Golden age of arcade video games

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This article is about the golden age of arcade games. For the golden age of video games in general, see Golden age of video games.

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, peaking in the early 1980s, and lasting to the mid-1980s.

Overview[edit | edit source]

During the late 1970s, video arcade game technology had become sophisticated enough to offer good-quality graphics and sounds, but it was still fairly basic (realistic images and full motion video were not yet available, and only a few games used spoken voice) and so the success of a game had to rely on simple and fun gameplay. This emphasis on the gameplay is why many of these games continue to be enjoyed today despite their technology being vastly outdated by modern computing technology.

Relevant time period[edit | edit source]

Former Pro Video Game Referee/Scorekeeper Walter Day places it as lasting from January 18, 1982 to January 5, 1986.[1] Technology journalist Jason Whittaker, in The Cyberspace Handbook, places the beginning of the golden age in 1978, with the release of Space Invaders, which he credits for bringing an end to the video game crash of 1977, sparking a renaissance for the video game industry, and starting a video game revolution.[2]

Video game journalist Steven L. Kent, in his book The Ultimate History of Video Games, places it at 1979 to 1983.[3] The book pointed out that 1979 was the year that Space Invaders[4] – which he credits for ushering in the golden age[5] – was gaining considerable popularity in the United States,[4] and the year that saw the advent of vector graphics technology which in turn spawned many of the popular early arcade games. However, 1983 was the period that began "a fairly steady decline" in the coin-operated video game business and when many arcades started disappearing.[3]

The History of Computing Project places the golden age of video games between 1971 and 1983, covering the “mainsteam appearance of video games as a consumer market” and “the rise of dedicated hardware systems and the origin of multi-game cartridge based systems”.[6] 1971 was chosen as an earlier start date by the project for two reasons: the creator of Pong filed a pivotal patent regarding video game technology, and it was the release of the first arcade video game machine, Computer Space.[7]

Other opinions place this period's beginning in the late 1970s, when color arcade games became more prevalent and video arcades themselves started appearing outside of their traditional bowling alley and bar locales, through to its ending in the mid-1980s.[8] The golden age of arcade games largely coincided with, and partly fuelled, the second generation of game consoles and the microcomputer revolution.

Business[edit | edit source]

The golden age was a time of great technical and design creativity in arcade games. Games were designed in a wide variety of genres while developers had to work within strict limits of available processor power and memory. Prior to the golden age, the video game industry was worth $400 million in 1977,[9] but was flooded with Pong clones, which led to the video game crash of 1977.[2] The crash eventually came to an end following the success of Taito's Space Invaders (1978), which sparked a renaissance for the video game industry.[2] The era saw the rapid spread of video arcades across North America, Europe, and Asia. The number of video game arcades in North America, for example, more than doubled between 1980 and 1982;[10] reaching a peak of 13,000 video game arcades across the region (compared to 4,000 as of 1998).[11] Beginning with Space Invaders, video arcade games also started to appear in supermarkets, restaurants, liquor stores, gas stations and many other retail establishments looking for extra income.[12] Video game arcades at the time became as common as convenience stores, while arcade games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders would appear in most locations across the United States, including even funeral homes.[13] The sales of arcade video game machines increased significantly during this period, from $50 million in 1978 to $900 million in 1981,[10] with 500,000 arcade machines sold in the United States at prices ranging as high as $3000 in 1982 alone.[14] By 1982, there were 24,000 full arcades, 400,000 arcade street locations and 1.5 million arcade machines active in North America.[15] At around this time, the home video game industry (second-generation video game consoles and early home computer games) emerged as "an outgrowth of the widespread success of video arcades" at the time,[16] by capitalizing on the success of arcade video games, Port or cloning popular arcade games as console and computer games.

