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“We’d still have arcades if it wasn’t for you” of the Month!

I got an email yesterday reminding me about a Kickstarter project that had intrigued me back in December – it was asking for money to fund a gigantic arcade gaming paradise, and it was to be situated not 15 miles from where I’m sitting now. It promised a fair bit: “Classic games. New games. Everything in-between. 3 floors. 200+ games.

I was skeptical as to how they’d pull it off however, because in July of 2011, the London Trocadero closed down – easily one of the largest arcades in the UK, at least as far as I’m aware. If an arcade the size of the Trocadero can close down, how will this one fare any better? I’d put this question to the Kickstarter’s creator:

The money we are looking to raise will allow us to operate for the first 12-18 months without any outgoing cost worries, which gives us time to concentrate on promoting the business further. We also have a host of ideas to bring in additional revenue, including advertising and sponsorship (tasteful advertising, in line with the theme of Epic Arcade Project). Our business plan is very detailed and has numerous different revenue streams working in our favour. If we reach our target of £285,000 then we are 100% in a position to open the doors in July next year, and this target will give us sufficient cashflow to operate for at least 12 months even if we fail to get a single paying customer through our doors! (though let’s hope that doesn’t happen eh!). So you’re donation is safe if we don’t meet our funding goal, and you’re also in the clear to claim your reward of ticket(s) if – no, when – we meet our funding goal. 
Parting words – we’re pushing this as much a social experience as an arcade and we believe that people will want to be a part of that buzz and excitement. We expect non-gamers to visit and be enlightened just as much as classic gaming fans.

Relics of a more forgiving age.

I still wasn’t really convinced however. To me, to try and bring back the arcades as they were in the 70s and 80s is an endeavour that is doomed to fail – they died out for a reason, and that’s because people stopped going to them. People stopped going to them because over time, the games on offer in arcades became available to play on your own television. And you weren’t just limited to one game either, you could play as many as your budget or your parents could afford you. Nowadays, you don’t even need to leave your house in order to get these games either – why would I bother travelling 15 miles to play games, when I barely need to move at all?

It did occur to me that a similar situation arose with cinemas when televisions were made commercially available around the 1920s, yet both still coexist. This is because cinemas offer films that aren’t available legally anywhere else, and on a screen 30 times the size of any household set. In order for a modern arcade to work, it would need to do the same thing with games – offer games unlike those available in the home, and on a similarly removed format. Of course, these points now raise their own questions: where would you find a developer willing to deliberately limit their game’s exposure in order to get them into your arcade? And where would you find a developer so willing to spend the undoubtedly large amount of money on the hardware necessary to deliver that unique gaming experience?

Game development is so cut-throat now that I can’t see it ever being done. From a creative point of view, larger studios aren’t interested in niche sellers – if it doesn’t make millions in a single day, they’re not interested. Only an indie developer would be interested in something like that, but then where would they have the money for it? And how could an indie developer afford to make a game with such a limited audience? They especially have to make sure they make enough money to cover the cost of basic human essentials.

A whole building full of arcade games in Japan.

That said, arcades are apparently still a big thing in Japan – something that both the Kickstarter page and a few of my friends have mentioned in regard to all of this. I find this to be most curious, as it is disproves pretty much all of the points I’ve made thus far. As those friends have pointed out though, the Japanese have a different mentality towards arcades. This is very true – Japan has embraced not only arcades but videogames in general. Here in the UK, we’re still trying to get people to understand that videogames aren’t just child’s play.

At this stage I very much doubt this Kickstarter project will be successful, and I very much doubt I’ll back it now as a result. While I wrote this I’d convinced myself to back it, having conjured grandiose images of this arcade somehow igniting a New Wave of Arcades across Britain – heralding a surge in technological videogame advancement, and making videogames cool in the eyes of ministers and Daily Mail writers alike.

But that was never really my job was it? It was up to the Kickstarter page to do that. It was up to the Kickstarter page to sow those mental seeds, but it didn’t. And that’s probably why this Kickstarter will fail.

  • Tony Chandler

    I think for arcades to work they need to focus on the equipment. One of the reasons to go to the cinema is because they have a massive screen, and deafeningly loud surround sound, that you can never have at home. Arcades need to do the same, make the most of things you can only get in an arcade, proper driving games with seats and wheels, loud music, dancing games, gun games (Silent Scope was a classic “arcade only” setup). Even the old gaming tables with a steering wheel on each side.