Posted by Adam Brower on Dec 5, 2012

The Stand-Up Arcade Video Game and Evolution

Stand up video game arcade

Stand-up arcade games were an icon of the early 80’s. You could not go anywhere without a few meeting you at the entrance of any establishment. Grocery stores would have several lined up at the front, fast food restaurants offered them to all dining patrons, and gas stations became local hang-outs. Arcades were found easily in neighborhood strip malls, hotels created game rooms, restaurants used them as a theme to attract amusement, and airports made room to keep travelers entertained.  It was an obsession of the era’s pop culture.Pac Man Stand Up Arcade

I can remember my first stand-up arcade experience.  My dad was travelling to Oklahoma for work and we would fly there to visit and/or prepare to move while staying at a hotel.  I was about 8 years old, in 1981, exploring the hotel, I found a large room filled with electronic devices and vending machines.  One machine called out to me as it’s bright yellow encasing engaged me. There was a stick topped with an enticing red round knob. The screen showed abstract graphics of blue and pink, totally foreign to me. Everything was mentally delicious.  I slid my first quarter into the slot and it generated an audible computerized acceptance of the coin. I press start, and I heard an ensemble of electronic music introduce what was about to happen. There was a bright yellow circle with a mouth that I now had complete control of. This was an absolutely amazing feeling and I was hooked. I was more than hooked, I had it bad.

Why did did these video games appeal to everybody?

  1. It was new, people were having their first electronic interactive experience
  2. The games were not niche, they were made simple and appealed to everyone
  3. They were just plain fun and didn’t require a lot of knowledge to jump in and play
At the same time, the video game became a staple in the common household with consoles such as the Atari 2600. However, due to the greed of the video companies, we began to see quantity vs. quality (and rushed due dates, jerks), especially on the home consoles.  The games began to lose their luster as people grew tired of spending money on that next great game and coming up short.  That, or Bon Jovi was a bigger distraction than I thought.
Company of heroes screen shot

Company of Heroes complex RTS (but really fun)

The arcade machines had its up and downs since then, but mainly became too complex to appeal to the average person and the video game niches began to take hold.  Home video games also found a resurgence with Nintendo and Sega in the later 80’s, but again lost mass appeal as a “better game”  became confused with graphic complexity and added complexity.  I always say user experience is about creating the smallest learning curve, but with video games an opposite approach was taken and learning curves were exceeding an hour.  Most people simply don’t have the patience for that, they want that “casual game”.

Casual games are experiencing a resurgence in the mobile space.  Games people can simply pick up and play.  It seems the market has found its players again, and that’s why Angry Birds became a blinding success over night.  Was it wrong to get overly complex with games?  No, with Halo 4 topping $220 million dollars in a single day of sales last month, they are not missing an audience.  We just need to recognize the different audiences.  And Nintendo has done a fine job of that.  I am really digging New Super Mario Bros U.

Tell me about your first video game experience.


New Super Mario Bros. U Screen Shot

New Super Mario Bros. U

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11 Responses to “The Stand-Up Arcade Video Game and Evolution”

  1. My first video game experience was the Atari 2600 we got for Christmas. Pac-Man was the first game I think we played. Space Invaders was my favorite; very simplistic and cool as hell. Addicting!

  2. Ryan says:

    Being a few years older – my 1st video game was a PONG unit my parents bought and hooked up to the black and white TV in the spare room. It was a plastic yellow console with a single knob on each end. A switch in the center allowed you to select Pong, Tennis, or Hockey… all that really meant was changing the setup of the few lines on the screen and action of the square “ball”. That was mildly entertaining, but it was Aladdin’s Castle that really changed my life back then. The couple games at the U-Totem were fine; but the Castle had it all… Pac-Man, Defender, Asteroids, Donkey Kong; it became an unhealthy obsession really. All I wanted to do was play video games, every dollar I scraped together was dedicated to maximizing my access to video games. Fortunately, I was too broke in college to have a game console otherwise I’d still be there.

    • Adam Brower says:

      Yes! Aladdin’s Castle? I was also quite the junky. I would blow through my $5 allowance – then feel a bit guilty. Because at that time, 5 bucks was like, what? $1923? Unfortunately, I worked at Software/Video Game stores through college and had full access to everything. And I took full advantage. And other things suffered..

  3. Uwe says:

    Growing up in Germany in the 70s and 80s my first hands-on video games experience was the same as Ryan’s: A pong clone machine (pretty advanced for its time) that included a real-looking full-size hunting gun (for shooting a 1-by-1 inch sized white square wandering along the black screen making it a game of *skeet*).

    This unit kept me busy for some years and I was already thirteen when I got my ATARI VCS (you know we old guys like to call that machine by its authentic original name) in 1981. This was the time when third-party distributors entered the game scene. So the first games I ever played, rented or owned (and loved!) were Parker’s Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back, the very first Imagic and Activision titles (still legendary in their own rights). In fact, Pitfall! still is one of the very few games ever I really played through and finished. (I even took that photo from the frozen end screen to mail it in for my reward patch, but, most unfortunately, I never redeemed it.)

    At the end of my times with the ATARI (a C64 then needed all my attention) I only owned about five to six games — because with no income other than your allowance this would be all you’d be getting back then.

  4. James says:

    More articles on a regular basis please

  5. Tony says:

    I remember seeing plenty of arcades back in the late 80’s when I lived in California.
    My favorite ones were the NEO-GEO 4 game choice arcades and My other favorite one is Street Fighter 2 arcade.


    Those were the good old days.

    Please check out my blog

  6. Tony says:

    Hey can you do a review article on Sega Genesis: Revenge of Shinobi


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