In 1980, the U.S. arcade video game industry's revenue generated from quarters tripled to $2.8 billion.[17] By 1981, the arcade video game industry in the United States was generating an annual revenue of over $5 billion[2][18] (equivalent to $12.52 billion in 2012),[19] with some estimates as high as $10.5 billion for all video games (arcade and home) in the US that year, which would be three times the amount spent on movie tickets in 1981,[20] and equivalent to $26.3 billion in 2012.[19] The total revenue for the U.S. arcade video game industry in 1981 was estimated at more than $7 billion[21] (which would be $17.53 billion in 2012),[19] though some analysts estimated the real amount may have been much higher.[21] By 1982, video games accounted for 87% of the $8.9 billion in commercial games sales in the United States.[22] In 1982, the arcade video game industry's revenue in quarters was estimated at $8 billion[23] (equivalent to $18.87 billion in 2012),[19] surpassing the annual gross revenue of both pop music ($4 billion) and Hollywood films ($3 billion) combined that year.[23][24] It also exceeded the revenues of all major sports combined at the time,[24] earning three times the combined ticket and television revenues of Major League Baseball, basketball, and American football, as well as earning twice as much as all the casinos in Nevada combined.[25] This was also more than twice as much revenue as the $3.8 billion generated by the home video game industry (during the second generation of consoles) that same year;[23] both the arcade and home markets combined added up to a total revenue between $11.8 billion and $12.8 billion for the U.S. video game industry in 1982, equivalent to between $27.84 billion and $30.2 billion in 2012.[19] In comparison, the U.S. video game industry in 2011 generated total revenues between $16.3 billion and $16.6 billion.[26]

Prior to the golden age, pinball machines were more popular than video games. The pinball industry reached a peak of 200,000 machine sales and $2.3 billion revenue in 1979, which had declined to 33,000 machines and $464 million in 1982.[22] In comparison, the best-selling arcade games of the golden age, Space Invaders and Pac-Man, had each sold over 360,000[27] and 400,000[28] cabinets, respectively, with each machine costing between $2000 and $3000 (specifically $2400 in Pac-Man's case).[29] In addition, Space Invaders had grossed $2 billion in quarters by 1982,[24] while Pac-Man had grossed over $1 billion within a year by 1981[30] and $2.5 billion by the late 1990s.[31][32] In 1982, Space Invaders was considered the highest-grossing entertainment product of its time, with comparisons made to the then highest-grossing film Star Wars,[24][33] which had grossed $486 million,[33] while Pac-Man is today considered the highest-grossing video game of all time.[34] Many other arcade games during the golden age also had hardware unit sales at least in the tens of thousands, including Ms. Pac-Man with over 115,000 units, Asteroids with 70,000,[13] Donkey Kong with over 60,000,[35] Defender with 55,000,[36] Galaxian with 40,000,[37] Donkey Kong Junior with 35,000,[35] Mr. Do! with 30,000,[38] and Popeye with 20,000 units.[35] A number of arcade games also generated revenues (from quarters) in the hundreds of millions, including Defender with more than $100 million[18] in addition to many more with revenues in the tens of millions, including Dragon's Lair with $48 million and Space Ace with $13 million.[39]

The most successful arcade game companies of this era included Taito (which ushered in the golden age with the shooter game Space Invaders[5] and produced other successful arcade action games such as Gun Fight and Jungle King), Namco (the Japanese company that created Galaxian, Pac-Man, Pole Position and Dig Dug) and Atari (the company that introduced video games into arcades with Computer Space and Pong, and later produced Asteroids). Other companies such as Sega (who later entered the home console market against its former arch rival, Nintendo), Nintendo (whose mascot, Mario, was introduced in 1981's Donkey Kong), Bally Midway Manufacturing Company (which was later purchased by Williams), Cinematronics, Konami, Centuri, Williams and SNK also gained popularity around this era.

Technology[edit | edit source]

Arcades catering to video games began to gain momentum in the late 1970s with games such as Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), and Galaxian (1979), and became widespread in 1980 with Pac-Man, Missile Command, Berzerk, Defender, and others. The central processing unit in these games allowed for more complexity than earlier discrete circuitry games such as Atari's Pong (1972). The arcade boom that began in the late 1970s is credited with establishing the basic techniques of interactive entertainment and for driving down hardware prices to the extent of allowing the PC to become a technological and economic reality.[40]

While color monitors had been used by several racing video game before (such as Indy 800[41] and Speed Race Twin[42]), it was during this period that RGB color graphics became widespread, following the release of Galaxian in 1979.[43] At around the same time, arcade video games began shifting away from single-screen titles towards scrolling games. Namco's Rally-X in 1980 featured multi-directional scrolling,[44] and introduced a radar tracking the player position.[45] Sega's Space Tactics that year was a space combat game allowing multi-directional scrolling from a first-person perspective.[46] The following year, Namco's Bosconian allowed the player's ship to freely move across open space that scrolls in all directions.[47] By the early 1980s, scrolling had become popular among arcade video games and would make its way to third-generation consoles, where it would prove nearly as pivotal as the move to 3D graphics on later fifth-generation consoles.[48]

