What happended to the arcades?

Back in the day, and by “the day” I mean most of the 80’s, the arcade was the place to be. Arcade games development was at its peak with huge amounts of competition from the manufaturers, and there would be new cabinets or upgrades launched every week. Every Friday I would head into Southend (Essex born and bred) with my friends and try out the new games, particularly the multiplayers like Gauntlet or Hotrod. A visit to the arcade was a mainstream activity for us, and an acceptable part of our social routiine – arcade, pint, club, kebab, home.

There was a huge amount of choice, with all of the latest games at the front of each arcade, showcasing some fantastic cabinets like the ride-on version of Space Harrier, or the sit down Star Wars model. I remember a huge crowd around Dragon’s Lair, a rubbish game as it turned out but there was an incredible amount of interest in the technology. The previous “hot game” would not stay hot for long, and would find itself shuffled backwards in the arcade to make room for the latest model. At the back of the arcade you could find the very oldest games, which would stay there until they broke down.

Even back then I was already thinking in terms of retro gaming, what would happen to Galaga and Phoenix cabinets when they broke down and no-one wanted to play them anymore?  How would I be able to play these games in 20 years?  Thanks to projects like MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), which is aiming to make the old software, literally extracted from the ROM chips on the old PCB boards, playable through a PC emulator.  So there should be no reason why we cant be playing these games 20 years from now.  There are also the arcade hero’s from the Arcade Barn, who have taken it on themselves to collect, restore, and maintain these games, but even more importantly make them available for the public.

Nowadays,  those Southend arcades are still there, but nothing like they used to be.  Many of them are full of fruit machines, and the classic games are nowhere to be seen, amongst the dancing, shooting and driving games that seem to be all that remain of the arcade industry.  Of course we now have so much more choice, accessible from the comfort of our homes, but I do miss the social element of those Friday night trips.

2 thoughts on “What happended to the arcades?”

  1. Hi i`m from romford, essex i used to love southends arcades, i remember back when they even had a fair share of pinball tables as well as all the jamma classics, like you say only games left now are the late 90`s and early 2000`s games, i really can not understand how it could all just vanish so fast, well i can in a way the arcades just got greedy, fruit machines are cheaper to rent/buy and less maintenance, but i have never enjoyed gambling much, so it was in my opinion a change for the worst.

    Nothing will replace the atmosphere though, the noises, the smell of hot PCB`s cooking themselves and the flashing lights, and it was allways fun to watch a skilled gamer playing street fighter 2, Trying to pick up techniques and what not :).

    I missed the arcade cabinets so much i eventually bought a bomber man machine for 100 notes at a local arcade repair / renting warehouse i found by luck, i converted this into a full working mame arcade cabinet using jpac and arcadevga boards to interface to the original monitor and buttons, coin mech etc, it works brill :).


  2. Yes I recently visited the Showboat Arcade in sunny Hunstanton – a frequent day trip fav as a kid, to find all the video games replaced with a sea of fruit machines. I can’t believe that the latest consoles have led to the demise of the traditional arcade as we also had video gaming at home. I think it’s more to do with the money that can be made from gambling over entertaining – very sad for our own kids.

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