How arcade bars have led to a renaissance of the video game arcade

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A look at how bars in the US and the UK are part of a revival in the video game arcade

Thirty years ago, there used to be a video game arcade on almost every high street in towns and cities across the UK, but the mass appeal of gaming consoles as home entertainment systems has seen gamers play at home and arcades left to close their doors for the final time. However, gaming enthusiasts of a certain age are leading the revival of the video game arcade over in the United States.

One chain, in particular, has encouraged this renaissance, with self-confessed button mashers discovering a new breed of “arcade bar” that not only enables gamers to enjoy those vintage gaming titles and relive their childhoods but fosters a social environment for players young and old to enjoy.

The birth of Barcade

Founded in Brooklyn in 2004, Barcade was created on the premises of a former metal shop on Union Avenue and was the brainchild of four school friends, Kevin and Scott Beard, Paul Kermizian, and Pete Langway. Combining a huge range of vintage arcade games with a great selection of American craft beers, the concept took just a matter of weeks to come to life, eventually expanding into New Jersey and Philadelphia as well as Manhattan. Plans are afoot this year to branch out and deliver a vintage video game arcade bar experience to gamers in Detroit and Los Angeles.

A mutual relationship

There has long been a close relationship between a typical American bar and arcade games. In the 1970s, when the first arcade cabinet was unleashed by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, it was located in a busy pub near Stanford University in California. Atari regularly used pubs and bars as random venues for live user testing of their upcoming arcade games: if it failed to achieve a specified earnings figure, the game would be canned. In the heyday of video game arcades, they raked in more than $5 billion in 1982 alone, according to Steven L Kent, journalist and author of The Ultimate History of Video Games.

In fact, there has always been a mutual benefit to both bars and arcade games in the US. The games were viewed as bar essentials, enticing and encouraging the guests to keep on drinking, while the bars gave video game developers profitability thanks to the number of players willing to sink quarters into their machines day in, day out. So, it was with great surprise when arcade machines were duly dumped onto the scrapheap in favour of quiz machines and pool tables. The number of gamers had by no means dried up – there was simply a feeling that gaming technology had evolved to a point that arcade machines were seemingly redundant.

Barcade’s founders had other ideas. Although the video game industry has all but turned its back on the concept of arcade machines, Barcade saw the potential to tap into a demographic of gamers who weren’t up on technology and still wanted that social engagement that came with playing video games in a cool tech-savvy bar. The brand could not have been better timed, as craft beer became a hipster trend and vintage arcade games have enjoyed an undeniable renaissance. Today, Barcade now has seven locations across north-eastern America and the brand is already a registered trademark.

The UK’s vintage renaissance

This renaissance is also being felt back on the other side of the pond in the UK. Bury in Greater Manchester is home to Europe’s largest free-play video arcade. The Arcade Club boasts over 250 vintage arcade and pinball machines dating back more than 30 years of gaming history. With a great range of food and drinks on offer as well as vintage arcade merchandise and memorabilia, it’s a wonderful step back in time for those inclined. The Arcade Club also offers a gaming floor dedicated to modern classics, as well as the new age of gaming with high-end gaming desktops and e-sports gaming environments. London is also home to The Four Quarters, transporting gamers back to the time of Pac-Man and Street Fighter II.

Another form of gaming that’s enjoying a revival is the retro slot machine. Just like gamers who enjoy harking back to a simpler time of vintage arcade machines, many punters still enjoy the thrills and spills of playing on old-school physical slot machines with a bucket of quarters to put to good use. Those memories are still attached to more contemporary and online slot machines that continue to provide the same adrenaline rush, if not more so, when chasing the huge progressive jackpots supplied by iGaming operators. The latest online slots games, developed by the likes of NetEnt and Microgaming, are so much more engaging than their retro godfathers in terms of their gaming depth. NetEnt is said to have a 25% market share of the European iGaming marketplace. Bonus and feature rounds within online slot games can maximise winnings further, while some 3D slot games are designed around classic films and TV shows such as Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.

The future

But is there a danger that the revival of vintage arcades and slot machines could just be a flash in the pan? Will technology take gaming to even higher levels, rendering places like Barcade and The Arcade Club defunct? The concept appears to have sustained itself and expanded so far, even in the face of virtual reality advancements. In truth, there will always be an element of nostalgia attached to games gone by and, while that’s the case, we’re sure that this business model will be a viable one in the years to come.

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