The Golden Age also saw developers experimenting with vector displays, which produced crisp lines that couldn't be duplicated by raster displays. A few of these vector games became great hits, such as 1980's Battlezone and Tempest and 1983's Star Wars from Atari, as well as 1982's Star Trek from Sega and Asteroids. Another notable example was Sega's 1981 release Eliminator, the only four-player vector game ever created,[49] and featuring color vector graphics as well as both cooperative and competitive multiplayer.[50] Sega's Space Fury that year featured speech synthesis and colour vector graphics;[51] its ColorBeam technology is considered the first example of colour vector graphics.[52] However, vector technology fell out of favor with arcade game companies due to the high cost of repairing vector displays.

Several developers at the time were also experimenting with pseudo-3D and stereoscopic 3D using 2D sprites on raster displays. Sega's racing video game Moto-Cross, also released as Fonz (under license from Happy Days), introduced a three-dimensional third-person perspective, displaying scaling sprites on a forward-scrolling road.[53][54] In 1979, Nintendo's Radar Scope introduced a three-dimensional third-person perspective to the shoot 'em up genre, later imitated by shooters such as Konami's Juno First and Activision's Beamrider in 1983.[55] In 1981, Sega's Turbo was the first racing game to feature a third-person rear view format,[56] and use sprite scaling with full-colour graphics.[48] Namco's Pole Position featured an improved rear-view racer format in 1982 that would remain the standard for the genre; the game provided a perspective view of the track, with its vanishing point swaying side to side as the player approaches corners, accurately simulating forward movement into the distance.[57] That same year, Sega released Zaxxon, which introduced the use of isometric graphics and shadows;[58] and SubRoc-3D, which introduced the use of stereoscopic 3D through a special eyepiece;[59] By 1985, Space Harrier introduced Sega's "Super Scaler" technology that allowed pseudo-3D sprite-scaling at high frame rates,[60] with the ability to scale 32,000 sprites and fill a moving landscape with them.[57]

This period also saw significant advances in digital audio technology. Space Invaders in 1978 was the first game to use a continuous background soundtrack, with four simple chromatic descending bass notes repeating in a loop, though it was dynamic and changed pace during stages.[61] Rally-X in 1980 was the first game to feature continuous background music,[62] which was generated using a dedicated sound chip, a Namco 3-channel PSG.[45] That same year saw the introduction of speech synthesis, which was first used in Stratovox, released by Sun Electronics in 1980,[62] followed soon after by Namco's King & Balloon, which was an early example of multiple CPUs, using two Z80 microprocessors, the second to drive a DAC for speech.[63] Multi-CPUs were used by several arcade games the following year, including Frogger, which used two Z80 microprocessors and an AY-3-8910 PSG sound chip,[64] and Scramble, which used two Z80 microprocessors and two AY-3-8910 sound chips.[65] In 1982, Gyruss, known for its stereo sound and musical score, utilized multi CPUs, which included two Z80 microprocessors, one 6809 microprocessor, and one 8039 microprocessor, along with five AY-3-8910 sound chips and a DAC for the sound.[66] That same year, the Namco Pole Position system used two Z8002 microprocessors and one Z80 microprocessor, along with a Namco 6-channel stereo PSG sound chip for the sound.[67]

Developers also experimented with laserdisc players for delivering full motion video based games with movie-quality animation. The first laserdisc video game to exploit this technology was 1983's Astron Belt from Sega,[68][69] soon followed by Dragon's Lair from Cinematronics; the latter was a sensation when it was released (and, in fact, the laserdisc players in many machines broke due to overuse). While laserdisc games were usually either shooter games with full-motion video backdrops like Astron Belt or interactive movies like Dragon's Lair, Data East's 1983 game Bega's Battle introduced a new form of video game storytelling: using brief full-motion video cutscenes to develop a story between the game's shooting stages, which would years later become the standard approach to video game storytelling. By the mid-1980s, the genre dwindled in popularity, as laserdiscs were losing out to the VHS format and the laserdisc games themselves were losing their novelty,[70] due to their linearity and, in many cases, depending less on reflexes than on memorizing sequences of moves.

