The future of the games arcade industry, some say, depends on how well hand-held consoles and personal computers copy the speed and quality of graphics of the amusement arcade. Others think of the two as separate entities, each appealing to a different demand for entertainment. Of these two commanding philosophies – innovation and translation – […]
The future of the games arcade industry, some say, depends on how well hand-held consoles and personal computers copy the speed and quality of graphics of the amusement arcade. Others think of the two as separate entities, each appealing to a different demand for entertainment. Of these two commanding philosophies – innovation and translation – the ‘innovative’ companies believe the future of the games console lies in a whole new way of thinking while ‘translative’ companies see consoles and personal computers as a horizontal branch of the already huge amusement arcades. Sony Corp, Nintendo Co Ltd and Sega Enterprises Ltd rest their hopes on the latter and children finding the quality and involvement of hand-held consoles as good as the arcades. Companies su ch as Philips Electronics NV, 3DO Co Inc and Atari Corp, however, believe interactive games have to go beyond arcade style into ‘edutainment’ and ‘infotainment’ despite the chiding misery of the analysts.
Apple Computer Inc too, with the launch of its Pippin machine during the course of this year, is praying that interactive home entertainment takes an innovative leap into the dark. The innovative approach may be attractive for its foresight and creativity but many who look at the size and success of the arcade industry see an already successful model to be moved off the high street when powerful enough technology comes along. Arcade games have come a long way since Pac-Man: the price of an upright console starts at ú400 but quickly rises to over ú20,000 for some of the latest simulator rides. The UK market is already worth around ú9,000m and looks set for some serious expansion as soon as virtual reality proves itself to be reliable, hard-wearing and safe en ough to invite convincing applications. It would seem, at first glance, that there is little room for arcade first-timers. Typically, an industry goes through a period of widespread inventiveness, followed by a slump and an assimilation of individuals into a larger, more stable trade, as standards solidify and the business model is learned. Against the Japanese might of Sega, Nintendo, Namco Ltd and Jaleco Ltd, there seem to be few openings. But the arcade industry is far from sewn up and one company that has always known this is one of the oldest in the business: Bell-Fruit Manufacturing Co Ltd, the Nottingham company that introduced British pubs to the ‘Three Alike’ one-armed bandit at the beginning of the 1960s.
Does the video games arcade still have a future?
Since then it has commanded more than a quarter of the UK’s fruit machine sales and exported its machines across Europe. Bell-Fruit’s most recent arcade move was to license Mirage Technologies’ title Rise of the Robots, for its own upright machine. While Time Warner Interactive busies itself writing the game onto personal computers and hand-held consoles, Bell-Fruit uses the knowledge gleaned from one armed bandits and sets out on its first ever arcade game. Recent US trends towards family-oriented entertainment and Japanese eagerness to throw money into simulators, leave a gap in the market for upright machines, but Bell-Fruit’s sales and marketing director, Paul Johnston, thinks the fickleness of the people playing the games means that anyone with funds and a good product can succeed – or fail – as easily as the next person. There is very little brand loyalty in this game, he said, indicating the ease with which arcade-owning families make strict judgements on the takings of a particular machine, holding no allegiance to one supplier over another. If you have a good game, you can hit the top of the charts in less than six months – wherever you come from, he says, clearly hoping that Rise of the Robots will prove his point. The coin-operated machine trade generally prefers arcade machines to be out before the home version, but some unusual – and unintentional – scheduling meant that Rise of the Robots hit the consoles before the arcades. However, the fact that the arcade game has still been successful s
hows there remains a culture gap between the home and the high street. Those that claim the future of the arcade will depend on the winner of the ‘innovative’ and ‘translative’ philosophies may have a long wait, particularly as Hollywood wades in to disrupt the simple rivalry with its own, older, medium of film.
There is a certain psychology in the amusement arcade that has held its legacy from Charles Fey’s first Liberty Bell one-armed bandit in 1897. The ‘just-miss’ confidence trick that denies the punter just when he thinks he has won is as relevant to the arcade game as it is to the fruit machine. It is certainly more difficult to build ‘dynamic dependency’ into an object-oriented program than a list of fruits and bells, but the concept is exactly the same. A general understanding of what makes people play games means it’s worth spending some money on digging into the academic discussions, said Johnston. Recognise the difference between casual and regular players. It must be layered, otherwise a simple game play will patronise regular heavy players and you will get instant product rejection from the casual player if it is too hard. Simplicity is an important key to making an arcade game work for you. Potential arcade developers would also do well to heed the business books. One business management author, on whom the function of the ‘Eighties arcade was certainly not lost, wrote: Fight for seconds, make decisions, change directions without hesitation; otherwise you will be eaten by monsters. To gain wisdom to overcome this age, managers should play Pac-Man.