American arcades are in decline. This
simple fact should be apparent to any gamer. Yet, while you sit in
front of your PlayStation2, playing some version of
“Tekken,” you might not even remember when
Namco’s classic fighting franchise was offered exclusively by
coin machines. Pinpointing the causes behind this fall is a
difficult task.

Mira Levitan

The story starts 10 years ago when videogame makers began to
develop a new type of hardware, one that, ironically, undermined
the very arcades for which these machines were built. Sega and Sony
created hardware for arcade games that had been designed using the
specifications of their upcoming console systems, the Saturn and
PlayStation, respectively.

The similarity of these arcade games to their respective console
units allowed for faster and more accurate ports. Gamers could now
enjoy high-quality arcade games at home.

As great as this advancement was for home gamers, it was one of
the major contributors to the downfall of arcades. In fact, with
the release of “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance”
exclusively for console systems, Midway gave silent acquiescence to
the fact that arcades in America are on death’s door.

Some may point to the interactive dance craze of “Dance
Dance Revolution” as a sign of resurgence. The immensely
popular Konami game — there are 1,828 DDR machines in the
United States, including 69 in Michigan — drew gamers back to
the arcades with its numerous mixes.

However, the success of “DDR” was a double-edged
sword. Such high interest prompted Sony to create a port for the
PS2, creating another challenge for arcade owners to overcome.
Certainly, the release of “DDR” machines in
America’s arcades brought gamers back for a time, but the
phenomenon, like so many before it, is quickly being made available
in America’s living rooms.

According to a study by the Entertainment Software Association,
Americans spent $6.9 billion last year on videogames for their
consoles and computers. The study also claims that 50 percent of
Americans over age 6 play video or computer games. With such a
large population of button mashers, there exists potential for
packed arcades.

What it all comes down to, though, is this: Arcades in America
just aren’t cool. The supply of gamers and the demand for
games exist in this country, but few want to be seen skulking into
or out of any of these institutions. Take, as an example, that
establishment of most esteemed prestige, Pinball Pete’s. The
franchise once boasted three Ann Arbor locations, but now sports
just one site at the dodgy end of South University Avenue. Unless
it was festooned with paraphernalia for a Creed concert, it is hard
to imagine a less enticing locale. Pete’s is most crowded
after the nearby bars let out and people are too drunk to realize
they are in an arcade. Take away the advantageous location of being
in one of the major bar areas in town and Pete’s would have
nothing but screaming 10-year-olds left there by their parents.

If these businesses want to survive, they must find a way to
make going to arcades more socially acceptable. They must also find
a way to make games that cannot be ported to console systems. While
redemption games, those where you get tickets which can be
exchanged for crappy over-valued prizes, are a popular solution to
the problem, they are not enough of a draw to get gamers back into
the arcades. Unless of course you really, really want that pair of
fingercuffs for 70 tickets.

— Paradis can be reached at

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