The lights, the bleeps, the clatter of coins, any gamer growing up in the 1980s would tell you it was the heyday for the video arcade that has sadly faded out of the modern gaming lifestyle… but could a new piece of tech bring it back to life? Could that tech be virtual reality?
Well, a number of people think just that, and the new wave of VR may be the spur needed to bring back the arcade…with a twist.
But first, let’s rewind a little and work out what happened to those gaming palaces known as arcades.
The Golden Days
Arcades hit a high in the early 1980s… A decade of development from the 70s gave way to an array of superstar games titles like: PacMan, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Mario, Q-Bert, Tron and Tetris played on oversized, elaborately neon-ed machines. The 80s were the decade of the physically social gamer… because, well, all the best games were in the arcade!
Games like PacMan and DK were housed in arcades because the machines they were played on were frankly huge and rather expensive. Meaning although there were ‘home consoles’ about (think Atari, NES and later Sega), the arcades held the best quality (graphics), experience and the most immersive games.
The 90s kept this hearty tradition of arcade gaming strong, but with the development of ‘home consoles’ becoming: a) affordable and b) high enough quality graphics, traditional arcades began to falter towards the end of the decade. People elected to stay at home and play an ever-improving array of home consoles, instead of traipsing down to the arcade.
Over the years, home gaming improved and arcades diminished, being replaced by a sprinkling of ‘gaming zones’ in the back of Bowling Alleys, clubs and of course by the seaside.
Until…. Well, now. Where’s your closest arcade?
Ok so you’re now suitably nostalgic and a little saddened, let’s talk about the future. The future of the arcade and VR.
For anyone who has played or used a VR headset a few things are clear. Gaming is brilliant on one, they are quite disorientating (first few times) and they are rather tricky to get hold of.
Even if you have room in your home to pad-down so you don’t accidently swipe a lamp or TV, you’ve got to consider costs. Straight out of the box Playstation VR will set you back about £350 (plus a £200 console) The Gear VR is around £150 but requires a pretty hefty Samsung smartphone to go with it and the ‘market leader’ Oculus is anywhere from £500-900 PLUS a PC/Laptop capable of running games.
Let’s also consider the inevitable peripherals, experts believe that the new array of VR games will look to utilise the components and peripherals heavily; Karts for driving, gloves for fighting, guns for shooting. You get the picture.
To sum up, VR is currently… expensive.
This is where the Arcade comes in. Think about a wonderful world where for a few pounds you can bash, shoot, kick and sweat your way through a myriad of games, without worrying you’re going to stand on the dog or put a window through with electronic rifle.
The arcade is the perfect gateway for the more elaborate games. No one is saying you can’t have a VR set at home, but for some of the more immersive games, it may simply be impractical.
We spoke to some experts on the matter to see what they thought was next for VR and if the arcade could make a return?
Is the cost of VR putting off users?
“In the short-term, yes. Right now VR is struggling to find its footing among the general populace, existing between the realms of ‘gimmick you’ve heard about’, and ‘that thing all who’ve tried keeps saying is incredible’.” Scott Tailford, Games Editor for WhatCulture.com.
“Neither are particularly comprehensive, which is where the arcades come in. The appeal of venturing down the local mall was always to indulge in everything from oversized lightguns to full-on aircraft simulators – and it’s this novel, short-burst approach that should (hopefully) allow VR to take hold.
Long-term though, depending if Sony take their own product seriously and start bundling PS VR headsets with newer models of the next, revamped PS4, it changes this cultural perception yet again, potentially framing the headsets as more of a household product.
Across the board, the biggest barrier for entry is the price tag, and you have to imagine any excuse to try it out for only a few coins will be snatched up immediately – providing the games/experiences themselves are both recommendable and exemplary.” Tailford.
Why is VR suited to the arcade?
Ben Georget, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Bespoke Arcades discussed his thoughts on why VR fits in with the arcade ethos.
“Virtual Reality for gaming was born in the arcades and was first introduced to gamers back in the 90s. Back then the technology simply wasn’t ready with many players experiencing nausea and sickness due to low res graphics and sluggish refresh rates. Today, the technology has finally caught up with the promise, and virtual reality is poised for a big comeback.
Although VR is now being marketed to the home user, we believe the technology is ideal for a group experience, with several gamers interacting in a virtual world side-by-side.
Several real world roller-coasters now equip customers with VR headsets as they ride, dramatically changing their experience. Samsung do something similar with Gear VR, equipping trade show guests with headsets as they board giant simulators. It’s the difference between watching a movie alone or enjoying it together at the cinema. When equipped with bespoke simulation hardware such as racing wheels or joysticks, VR really comes alive and we believe that the opportunity for communal gaming experiences brought to life via VR is huge. Arcades can really prosper via VR and at Bespoke Arcades, we’re watching the growth of the technology keenly and continue to look at ways in which we can enhance the gaming experience through custom built hardware.”
Guy Cocker, Global Editor-in-Chief at Stuff Magazine talks about the logistics and culture of VR in the modern era.
Would an environment like an arcade be safer for VR?
“Yes, the potential for exhibition-based or event-based VR is high. You can already see this with things like Derren Browns Ghost Train at Thorpe Park. It would definitely be safer in a controlled environment, not to mention you don’t have all of the complicated setup procedures needed for HTC Vive.”
Can VR be as ‘social’ as traditional arcade play?
“Yes, one of the most social experiences I’ve ever had as a gamer was with the Oculus Toybox Demo, where you play around with simple toys and gadgets with another player. This is why Oculus was such a valuable purchase for Facebook, because the social potential is massive.”
Do we still have the right culture for arcades?
“No, in the 90s, arcades were so popular because they offered graphics that were so far ahead of what was available in the home.
This is no longer the case — the latest consoles and PCs are so advanced that they can be as good, or better, than anything in the arcades. Plus, the modern marketplace has shown that, for the mass market at least, it’s not interested in cutting-edge graphics, but more about accessibility, which is why mobile games are so popular.”
Can the arcade make a comeback?
Whether arcades can truly make a comeback is a question for long-term analysis. As of right now I say definitely, but with the sheer amount of factors going into how this hardware will be referred to and demoed in the coming years, only time will tell as to whether this notion of synergy has true longevity.
And let’s not forget, you were nailing combos on Dance Dance Revolution for years before Just Dance came along. If done right, there’s always room for everyone.” Ben Georget.
What are your thoughts? Do you think VR could drag back the revival of the arcade, would you head down to a gaming centre to get your hands on the best VR had to offer? Or are we past physically social gaming, is the home console simply great quality and accessible?