New controls cropped up in a few games, though, arguably, joysticks and buttons remained the favorites for most manufacturers. A racing wheel was included in racing games such as Road Race[71] and Night Driver, while Fonz introduced a motorcycle handlebar with vibrating force feedback technology,[72] The trackball was introduced by a Taito soccer/football game and popularized by Atari's 1978 game Atari Football. Atari's Paperboy used a bicycle handlebar, and tethered optical light guns were popularized by Nintendo's 1984 light gun shooters Wild Gunman, Duck Hunt and Hogan's Alley. Other specialty controls, such as sit-down cabinets with pedals in racing games, and a crossbow-shaped light gun in Crossbow, also debuted in this era.

Gameplay[edit | edit source]

With the enormous success of the early games, dozens of developers jumped into the development and manufacturing of video arcade games. Some simply copied the "invading alien hordes" idea of Space Invaders and turned out successful imitators like Namco's Galaxian, Galaga, and Gaplus, though they took the shoot 'em up genre further with new gameplay mechanics, more complex enemy patterns, and richer graphics.[73][74] Galaxian introduced a "risk-reward" concept,[75] while Galaga was one of the first games with a bonus stage.[76] Sega's 1980 release Space Tactics was an early first-person space combat game with multi-directional scrolling as the player moved the cross-hairs on the screen.[46]

Others tried new concepts and defined new genres. Rapidly evolving hardware allowed new kinds of games which allowed for different styles of gameplay. In 1980, Namco released Pac-Man, which established the maze chase genre, and Rally-X, which featured a radar tracking the player position on the map.[45] Games such as the pioneering 1981 games Donkey Kong and Qix in 1981 introduced new types of games where skill and timing are more important than shooting as fast as possible, with Nintendo's Donkey Kong in particular setting the template for the platform game genre.[77] Namco's Bosconian in 1981 introduced a free-roaming style of gameplay where the player's ship freely moves across open space, while also including a radar tracking player & enemy positions.[47] Bega's Battle in 1983 introduced a new form of video game storytelling: using brief full-motion video cutscenes to develop a story between the game's shooting stages.[70] Other examples of innovative games are Atari Games' Paperboy in 1984 where the goal is to successfully deliver newspapers to customers, and Namco's Phozon where the object is to duplicate a shape shown in the middle of the screen. The theme of Exidy's Venture is dungeon exploration and treasure-gathering. One innovative game, Q*Bert, played upon the user's sense of depth perception to deliver a novel experience.

Popular culture[edit | edit source]

Some games of this era were so popular that they entered the popular culture. The first to do so was Space Invaders. Following its release in 1978, the game caused a national shortage of 100 yen coins in Japan, leading to a production increase of coins to meet demand for the game.[78][79] It would soon have a similar impact in North America, where it has appeared or is referenced in numerous facets of popular culture. Soon after the release of Space Invaders, hundreds of favourable articles and stories about the emerging video game medium aired on television and were printed in newspapers and magazines. The Space Invaders Tournament held by Atari in 1980 was the first video game competition and attracted more than 10,000 participants, establishing video gaming as a mainstream hobby.[80] By 1980, 86% of the 13–20 population in the US had played arcade video games,[81] and by 1981, there were more than 35 million gamers visiting video game arcades in the United States.[82]

The game that had the biggest impact on popular culture in North America was Pac-Man. Its release in 1980 caused such a sensation that it initiated what is now referred to as "Pac-Mania" (which later became the title of the last coin-operated game in the series, released in 1987). Released by Namco, the game featured a yellow, circle-shaped creature trying to eat dots through a maze while avoiding pursuing enemies. Though no one could agree what the "hero" or enemies represented (they were variously referred to as ghosts, goblins or monsters), the game was extremely popular; there are anecdotes to the effect that some game owners had to empty the game's coin bucket every hour in order to prevent the game's coin mechanism from jamming from having too many coins in the receptacle. The game spawned an animated television series, numerous clones, Pac-Man-branded foods, toys, and a hit pop song, Pac-Man Fever. The game's popularity was such that President Ronald Reagan congratulated a player for setting a record score in Pac-Man.[83] Pac-Man was also responsible for expanding the arcade game market to involve large numbers of female audiences across all age groups.[84] Though many popular games quickly entered the lexicon of popular culture, most have since left, and Pac-Man is unusual in remaining a recognized term in pop culture, along with Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Mario, and Frogger.

