Arcades occupy a strange place in popular culture. As revered among gamers as they are largely ignored, a good chunk of modern players will have never set foot in one, simply because the decline in these places began in the 90s and never really stopped. It’s all the home console’s fault too. By the time of the SNES and Genesis’ release, playing arcade-quality titles at home was possible and, let’s be honest, cheaper and easier.
Of course, with the exception of sports, offline entertainment isn’t always the easiest thing to find. The rise of the activity bar in the UK, i.e. a pub offering games, briefly gave arcades some hope of a return but the concept never really developed beyond its own small niche. Bingo halls, too, also saw a slump in offline attendance. However, as the list of bingo clubs on the Buzz Bingo website shows, that slide seems to have slowed.
The issue for players is that clubs can offer a completely different experience to mobile apps and websites. In the case of bingo, the social aspect of the game helped bind communities together. This is largely why Buzz Bingo recently introduced live presenters to its lobbies, alongside its long-standing chat function. Similarly, when John Connor played Missile Command in an arcade in Terminator 2, he wasn’t alone.
All that covers the US and European history of arcades – but what about Japan, where offline entertainments like pachinko still have a foothold? According to Statista, there were 8,460 pachinko parlors in Japan during 2021. While that does represent a decline over previous years (Bloomberg claims that the pachinko population has been getting smaller since 1995, when 12,000 parlors existed), it still represents a strong showing from more traditional pastimes.
Is that kind of sustained interest shared with video game arcades though?
Well, no. Arcades in Japan were in decline even before consoles like the SNES emerged. The Exputer website, citing a police white paper claims that there were 26,573 video game arcades in the country in 1986, a figure that had fallen to 4,022 by 2019. That’s a decline of almost 85%. Even the iconic Sega Akihabara Building 2 game center wouldn’t survive 2020.
Unfortunately, there’s more than a social exchange to be lost. Some arcade favorites simply vanished when the shutters went down on the arcades. Sega’s Golden Axe franchise ended in 1993, barring a very poor effort at a revival in 2008. Time Crisis, Galaga, Sega Rally, and Darius have also become relics of an earlier time, with the former game’s lightgun functionality transferring poorly to the living room.
Perhaps the most damning evidence of the decline in arcades in Japan comes from Sega Sammy Holdings, an organization representing two of the biggest players in Japanese entertainment, namely, Sega and Sammy Holdings. The company sold almost all (85.1%) of its shares related to arcades at the backend of 2020, before fleeing the industry altogether in 2022.
Overall, despite Japan’s ongoing love affair with offline entertainment, things continue to look bleak for the video game arcade.