The Golden Age of Arcade Games

According to Mongfort & Bogost by 1971, Bushnell was making what surely seemed like an unlikely prediction: video games would replace pinball. The three men Bushnell, Dabney, and Alcorn looked in the territory of Atari’s first game. Ping-Pong was essentially a remake of 1958’s Tennis for Two, one of the first computer games with a graphical display, though it was never manufactured or sold commercially. Ping-Pong was transformed under Alcorn, Dabney, and Bushnell, into Pong, a game with only one rule: “avoid missing ball for high score.” Atari decided to make the game itself. Pong was released in the end of 1972 and it was so successful that Atari which had just six employees could not keep up with orders and many companies rushed to copy it. Bushnell estimated that a Pong machine was generating around $40 a day in revenue unheard of at the time and it sold 4,000 units by the end of 1974. Home Pong, a dedicated home version, was released exclusively through Sears for the holiday season of 1975, selling more than 150,000 units during the season.

The success of Pong had wide-ranging effects in the months which followed; it made Atari the money it needed to continue producing games, it made the video arcade a viable business almost overnight and it proved to be the beginning of the home console business. It also signaled the decline of pinball as companies rushed to produce video games. Arcade operators and games distributors quickly realized that video games had an advantage over pinball; they were far more reliable and easier to repair than pinball machines, which had many moving parts. Most of these games are basically a television, a power supply, and a board. Bushnell’s understanding of the amusements industry’s individual, unchallenged distribution system stood Atari in good stead when the company created a fake competitor, Kee Games, to sidestep long-standing sales agreements to get their games into more locations. (June, 2013)

Laura June in her article The Life and Death of American Arcade said that by the end of 1974, there were more than fifteen companies actively producing video game cabinets, and technological innovations followed quickly, ushering in what became known as the “golden age” of the arcade. Tomohiro Nishikado (Japanese game developer) felt the need to make his next game a runaway hit. Gun Fight was the first game to use a microprocessor (the Intel 8080), and when he saw it, Nishikado knew the future of gaming was in the microprocessor.

Tomohiro Nishikado then started using microprocessors in all his game, starting from Space Invaders, released in 1978. The game was so popular that some arcades in Japan were dedicated solely to Space Invaders cabinets, and within two years, it was the most successful game ever created. The introduction of high resolution vector graphics and the use of color built the foundation upon which all arcade cabinets would be built moving forward. Nolan Bushnell’s bet on video games turned out to be right in 1976 he became a rich man when Atari was purchased by Warner Communications for $28 million and arcades had begun making huge profits. (June, 2013).

Landmark of the Arcade Gaming Period

The time period from 1978 and 1982 saw unparalleled growth among the entire video game industry. A cover article in Time Magazine in January 1982 stated that the most popular arcade machines were able to collect $400 a week in quarters. Video game cabinets also appeared in grocery stores, drug stores, doctor’s offices, and even in school recreation centers. The arcade chain began opening locations in the growing number of shopping malls across America; beginning with Space Invaders in 1978, a string of now legendary games were released in rapid succession. Following the toppers of the world including Pacman and Mario Brother; a succession of the Donkey Kong; a well renowned and well performed game of 1970s.

Impact of Pacman on the World.

It was 1980’s Pac-Man, the most successful video arcade game of all time, released by Midway in the United States and owned by Atari all the way. The colorful, pizza-inspired Pac-Man and the ghosts who chased him inspired enough branded products to rival Hello Kitty, including lunch boxes, clothing, a Saturday morning cartoon and a 1982 Billboard hit, “Pac-Man Fever,” which sold more than a million copies. Unlike previous video games, which seemed to appeal primarily to male players, Pac-Man appealed to everyone, allowing the hardcore player to mingle with casual gamers. The  idea of professional gaming also took root, and shows like Starcade pitted opponents against one another to play the newest games on prime time television. It was 1980’s ‘Pac-Man’ which had the most lasting effects on the American psyche. (Montfort & Bogost, 2009)

Impact of Super Mario Bros. on the World.

The game received a huge reception and became the must play title of the time period.

Nintendo began combining Super Mario Bros. on a cartridge with Duck Hunt and bundling it with the NES to help promote sales. Public became a huge fan and would buy the NES consoles just to play Super Mario Bros. Between its sales as a standalone game and bundled with the system, Super Mario Bros. became the all-time best-selling video game for nearly 24 years with a total of 40,241 million NES versions sold worldwide. Wii Sports broke this record in 2009, having sold 60.67 million copies. (Cohen, 2016)

Since the launch of Super Mario Bros. Mario has become the most iconic video game character, the only other to rank up there with Pac-Man as the most recognized worldwide. He also is Nintendo’s spokes character, appearing in an enormous number of sequels, and spin-offs, always as the must-have game for each generation of Nintendo consoles.

Impact of Space Invaders on the World.

  •  Impact of Arcade Video Games on American Society

Arcades in the late 1970s and early 1980s held a particular place in the American way of life. Like shopping malls and roller skating rinks, they were safe, isolated areas where kids and teenagers could hang out, and, with a reasonable amount of money, spend hours without their parents. Bill Disney, a pinball enthusiast and owner of The Pinball Gallery in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, says of his younger years that “most parents, they basically didn’t know what their kids were doing any time of the day. They were on their bikes, out the whole day,” and “they didn’t care where they were.” This laid-back attitude varied by family, as well as by geography, but the relative autonomy of older children in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and early 1980s, was much greater than it would be moving into the ‘90s. Films of the early ‘80s such as E.T. and The Wizard show typical, American kids, left to their own devices, playing video games and capturing aliens with their friends while their parents are at work. (June, 2013).

  •  Effects of Video Games on society.

Arcade games were never far away from controversy. Violent Death Race released in 1976 caused a mass media scandal on the release of the game and formed the basis of the ‘violent video game’ arguments which is present till date. The game focused essentially on running down pedestrians for the car as its main objective; the game was defended by its creators as a “humorous arcade piece requiring dexterity”. A researcher and psychologist for the National Safety Council disagreed; rather than being a passive viewer of violence as with television, the player was “an actor in the process of creating violence”. The game prompted 60 Minutes to explore the relationship between video games and violence, and it was widely banned. (June, 2013).

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