Arcade games at the time had an impact, both positive and negative, on the music industry, revenues for which had declined by $400 million between 1978 and 1981 (from $4.1 billion to $3.7 billion), a decrease that was attributed to the rise of arcade games at the time.[85] Successful songs based on video games, however, also began appearing. The pioneering electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) sampled Space Invaders sounds in their 1978 self-titled album and the hit single "Computer Game" from the same album,[86] the latter selling over 400,000 copies in the United States.[87] In turn, YMO would have a major influence on much of the video game music produced during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.[88] Other pop songs based on Space Invaders soon followed, including "Disco Space Invaders" (1979) by Funny Stuff,[86] "Space Invaders" (1980) by Playback,[89] and the hit songs "Space Invader" (1980) by The Pretenders[86] and "Space Invaders" (1980) by Uncle Vic.[90] The game was also the basis for Player One's "Space Invaders" (1979), which in turn provided the bassline for Jesse Saunders' "On and On" (1984),[91][92] the first Chicago house music track.[93] The "Pac-Man Fever" song reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and sold over a million singles in 1982,[94] while the Pac-Man Fever album sold over a million records, with both receiving Gold certifications.[95] That same year, R. Cade and the Video Victims also produced an arcade-inspired album, Get Victimized, featuring songs such as "Donkey Kong".[96] In 1984, former YMO member Haruomi Hosono produced an album entirely from Namco arcade game samples entitled Video Game Music, an early example of a chiptune record[97] and the first video game music album.[98] Arcade game sounds also had a strong influence on the hip hop,[99] pop music (particularly synthpop)[100] and electro music genres during the early 1980s.[101] The booming success of video games at the time led to music magazine Billboard listing the 15 top-selling video games alongside their record charts by 1982.[16] More than a decade later, the first electroclash record, I-F's "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass" (1997), has been described as "burbling electro in a vocodered homage to Atari-era hi-jinks,"[102] particularly Space Invaders which it was named after.[103]

Arcade games also had an impact on the film industry; beginning with Space Invaders, arcade games began appearing at many movie theaters,[13] while early films based on video games were also produced, most notably Tron, which grossed over $33 million in 1982[104] (equivalent to over $76 million in 2011),[19] generated another $15 million revenue from North American video rentals,[105] inspired the use of CGI by Hollywood film studios such as Pixar,[106][107] and began the Tron franchise which included a video game adptation that grossed more than the film.[105] Other films based on video games included the 1983 films WarGames (where Matthew Broderick plays Galaga at an arcade),[108] Nightmares, and Joysticks, the 1984 film The Last Starfighter, and the anime Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! in 1986. Arcades also appeared in many other films at the time, such as Dawn of the Dead (where they play Gun Fight and F-1) in 1978,[109] Used Cars and Midnight Madness in 1980, Take This Job and Shove It and Puberty Blues in 1981, the 1982 releases Rocky III, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Koyaanisqatsi and The Toy, the 1983 releases Psycho II, Spring Break and Never Say Never Again, the 1984 releases Footloose, The Karate Kid (where Elisabeth Shue plays Pac-Man), The Terminator and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, the 1985 releases Back to the Future, The Goonies and The Boys Next Door,[110] and Ferris Bueller's Day Off[108] and Something Wild in 1986.[110] In more recent years, there have been critically acclaimed films based on the golden age of arcade games, such as The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade in 2007.

The 2012 hit Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph pays homage to the golden age of arcade video games. Largely inspired by Donkey Kong, it centres around a similar arcade game called Fix-It Felix where the characters Felix and Ralph play similar roles roles to that of Mario and Donkey Kong, respectively. The movie also references other golden age arcade games, such as Pac-Man, Crazy Climber, Frogger, BurgerTime, Dig Dug, Q*bert, Paperboy, and Super Mario Bros.

Strategy guides[edit | edit source]

The period saw the emergence of a gaming media, publications dedicated to video games, in the form of video game journalism and strategy guides.[24] The enormous popularity of video arcade games led to the very first video game strategy guides;[111] these guides (rare to find today) discussed in detail the patterns and strategies of each game, including variations, to a degree that few guides seen since can match. "Turning the machine over"—making the score counter overflow and reset to zero—was often the final challenge of a game for those who mastered it, and the last obstacle to getting the highest score.

