You may be lucky enough to know a time when the only real way to get your game-on was in the darkness of a musty arcade. The Image is strikingly similar for most people: packed shoulder to shoulder with other after-school warriors, sweating from a mix of nervous anticipation and a far exceeded maximum occupancy, glancing amorously at the quarter on the arcade box that represented your time to be a champion with a joystick. Although there may be some reverence among younger gamers today what with slight resurgences of Dance, Dance titles and niche appeals of fighters or racers having their way with popular opinion, there still is a missing appreciation for what it meant to wait for a game experience that was short, intense, and (relatively to an 11 year old) expensive, right? Maybe you should think again.
No, I am not referring to an underground Fight Club scenario of die-hard arcade fans, or some group of billionaires having an arcade of super-futuristic virtual reality arcades that cost 100,000$ per play (though either may exist), but in a lot of ways game publishers want to bring the arcade craze that drove video games into the public sector into your pocket. Mobile games, social games, and casual games, you know, the ones you’ve been playing more and more of lately, very closely emulate (Pun may be intended, depending on the game) the arcade experience of the 80s and 90s. Don’t believe me? Here are a few key reasons why this model makes perfect sense:
1) Punctuated, expensive Gameplay
How it was
When you jammed a quarter (or four if you’re not from the 30’s) into a machine of Street Fighter 2, what did you get for your purchase? Unless you had some real skills you may have gotten 3, maybe 4 minutes out of it until you were forced to quit or pump in more cash to continue, which was a luxury reserved for weekday afternoons as an inevitable lineup of hungry gamers would build behind you on any given Saturday. The alternative, of course was a live challenger who would laugh at your inability to execute a proper Dragon Punch while preparing to face the next sucker in line.
Pacman, Gallaga, Cruisin’ USA, Time Crisis, you name it, doesn’t matter, the gameplay models for arcade games were the same: get you in, and get your quarters out (of your pockets). But you came back, again and again, why? Partly because before you noticed (or can talk to) women arcade games were pretty much the best investment you could make, but mostly because you improved ever so slightly every time you played. Drug dealers call this the comeback but your brain calls this endorphins, and baby, you are hooked.
How it is
Think about your last phone gaming experience. Angry Birds? Tiny Wings? Infinity Blade? They all rely on this broken up, quick gameplay model that hooks you simply because there are slight increases to challenge, but more importantly, you are getter just a little better each time and your brain wants to test its new mettle.
Now, instead of investing lots of time in a finite location, you can take this little “habit” of yours wherever you go, which is really liberating, right? Considering your time may be worth something (or at least your attention should be on a bus, for example) you are devoting a very important resource to this one experience. But, it’s free you say, right? Well, not really, because marketers spend a lot of money to get you to notice and even more to play their product. By doing this you are essentially doing their job for them, for free; mission accomplished.
2) Specialized controls
How it was
Arcade cabinets, if properly done, are a thing of beauty. What really puts a unique stamp on the whole operation are the controls, which are often designed with arguably similar though never the same control schemes. Mortal Kombat, Golden Tee, and Sniper Scope all have dramatically different ways to play them, heck Dance,Dance revolution doesn’t even have a controller, you just step on the damn thing. This liberates the player and makes the experience unique, intuitive to the game, and difficult to transfer between titles.
How it is
Games on IOS and Android can, if properly done, create experiences that are fresh and distinct, even if they are often simplistic by design. Is there a chance that one-button games could be so popular on the 360? Maybe one game would have some notoriety if done perfectly, but the entire console cannot survive on this model. So, tilting to steer a Real Racing car is far different from slashing to cut the rope, which is a far departure from sliding units in Plants Vs Zombies. These controls reach gamers in ways that not only make sense, but also feel “personal” to the game and create memories for the player that deviate from game design alone.
3) World Domination
How it was
Back in the day, conquering an arcade game didn’t really mean much more than having a quick hand before your Mom went to the Laundromat and a lot of time. What was really a mark of greatness was the almighty initial display, claiming your place as a god among mere NBA JAM men. This, of course was almost impossible for any kid bogged down by school or a social life, and was usually reserved for jobless losers (who nowadays write blog entries mostly). An admirable consolation, however would be the ability to beat the snot out of your friends, and claim the place as the Marvel Super Heroes king of the summer of ’97.
How it is
With the advent of social media, friend functions like Game Center seemed to arrive slowly by expectations, but are now a big part of mobile and casual gaming. You can now show your skills to your friends, fake Facebook friends, and the world at large, once again proving that you indeed are the lord of Scrabble, and the owner of the grandest farm on Farmville in the Pacific Northwest. After all, what’s the value of being great unless everyone can see just how great you are?
So, they say things go in cycles, and games are really no different. Don’t look now, but Text-based adventure games may be making big moves soon, though you probably should be patient. Does this mean that hardcore games will be absent in the future of gaming? Certainly not. But will the term “gamer” take on new meaning? Well, it already has. Now, where can I make change for a dollar?