How One Coin Saved Arcades In Japan And Another Killed Them In The US

Arcades aren't just dead, they're not coming back.

There are hold outs, new arcades that want to offer new ways to game in public, or arcades that cling to tradition in places like L.A. and New York.

But a return to the days of of shoulder-to-shoulder, quarter-slapped-on-glass gaming just isn't in the cards.

So says Mark Cerny, a man who worked through not only the golden age of arcades, but its slow fitful death in the US, Europe, everywhere but Japan.

"The technology has moved too much now," said Cerny, who at 18 helped Atari design Marble Madness. "There isn't much more than can be done with an arcade game that can't be done with the PC.

"That lure, which was there in 1979, just isn't there today in 2011."

I asked Cerny if these last vestiges of arcade life, the one-off arcade start-up or struggling iconic arcade fighting to stay open, was painful for him to witness.

"It was emotionally painful to watch happen, but arcades went into such decline in the '80s that emotionally I was prepared," he said. "It was actually very obvious it was coming."

It all came down to the quarter Cerny said. Arcade games had to squeeze enough money out of people to be worthwhile for arcade owners and game makers. But they also had to deliver enough play time to make it worth while for gamers to drop in their money.

Essentially, the death of arcades was all about the inability to monetise arcade games properly, something Cerny was a first-hand witness to.

"I have been to the ninth circle of monetization hell," he said. Arcades "started contracting because to get the players to put enough money into the machines they had to be two-player, they had to be four-player.

"But a lot of games don't work two player or four player. I want to go this way, you want to go that way. It just doesn't work."

Another way to make money in arcades was to make simulators, games that seemed to be worth the extra charge.

Cerny says he remembers going to an arcade show in Japan in the late '80s and being confronted with essentially three kinds of games, over and over and over again.

"There were two-player platformers, which they bizarrely thought were going to be the salvation of the industry; two player fighting games, which did reasonably well, but didn't save the industry; and simulators like Hang-On, Afterburner and OutRun. That was all that was left."

"My feeling is that this really had a negative impact on the arcade business. You go to the arcade and there was such a range of games. It was amazing when we had this golden age."

What remains today, Cerny says, is Japan as the single shelter for arcade gaming. And that boils down to their 100 Yen coin.

"Our economy is based on the quarter," he said. "We lobbied Washington several times to get a dollar coin because we felt if it was just pocket change, it's in your pocket, you put it in a machine. If you need a dollar to play you can have a ten minute experience."

Of course, there efforts didn't really come to fruition. While in Japan, arcades were able to standardise the ¥100 coin for their machines.

It was that single change, moving from ¥50 to ¥100, that revived the Japanese arcade industry, Cerny said.


    We have a $1 and $2 coin, but it didn't save the arcades.

    Britain and much of Europe have high-currency coins as well.

    The depth of game types and styles shrivelling down to just a few genres happened on the home consoles as well, but I guess they were at the time intertwined with arcade releases and many of the arcade companies were also making home games.

    I think that theory has a few holes. Games have cost $1 and $2 a play here for decades, which for many games made them far too expensive. I think that pushed a lot of people into playing at home - rather than spending up big for an hour of fun an arcade.

    Arcade games used to be 20cents per credit in Aus.

    You always have places like intencity here on the gold coast with it's 2hr lock in and a movie ticket for $25. (I think, been a long time since I last went). And timezone in surfers that has replaced coins with their own swipe card. 35 for 3hrs of games as well as dodgems minigolf and laser tag. They are still going strong.

    I guess my point is that the arcades that changed away from the coin based model seemed to have survived better.

    I think he's missed the point entirely on why arcades in Japan have survived.

    Last time (and first time) I was in Tokyo I went to an arcade in Akihabara. The best game there by far was a full-simulator robot warrior game (no idea what it was called or even how to play it that well, but man it was fun). You sat in a pod with 2 joysticks and a fully panoramic video and sound setup.

    The BEST part though was:
    - you had an ID card that you obtained via a vending machine (of course) that identified you every time you sat down to play.
    - you're opponents were ALL humans playing in the same arcade, other arcades around Japan and even home PC users all connected via the web

    And it wasn't the only arcade game that was linked in via the web - loads of other more traditional games are all multiplayer games linked in via the internet to other arcades and home players.

