as an 8-player unit. Cost? $17,500 per pair for a total cost of $70,000 for the 8-player setup! Star Wars Trilogy with the 50" monitor; $17,000. Top Skater; $16,000. Two Hydro Thunder deluxes, $20,000. Tsumo deluxe simulator; $25,000. You can see where I'm going with this one. With game prices like that, there has to be some way to be sure that you'll make your money back before the popularity of the piece wears off. Obviously, big games like the ones I've just mentioned have more staying power than say the Street Fighter series that had to have a new version every 4 months. I'm not even going to get into that whole series of unimaginative garbage.

Yes, the big games will continue to earn money for some time but we're now faced with a higher up-front cost and all of our operating expenses have soared in 20 years. The kid who started at $3.25 20 years ago now starts at $6.25. By the time you're done with all the extras such as unemployment taxes, state taxes, workman's comp, liability and so on, that person really costs you about $8.25 per hour. Not that any of that interests the average player, but it does affect them since those costs have to be passed on to them. I know it would be nice to have games again that you could stick a quarter in and play for an hour but times have changed. If your business has seasonal cycles like ours does, that one guy who used to play for 5 hours straight can really have an effect your income, especially on a busy rainy day when you stand the best chance to make money. Arcades are a business and just like any other business, they need to turn a profit or they won't stay in business.

This article was originally written by Gary Vincent who is an arcade manager in New Hampshire. This was reposted with his permission. You can view the original article on the klov.com message board.

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