Some of these strategy guides sold hundreds of thousands of copies at prices ranging from $1.95 to $3.95 in 1982[111] (equivalent to between $4.52 and $9.15 in 2011).[19] That year, Ken Uston's Mastering Pac-Man sold 750,000 copies, reaching No. 5 on B. Dalton's mass-market bestseller list, while Bantam's How To Master the Video Games sold 600,000 copies, appearing on the The New York Times mass-market paperback list.[111] By 1983, 1.7 million copies of Mastering Pac-Man had been printed.[112]

List of popular arcade games[edit | edit source]

The games below are some of the most popular and/or influential games of the era.[113]

Vector display
Raster display
Name Year Manufacturer Notes
Space Invaders 1978 Taito (Japan) / Midway (U.S.) Considered the game that revolutionized the video game industry.[114] The first blockbuster video game,[115] it established the shoot 'em up genre,[116] and has influenced most shooter games since.[117]
Galaxian 1979 Namco (Japan) / Midway (U.S.) Created to compete with Space Invaders. Featured a color screen and had aliens attack in swooping formation.
Lunar Lander 1979 Atari First Atari game to use vector graphics
Asteroids 1979 Atari Atari's most successful coin-operated game.
Battlezone 1980 Atari Custom cabinet with novel dual-joystick controls, using two 2-way joysticks for movement, and periscope-like viewer.[118]
Berzerk 1980 Stern Electronics Early use of speech synthesis was also translated into other languages in Europe.
Centipede 1980 Atari One of the first games to use trackball control, vertical monitor orientation.
Missile Command 1980 Atari One of the first games to use trackball control. Originally to have a localities-option that named the cities, but was determined too complicated.
Pac-Man 1980 Namco (Japan) / Midway (U.S.) One of the most popular and influential games, it had the first gaming mascot, established maze chase genre, opened gaming to female audiences,[119] and introduced power-ups[120] and cutscenes.[121]
Phoenix 1980 Amstar Electronics / Centuri (U.S.) / Taito (Japan) Notable for its haunting melody accompaniment. One of the first games to feature a boss battle.
Rally-X 1980 Namco First game to feature a "bonus" round, background music,[122] multi-directional scrolling,[44] and a radar.[45] When released, was predicted to outsell two other new releases: Pac-Man and Defender.
Star Castle 1980 Cinematronics The colors of the rings and screen are provided by a transparent plastic screen overlay
Tempest 1980 Atari One of the first games to use a color vector display
Wizard of Wor 1980 Midway Game featured maze-like dungeons infested with monsters.
Defender 1981 Williams Electronics Was predicted to be outsold by Rally-X, but Defender trounced it, going on to sell 60,000 units
Donkey Kong 1981 Nintendo Laid foundations for platform game genre as well as visual storytelling in video games,[77] and introduced Mario, the character who would become Nintendo's mascot.
Frogger 1981 Konami (Japan) / Sega-Gremlin (North America) Novel gameplay free of fighting and shooting
Scramble 1981 Konami (Japan) / Stern (North America) Side scrolling shooter
Galaga 1981 Namco (Japan) / Midway (North America) Leapfrogged its predecessor, Galaxian, in popularity
Gorf 1981 Midway Consisted of several levels, some of which were clones of other popular games. Featured synthesized speech.
Ms. Pac-Man 1981 Midway (North America) / Namco Created from a bootlegged hack of Pac-Man.
Qix 1981 Taito The objective is to fence off a supermajority of the play area
Vanguard 1981 SNK (Japan) / Centuri (US) Early scrolling shooter that scrolls in multiple directions, and allows shooting in four directions,[123][124] using four direction buttons, similar to dual-stick controls.[125]
BurgerTime 1982 Data East (Japan) / Bally Midway (US) Original title changed from Hamburger when brought to the U.S. from Japan
Dig Dug 1982 Namco (Japan) / Atari (North America) Rated the sixth most popular coin-operated video game of all time[126]
Donkey Kong Junior 1982 Nintendo The last time Nintendo's mascot, Mario, was featured as an antagonist in a Nintendo game
Joust 1982 Williams Electronics Contained a design flaw so popular it was intentionally touted by producers as a "hidden feature"
Jungle King 1982 Taito An early side-scrolling (and diagonal-scrolling) platformer, featuring vine-swinging mechanics, run & jump sequences, climbing hills, and swimming.[127]
Moon Patrol 1982 Irem (Japan) / Williams Electronics (U.S.) The first arcade game to feature parallax scrolling.[128]
Pengo 1982 Sega A maze game set in an environment full of ice blocks, which can be used by the player's penguin, who can slide them to attack enemies.[129]
Pole Position 1982 Namco (Japan) / Atari (U.S.) A racing game that popularized the third-person "rear-view racer format" player perspective
Q*bert 1982 Gottlieb Became one of the most merchandised arcade games behind Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.[130][131]
Robotron: 2084 1982 Williams Electronics Featured novel dual joystick gameplay
Gravitar 1982 Atari Not popular in the arcades due to its difficulty, but historically significant as the gameplay inspired many popular clones like Thrust and Oids.
Star Trek 1982 Sega Space combat sim featuring five different controls, six different enemies, and 40 different simulation levels. One of the most elaborate vector games released.[132]
Time Pilot 1982 Konami (Japan) / Centuri (U.S.) Time travel themed aerial combat game with free-roaming non-linear gameplay in open air space that scrolls indefinitely in all directions, with player's plane always remaining centered.[133][134][135]
Tron 1982 Bally Midway Earned more than the film it was based on[136]
Xevious 1982 Namco (Japan) / Atari (U.S.) The first arcade video game to have a TV commercial.[137] It was also responsible for popularizing vertical scrolling shooters.[73]
Zaxxon 1982 Sega First game to employ isometric axonometric projection, which the game was named after
Dragon's Lair 1983 Cinematronics (U.S.) / Taito (Japan) An early laserdisc video game, which allowed film-quality animation in the game.
Elevator Action 1983 Taito An action game where the protagonist must traverse the building's numerous levels via a series of elevators and escalators while acquiring documents
Gyruss 1983 Konami (Japan) / Centuri (U.S.) Often remembered for its musical score that plays throughout the game, Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor"[66]
Mappy 1983 Namco (Japan) / Bally Midway (U.S.) Featured early side-scrolling platforming action
Mario Bros. 1983 Nintendo The first game featuring Nintendo's mascot, Mario, along with his brother, Luigi
Spy Hunter 1983 Bally Midway Memorable for its music, "The Peter Gunn Theme", that plays throughout the game
Star Wars 1983 Atari Features several digitized samples of actors' voices from the movie
Tapper 1983 Bally Midway Originally aligned with American beer Budweiser, was revamped as Root Beer Tapper, so as not to be construed as attempting to peddle alcohol to minors
Track & Field 1983 Konami (Japan) / Centuri (North America) The first Olympic-themed sports game.
1942 1984 Capcom Capcom's first hit game
Paperboy 1984 Atari Novel controls and high resolution display
Punch-Out!! 1984 Nintendo A boxing fighting game featuring digitized voices, dual monitors, a third-person perspective, and 3D wire-frame graphics.

