Where are all the arcades gone?

Misery loves company, and now failing arcades and failing movie  often theaters live together.

I grew up in a different time. I sometimes ponder on how different it was, in general. In many respects I kinda have to tip my hat and admit that this era is better in a lot of ways. It´s hard to resist the urge to fall into unnecessary nostalgia for things that where merely the perspective of a wide eyed young one, though.

The pleasures of the young. For me entertainment didn´t have to be groundbreaking, because I had no ground yet. Some of the better memories I have is of arcades.

Even as I struggle to remember who was my 4rth grade teacher and what she looked like, my mind can take me back pretty quickly to where I was, when I first saw and played Street Fighter 2 on an old cafetin as my dad bought breakfast and a stack of Muy Interesatante magazines. I remember seeing Time Killers and how that shitty game caught my imagination with it´s gruesome eviscerations(I distinctly recall I believed the game's Rancid and Thug where actually Street Fighter's Guile and Blanka).  I don´t remember my father´s birthdate from memory, but I sure remember when I first walked into a skull ridden arcade in San Juan, now long gone. I can still feel how nervous my dad was at this place.

I loved arcades. There used to be 2 on our biggest mall, Plaza las Americas. One in the Food Court, one in the  exit. Pretty much every mall had at least 1, and always with new, exciting, colorful games.

But the arcade era is over. Which malls still do have Arcades, tend to have mostly old games. It's common belief that Arcades where eventually beaten by their more convenient cousins, home consoles. I mean, why play a game for a quarter, when you can own it for 80? Console graphics eventually reached and surpassed Arcades. It's obvious that arcades couldnt compete with that.

Or is it obvious? To truly understand what happened to arcades, you need to understand how Arcades as a business work.

When you see an Arcade  cabinet in a Stop and Play or a dingy bar, that machine doesn't belong to the place in question. The machine is rented. The owners of the machine rent it to the  owners of the place, and they in place need to make enough money from it each month to offset the cost of having the machine, and obviously any taxes and state licenses involved in renting a cabinet.

Let's start really basic. Let's say Pacman. A Sega Genesis could run it. An NES could run it. Statistically speaking, the machine you are reading this on can run Pacman. How much do you think it costs you a month to have a Pacman Arcade? If your answer is thousands of dollars, then yes, that's about the answer. A firm specializing in Arcades say your arcadey budget for a small Arcade place should be 250,000, and a cool million if you want any serious arcading. And remember, this is during the time when Arcades are DEAD.

Now, far be it from me to question how these arcade renters run their biz, but  here´s what I'm thinking. You buy a 400 dollar PC, a 300 dollar monitor, 100 + USB coin up a 100 dollar sound system, some wood, and it's an arcade cabinet. You need only put some games on it, which is not that hard to do anymore, and it's done. You could permanently sell it to a small business for 2000, and occasionally sell them new games when the old ones lose their luster. It could be a whole new thing.

We could have like "Steam Arcade". Like, its the same as Steam, in that there's a bunch of games available to buy, only these games are meant for this cheaper arcade systems. The arcade owner doesn't have to have a huge cabinet sent from abroad just to test if people would play so and so game, they'd just download it and trial it. If it's a moneymaker the arcade owner, he can do go on and buy the full version. It doesn't have to be a buy, it can be a lease.

The games could be as simple as a Flappy Bird Knock Off, or as complex as some kind of action adventure with saves and stuff. Again, your average piece of crap netbook can probaly run games as  far back as N64.

But no. It costs a  a quarter of a million bucks to set up a handful of fighting games from before the Obama Administration, and God help you if you run it without getting your papers in order first. But then there's repairs, electricity costs, and what have you. And since it costs so much, those that even want to do it cant really stray away from the familiar faces, because it costs a bunch of money and you don't want to risk your entire business on an unproven sort.

It's easy to fall prey to the thinking that Arcades are something that just stopped being a functional business because it wasn't necessary in a new era of committed gamers who wanted to own their games. I supposed that's partly true. But the problem I think, was exacerbated by high prices to those who rented arcades, which, during crunch time, kept more arcades off the streets, and as a consequence, kept more arcade games from being developed, which created a circle of stagnation.

You know what they put in Plaza las Americas where the food court arcade used to be? A wall. And that's what infuriates me the most. It could be a place where the owners make money, kids get together and appreciate video games, old classics persist and new classics flourish. It could be a place. But now it's not even been replaced by something more advanced. It's just been replaced by apathetic mortar, indifferent to potential and growth. Feeding no one. Bringing no joy.

I mean, maybe it's just the nostalgia again. Maybe Arcades do should go away forever. Maybe they don't belong in this millenium. Maybe what we need is more blank walls. What do you think?


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