    Thats the key in my opinion - if you link people in MMO style and give them a more immersive experience that they just cant afford to have at home, arcades will thrive. Just like everything else, they need to adapt or die.

      I'm guessing it was Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna

      I spent so much money on this game (I also can't remember what it was called) whem I was in Japan, it was ridiculous! It wasn't cheap - I think it was around $7 a game, but it was so good, I did more than one midnight run down to the local arcade to get my fix.

      The ID card definately gave you a sense of ownership, while the human opponents made you feel like you were actually up against decent opposition. I've never seen anything like that over here in Oz, but it would definately get me back to Timezone!!

      Sounds like the Tesla-II pods they use in the US for Mechwarrior Simulation.

      Man, I'd love to see a set over here.

        Intencity at pacific fair had them back in 2000 - 2002. Used to run leagues with them.

        Far more advanced than the Tesla pods, and far easier to get in to a game. I remember having a bash in these when I was in Tokyo october 08.

        Lot's of fun, even if the card cost me 500yen and each game was about the same...

      Yes, I went to the Akihabara and checked out the arcades also. I saw a Gundam game with 8 or more players that was ULTRA popular. Matches were being played over an over and there were HUGE crowds and ppl waiting to play. It looked awesome, but I would never have been able to compete with other players. This Gundam game and fighting games seemed to be the most prominent in the Akihabara arcades.

      There are plenty of prize games, and usually fill the ground floor of these arcades. The serious gaming machines are usually in the higher levels.

      I'm not a big fan of the arcades in Japan because smoking is allowed (along with almost everywhere else in Japan).

      As far as cost goes I believe it was OK value.

      Man, I gotta start a blog on my Japan trip... The differences between the western and eastern cultures is very interesting.

    I think what really killed arcades in Australia was when independant arcade owners were forced out by franchises like Timezone and they started charging $1-$2 for 1 credit instead of 20-40cents a credit.

    This guy is full of sh*t.

    In the past 10 years rarely can you find games in Japanese arcades that are just 1 100yen coin for play except the really old cabinets. Standards are more like 2-300 yen per play, with some as high as 4-500 (the giant Gundam simulator and the driving games comes to mind). Some shops such as the Sega ran ones also converted to tokens and even magnetic swipe credit cards because the games were costing way more than one 100yen coin per play such that not having to use standard 100yen coins was faster, safer, plus locks you into the brand/store. They could do the same and make it so that you pump in more quarters for one play in America too, or do a token system (50c/1 dollar to 1 store token), nothing is stopping them to do that. The coin has nothing to do with it.

      I think I've covered almost every major arcade in Tokyo. The big names (Sega/Taito) are 100yen a pop. Some smaller arcades are only 50yen and either only accept 50yen coins or just give you two credits per 100yen coin - this is how I unlocked Miku's swimsuit in project diva arcade.

        Disagree. I only found one arcade where I could play Taiko no Tatsujin for 100yen (don quixote building in akiba), everywhere else was 300yen.

        Maybe the fighting games and old shoot-em-ups go for 100yen, but virtually all modern titles are more expensive.

    But they do have $1 coins in the US. They aren't common (I have only received them as change from train station ticket machines), but they are legal tender.

      The issue is the fact that nobody uses them, because they still have the $1 bill. People prefer to carry around notes instead of coins. If they changed from notes to coins for $1 then suddenly people would be standing around with a whole bunch of $1 coins, wanting to get rid of them and hey, theres an arcade that will take them.

    All that needs to happen is someone in the world with enough money to start a new, global arcade company and communicate and make deals with the likes of companys still making arcade machines/pinball machines. And also develop new arcade machines that work in the same way as the old SNK MVS's - of course more advanced tech, but the ability to swap games in and out quick. And also unified simulators that can have games swapped in and out real quick too (as your basic racing set-up, think Scud Racer, can be used for all racing games) Also retro machines running MAME with lotsa games on each one. Also arcades need to be placed near cinemas and game shops.

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