List of best-selling arcade games[edit | edit source]

For arcade games, success was usually judged by either the number of arcade hardware units sold to operators, or the amount of revenue generated, from the number of coins (such as quarters or 100 yen coins) inserted into machines,[138] and/or the hardware sales (with arcade hardware prices often ranging from $1000 to $4000). This list only includes arcade games that have sold more than 10,000 hardware units.

The end of the era and the aftermath[edit | edit source]

The golden age cooled around the mid-1980s as copies of popular games began to saturate the arcades. Arcade video game revenues in the United States had declined from $8 billion in 1981 and $7 billion in 1982 to $5 billion in 1983,[149] reaching a low of $4 billion in 1986.[150] Despite this, arcades would remain commonplace through to the early 1990s as there were still new genres being explored. In 1987, arcades experienced a short resurgence with Double Dragon, which started the golden age of beat 'em up games, a genre that would peak in popularity with Final Fight two years later.[151] In 1988, arcade game revenues in the United States rose back up to $6.4 billion, largely due to the rising popularity of violent action games in the beat 'em up and run and gun shooter genres.[150] After yet another relative decline,[151] US arcade video game revenues had fallen to $2.1 billion by 1991,[152] by which time the sales of arcade machines had declined, with 4000 unit sales being considered a hit at the time.[153]

One of the causes of decline was new generations of personal computers and video game consoles that sapped interest from arcades. In the early 1990s, the Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis in North America) and Super Nintendo Entertainment System greatly improved home play and some of the technology was even integrated into a few video arcade machines.

