What Ever Became of…Cabinet Arcade Games?

Good morning everyone, and happy Saturday. Today I would like to tell you all a story, a story of a place where children once went to spend many a Saturday of youth. That place was called the arcade, and it was filled to the brim with all sorts of fantastic video games encased in big cabinets. Now this story isn’t about the arcade, per say, I am not here to lament its loss exactly, but about the games themselves. In recent years I have been to some establishments that traditionally held an arcade–a pizza parlor perhaps, or bowling alley–and it seems that there do indeed still exist those places of gaming. No, the question is, what ever has become of those cabinet based arcade games?

The games that inhabit the current version of the arcade all seem to have peaked in about the year 1996. The arcades are still there, still full of games that have been kept up and still going, welcoming the quarters of today’s youth as they welcomed those of yesteryear, and yet nothing new seems in the works, the medium has been deemed old, done, not worth the work. The yearly revisions of home console games, of personal computer games, of dissatisfied avians on cellular phones for that matter, keep on coming. But there is no trickle down into the land of the arcade! Whatever happened to the cabinet arcade game?

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  • Just too much work! In the old days of video game development this was the only way to bring the games to market and it grew into an existing industry of game hardware manufaturers. After home video games became popular and cheap, the stand alone cabinet versions of games went on only under the previous decade's momentum. It really was less than a decade, Asteroids, Space Invaders and Lunar Lander all came out in '78 and '79, but the Atari 2600 was already in stores by then.

    "The golden age of arcade video games is defined as the peak era of arcade video game popularity and technological innovation. Although there is no consensus as to its exact time period, most sources place it as starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and lasting to the mid-1980s.

    Cabinet games were a mis-step in the video game development. They were deployed in arcades and followed the form factor of the pinball machines that populated them, along with Skee-Ball, air hockey and other lost large format games. At some point someone thought, Well if I'm developing it on my desktop computer, why do I need to put it in a big assed cabinet? It's like, 10 ounces of circuit boards and a CRT. Read Only Memory was the stumbling block, I guess. Once cartridge games became reliable the stand alones went the way of the buggy whip.

    The Pacific Pinball Museum keeps the pinball machine alive, but I don't think they have any video games

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    • jeepjeff

      Not quite. There's a cultural aspect to it, as well. Arcades and cabinet games are alive and well. In Japan. Ars Technica had an article on this a while back:

      They might not have been a true misstep, just one that was the wrong size and shape for over here (and maybe everywhere that's not Tokyo).

  • These classics never fail to commandeer some of my coinage when I find them at a kids party place or Dave & Busters.

  • CaptianNemo2001

    Gauntlet Legends, Donkey Kong and Pong and you will have a party going on at your place. Maybe even some Metal Slug.

  • We still keep a working example of Lunar Lander on the floor here at the Exploratorium.

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    And the PPM has lent us one of their see-thru pinball machines.

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    considering it costs nothing to play them, you'd think I'd be an expert at both, right? Not even close.

  • A local place, Andretti's (they feature high end indoor carts), is advertising on the radio that they have arcade versions of all your favorite cell phone games, Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds type of thing.