7 March 2012

Gaming is big business. A business so big that, with annual UK sales of over £4billion, it makes more money than DVD and music sales combined, and takes in over four times more than British box offices.

If you're still not convinced at the size of the industry then consider that Call of Duty - Modern Warfare 3 took in $560 million (£351 million) on its first day of release, which is enough to buy 47 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.

Gaming really has come a long way since the 'golden age' of Space Invaders (Wiki) and Asteriods (Wiki)!

However, although modern gaming owes its existence to these classic coin-ops - would we even have Call of Duty without Operation Wolf (Wiki), or Burn Out without Hard Drivin'  (Wiki)? - it was the advances in modern games consoles that effectively sealed the fate of arcades and arcade machines the world over.

Much in the same way that home video almost killed off cinema-going in the 80s, so home video gaming effectively killed off trips to the arcade. The year the whole game changed was 1990 when the launch of two 16-bit games consoles, Nintendo's NES and Sega's Mega Drive, coincided with arcade giant Capcom's international division going from have 300,000 arcade games in circulation to just 8,000.

Where there were once arcades full of coin-ops (and older lads) wanting to take your money, there are now just fruit machines and penny drop games. The number of arcade machines found in cinemas and airport departure lounges have dwindled and they're now non-existent in pubs and bars and have been replaced with quiz boxes.

But take a look across the Atlantic and there appears to be something of an underground resurgence in arcade gaming. These arcades aim to rekindle the social element of gaming by holding regular 'ranbats' (short for 'ranking battles) where gamers meet up and going head-to-head at the same machine instead of the virtual experience which often involves little more than having some Japanese kid scream at you down a head set as he 'Perfects' you… again!

However, with prohibitive costs on game upgrades (one arcade owner cites how Capcom charge $12,000 just for a Street Fighter upgrade) it's unlikely that this will be quick to catch on. What we could see, though, is the emergence of meet-ups between gamers, where the arcade environment is recreated by gamers going head-to-head, in person, on the same games console.

Although the actual coin-op cabinets may no longer have a place in modern culture as anything other than as a retro curio, games such as Pac Man, Galaxian, Donkey Kong, Dragon's Lair, Chiller and, latterly, Street Fighter all blazed a trail for the various video game genres we have today and have continued to spawn new generations of gamers.

And while it's unlikely that younger gamers would be willing to replace their dual analogue, multi-axis and multi-button joy pads for a simple stick and button, the impact of arcade machines on modern gaming and the games industry can never be underestimated.

The cabinets may not make a comeback but the games will never go away.