Resurgence and decline[edit | edit source]

In the early 1990s, the arcades would experience a major resurgence with the 1991 release of Street Fighter II,[154] which popularized competitive fighting games and revived the arcade industry to a level of popularity not seen since the days of Pac-Man.[151] Its success led to a wave of other popular fighting games, such as Mortal Kombat.[153] Following the rise of 3D graphics soon after, racing games[151] and light gun shooters[155] would also gain considerable popularity in the arcades.[151] By 1994, arcades in the United States were generating revenues of $7 billion[156] in quarters (equivalent to $11 billion in 2011),[19] in comparison to home console game sales of $6 billion,[156] with many of the best-selling home video games in the early 1990s often being arcade ports.[11] Combined, total arcade and console game revenues in 1994 was nearly two and a half times the $5 billion revenue grossed by movies in the United States at the time.[156] Around the mid-1990s, however, the fifth-generation consoles, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64, also offered true 3D graphics, and as a result the arcade video game industry steadily began declining in the United States; by the late 1990s, Sega's 128-bit console, the Dreamcast, could produce 3D graphics on-par with arcade machines at the time.

Arcade video games had declined in popularity by the late 1990s, with revenues in the United States dropping to $1.33 billion in 1999,[157] and eventually reaching a low of $866 million in 2004.[158] In the Western world, the arcade video game industry still exists today but in a greatly reduced form. Video arcade game hardware is often based on home game consoles to facilitate porting a video arcade game to a home system; there are video arcade versions of Dreamcast (NAOMI, Atomiswave), PlayStation 2 (System 246), Nintendo GameCube (Triforce), and Microsoft Xbox (Chihiro) home consoles. Some arcades have survived by expanding into ticket-based prize redemption and more physical games with no home console equivalent, such as skee ball and whack-a-mole. Some genres, particularly dancing and rhythm games (such as Konami's Dance Dance Revolution), continue to be popular in arcades.

In the Japanese gaming industry, on the other hand, arcades have remained popular through to the present day. As of 2009, out of Japan's $20 billion gaming market, $6 billion of that amount is generated from arcades, which represent the largest sector of the Japanese video game market, followed by home console games and mobile games at $3.5 billion and $2 billion, respectively.[159] In 2005, arcade ownership and operation accounted for a majority of Namco's revenues, for example.[160] However, due to the country's economic recession, the Japanese arcade industry has also been steadily declining, from ¥702.9 billion ($8.7 million) in 2007 to ¥504.3 billion ($6.2 billion) in 2010.[161]

Worldwide, arcade game revenues gradually increased from $1.8 billion in 1998 to $3.2 billion in 2002, rivalling PC game sales of $3.2 billion that same year.[162] In particular, arcade video games are a thriving industry in China, where arcades are widespread across the country.[163] The US market has also experienced a slight resurgence, with the number of video game arcades across the nation increasing from 2,500 in 2003 to 3,500 in 2008, though this is significantly less than the 10,000 arcades in the early 1980s. As of 2009, a successful arcade game usually sells around 4000 to 6000 units worldwide.[164]

The relative simplicity yet solid gameplay of many of these early games has inspired a new generation of fans who can play them on mobile phones or with emulators such as MAME. Some classic arcade games are reappearing in commercial settings, such as Namco's Ms. Pac-Man 20 Year Reunion / Galaga Class of 1981 two-in-one game,[165] or integrated directly into controller hardware (joysticks) with replaceable flash drives storing game ROMs. Arcade classics have also been reappearing as mobile games, with Pac-Man in particular selling over 30 million downloads in the United States by 2010.[166]

According to William Smith in 2008, the video game industry has since "seen little to rival" the "arcade boom" of the 1980s.[3]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The Golden Age of Video Arcade Games spawned numerous cultural icons and even gave some companies their identity. Elements from games such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Centipede are still recognized in today's popular culture.

Pac-Man and Dragon's Lair joined Pong for permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. for their cultural impact in the United States. No video game has been inducted since.[167]

The success of these early video games has led many hobbyists who were teenagers during the Golden Age to collect some of these classic games. Since few have any commercial value any longer, they can be acquired for US$200 to US$750 (though fully restored games can cost much more).

Some fans of these games have companies devoted to restoring the classic games, and others, such as Arcade Renovations, which produces reproduction art for classic arcade games, focus solely on one facet of the restoration activity. Many of these restorers have set up websites full of tips and advice on restoring games to mint condition. There are also several newsgroups devoted to discussion around these games, and a few conventions, such as California Extreme,[168] dedicated to classic arcade gaming.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • The Official Price Guide to Classic Video Games by David Ellis (2004), ISBN 0-375-72038-3

External links[edit | edit source]