So where did the arcades go?

This was a bit of an odd topic but it’s pretty central to understanding why arcades stopped being the norm, and there’s a couple of reasons. One of them I never even considered, but to understand why they left, you also need to consider why they became popular.

Arcades really became popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s because of technology developments.  It had finally become cheap enough to make an entire device hard-coded for one game and ship it overseas.  When I say cheap enough, the box alone cost $2400 (and that was just for one Pac-man console).

As a result, this new electronic thing was interesting and novel.  They were also pretty fun.  Unlike pinball machines which despite theme-ing and lighting and a few mechanical differences, video games could have different buttons and seriously different play styles.  The games got more popular and the companies got more money and then the technology improved.  It was all looking pretty good. (Kent, 2011)

Since the technology kept getting better it was pretty much affordable by households now rather than just businesses which led to home consoles.  You could play the same game from the comfort of your own couch!  But since people stopped going to the arcades they slowly withered and died.  At least… the ones that weren’t in Japan anyway.

The consoles still got cheaper in Japan but there’s one major difference between here and there: people.  There’s so many more people in Japan.  In Tokyo alone there are 13 million people.  Thats more than half of the entire country of Australia, so it’s understandably more crowded.  Living space is smaller and you basically have no personal space on public transport.  (Crawford, 2012)

Moving not only yourself but your home console to play with your friends over there would be a nightmare.  So you go somewhere that already has the technology and the space set up for you.  The arcade!

There you have it.  The quickest crash course in the rise and fall of video games at arcades. Next week I’m going to talk to someone who lives in Australia about why they go to the arcades here.



Kent, S. L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokémon. Three Rivers Press.

Crawford B. (2012) 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience, Strata Studios


  1. Great post! you answered a lot of my questions surrounding why arcade games were a thing and now cease to be. Population is a really interesting result. It would never have occurred to me that having a group of people come over to your house to play games would be hard because of space! that much of a limitation on space, is quite hard to imagine for me. So it will be great to see why people in Australia choose to do something that they structurally don’t need to. For the transition period, I was wondering how long did take before personal consoles overtook arcade games in popularity? I have a feeling it was probably pretty quick, but I wonder what were the similarities between those areas that took longer than others to drop the arcade game, besides population? maybe socio-economic levels? maybe cultural standards?


  2. I have always wanted to go to an arcade. They just look so cool in all those movies that I’ve seen them in. I’ve been watching a lot of the new Sailor Moon re-boot lately and one of the pivotal settings for the show is in an arcade. The Sailor scouts meet there after school and discuss the dark world that is trying to take over. Every now and then an object pops out of one of the consoles. It’s just so interesting that Japan still believes them to be an important element of their culture.


  3. My dad has stories from when he was a teenager and the times he and my uncle would head down to the local arcade and play Pac Man among other games. It’s a bit sad that are virtually extinct here in Australia today, but I understand why the industry died over here. Perhaps the Australian climate and outdoor activities available have helped to shape Australia’s relationship with gaming over the years as well as population and population density. This post condenses the history of the move from arcade to home gaming console nicely, well done!


  4. Totally agree with your points. Game consoles used to be very big and expensive, therefore normal people couldn’t afford it and have to go to the arcades to play. But now it so cheap and small that it can now be bought and put in a house. Your idea of population is interesting but another reason why I think arcades are still popular in Japan is because it like a social place where people come to hang out. A place where student would go with their friends after school or when they skipped school (I saw it in manga). I think every countries have different place where they would normally go to meet their friends or to relax.


  5. Interesting post. I feel that perhaps materialism is a factor involved in the downfall of these arcades. Take the iPhone, everyone battles to be the first to own this new technology, not because it is an advancement of an existing product but because they value the popularity associated with it. People may have seen the desire to be the first on the block to own their personal gaming device.


  6. I’m not sure if you’ve brought it up yet but have you discussed in a post yet the different genres of games that are popular in arcades as appose to home consoles? From my understanding, fighting games still have a huge market in arcades. Even Pokken Tournament, which obviously be a huge release in the West for the Wii U, is still being released early for arcades ( I think the same goes for most fighting games. Maybe you could look at why some game genres still have a major release in arcades when the market is there for home console release as well.


  7. It is interesting that arcades are really still so popular in Japan, I’m curious to know what percentage of the population engages in these arcades, and whether or not it’s because of the high population density that it appears popular or if it is in fact a legitimate craze. There is also a huge popularity boost of handheld systems in countries like Japan, so I think it’d be wise to consider the implications of handheld systems in these arcades. Nice job!


  8. I think it’s interesting that arcades are a way to deal with playing games with friends because of the influx of people, it’s something I personally never would have thought about. Personally it was something we did as kids just have fun and I wonder if technology is influencing the popularity of arcades or enhancing it, or perhaps the incorporation of certain games that you find in arcades on our phones is the new way to go. I also find the social aspect of it quite interesting to explore, whether playing video games at home or going to an arcade changes the experience or not.


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