An arcade game is a coin-operated entertainment machine, typically installed in businesses such as restaurants, pubs, and video arcades. Most arcade games are video games or pinball machines.
See also: Timeline of arcade game history
The first popular "arcade games" were early amusement park midway games such as shooting galleries, ball toss games, and the earliest coin-operated machines, such as those which claim to tell a person their fortune or played mechanical music. Although none of these were coin-operated games themselves, the old midways of 1920s-era amusement parks (such as Coney Island in New York) provided the inspiration and atmosphere of later arcade games.
In the 1940s, the earliest coin-operated pinball machines were made. These early amusement devices were distinct from their later electronic cousins in that they were made of wood, did not have plungers or lit-up bonus surfaces on the playing field, and used mechanical instead of electronic scoring readouts. By around 1977, most pinball machines in production switched to using solid state electronics for both operation and scoring.
In 1972, Atari was formed by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney . Atari essentially created the coin-operated video game industry with the game Pong, the smash hit electronic ping pong video game. Pong proved to be popular, but imitators helped keep Atari from dominating the fledging coin-operated videogame market. Nonetheless, video game arcades sprang up in shopping malls and small, "corner arcades" appeared in restaurants, grocery stores, and bars all over the United States and other countries during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Games such as Space Invaders (1979), Pac-Man (1980), Donkey Kong (1981), and Tapper (1983) were especially popular.
By the mid-1980s, the arcade video game craze was beginning to fade due to the reputation of arcades as being seedy, unsafe places as well as the advances in home video game console technology. The last gasp of the youth arcade subculture, as it once was, may have been the advent of two-player fighting games such as Street Fighter II (1991) by Capcom, Mortal Kombat (1992) by Midway Games, and Art of Fighting (1992) by SNK.
By 1996, 32-bit home video game consoles and PC's with 3D accelerator cards soon closed the gap on early '90s arcade coin-op games technologically (because arcade designer makers failed to push the technology envelope because the high game turnover in Japan encouraged standardized systems used for a long term) and the two-player fighting game genre waned in the late 1990s due to controversy over graphic video game violence. This waning essentially killed what was left of the old arcade game subculture of the late 1970s and 1980s and has given rise to the blander (but safely supervised) "family fun centers" of the present. Many old video game arcades have long since closed and classic coin-operated games have become largely the province of dedicated hobbyists.
Today's arcades have found a niche in games that use special controllers largely inaccessible to home users. Examples are rhythm games such as Dance Dance Revolution (1998) and DrumMania (1999), and rail shooters such as House of the Dead (1998) and Time Crisis. However, with the increase of Internet cafes opening (which also provide gaming services), the need for video arcades and such arcade games are reduced, and many have been shut down or merged with the cafes as a result.
Virtually all modern arcade games (other than the very traditional midway-type games at county fairs) make extensive use of solid state electronics and integrated circuits. Coin-operated arcade video games generally use multiple CPUs, additional sound and graphics chips and/or boards, and the latest in computer graphics display technology. The newest arcade video games tend to also have interactivity as part of the game design, making the game player feel like they are more kinesthetically connected to the game itself. One form of interactive technology, virtual reality, has failed to truly become popular in arcade games, but this is due to the technical limitations of truly being able to achieve real virtual reality by any means.
Many older arcade games are enjoying a revival among fans, thanks to emulators such as MAME, which can be run on modern computers and a number of other devices.
In addition to restaurants and video arcades, arcade games are also found in bowling alleys, college campuses, dormitories, laundromats, movie theatres, supermarkets, shopping malls, airports, bar/pubs and even bakeries. In short, arcade games are popular in places open to the public where people are likely to be waiting on something.