Ascent of Gaming II: Rise of the Arcade

Hey, look, it’s an article! Remember how I used to write those? That’s right, folks, we’re back with the second part of our history of gaming!

On the surface, it seems like a rather jarring transition. In the beginning we have a bunch of free-spirited tech geeks testing the limits of technology through gaming. Now we have machines designed and programmed only to pump children for their quarters. While that might be something of an oversimplification, it’s not terribly far from the truth.


Oh, but I can, Mr. Nicholson.

The first commercially available arcade game was Sega’s Periscope, a sort of electro-mechanical hybrid similar to the cathode-ray tube amusement device released in 1966. It used a series of plastic sheets and a light gun to simulate sinking ships from a submarine. It was the first game to cost a quarter per play and was hugely popular in Japan, Europe, and North America. I believe it’s scheduled for release in Australia some time next year. Similarly, in 1967, Japanese company Taito produced Crown Soccer Special, another electro-mechanical game, this time a two-player sports simulator. Then, in 1972, what is classically (and incorrectly) understood as the first video game, Pong, was produced by Atari. Pong made a modest profit, but over 1100 different imitators prevented Atari from getting a foothold in the fledgling arcade market. Things didn’t really take off until 1978.

That was when Taito produced Space Invaders, the first blockbuster video game. It sold like a print of the Mona Lisa made out of Scarlett Johansson’s undying love with the meaning of life carved into the back. Its success marked the Golden Age of the arcade. [Editor’s Fun Fact: Space Invaders was so popular in Japan that it actually caused a temporary shortage of 100-yen coins!] Video arcades sprang up in shopping malls everywhere and small corner arcades sprouted like fungi in restaurants, grocery stores, bars, and movie theaters. Following the smash hit of Space Invaders were other classics like Galaxian, Pac-Man, Defender, Battlezone, and Bosconian in the late ’70s and early ’80s. By 1981, the video game arcade industry was worth over $8 billion annually.


But the success couldn’t last forever. The arcade craze began to fade as home consoles became more advanced. By 1991, video game arcade revenues in the US had fallen to $2.1 billion. Aside from a brief resurgence in 1991 with Capcom’s release of Street Fighter, arcades have been steadily declining. By 1999 the industry was barely worth $1.33 billion and it hit an all-time low of $866 million in 2004. Arcades still survive today, but only in an ever-shrinking niche, eclipsed by consoles and online gaming.

To combat the relative unfunniness of this article: Two cannibals are eating a clown. One turns to the other and says, “Does this taste funny to you?”

Come back next week for Ascent of Gaming III: The First Console Generations!


Written by: Logan Hollinger

A young college gamer who dreams of the stars and, to a lesser extent, Super Mushrooms. Blog:

  • Ridge

    I feel like that shouldn’t exist. But I’m happy it does.

    • Been through the Luke Frazier test. I approve.

  • plsburydoughboy

    Sony didn’t make Periscope dude, that was Sega.

    • You are correct, sir! My apologies. I’ll fix that straight away. Thanks.

      • plsburydoughboy

        no problem Logan, this was a good piece. You should get to this more often 🙂 And don’t forget to link to the previous installments with each new one

        • Thanks, Doughboy! I really appreciate that. Now that I’ve settled into college, I can get back to my once-a-week schedule. Look out for Part III next Thursday!

  • Ridge

    The only arcades left in my city are in movie theaters, and they are terrible.
    I miss the good ole arcades..

  • That subtle jab at Australia made my day. Love these history lessons, Logan. Keep ’em coming.

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