From Sega Retro

For Sega arcade systems, see List of Sega arcade systems

An arcade is a place where people play video games and electro-mechanical games. Traditionally, customers of these establishments were overwhelmingly teen and young adult males. However, presently families are the largest arcade constituent, mainly because the lack of standard new games being released in arcades (arcades now are comprised mostly of deluxe games which are more popular with families).

Video arcades typically have subdued lighting to inhibit glare and enhance the viewing of the game's video display. This atmosphere has added to the stores' sometimes negative reputation in the United States, as well as in other countries. In Japan, however, male and female teens and adults can often be found enjoying arcades, typically on dates.

With the increase of Internet cafes opening (which also provide gaming services), the need for video arcades and such arcade games are reduced, and many have been shut down or merged with the cafes as a result.

Types of games

The video games are typically in arcade cabinets. The most common kind are uprights, tall boxes with a monitor and controls in front. Customers insert coins or tokens into the machines (or use magnetic cards) and stand in front of them to play the game. These traditionally were the most popular arcade format, although presently American arcades make much more money off deluxe driving games and ticket redemption games. Japanese arcades, while also heavily featuring deluxe games, continue to do well with traditional JAMMA arcade video games.

Some machines, such as Ms. Pac Man and Joust, are occasionally in smaller boxes with a flat, clear glass or plexiglass top; the player sits at the machine playing it, looking down. This style of arcade game is known as a cocktail-style arcade game table, since they were first popularised in bars.

Some arcade games, such as racing games, are designed to be sat in or on. These types of games are sometimes referred to as "sit-down" games. Sega is one of the largest manufacturers of these types of arcade games.

Arcades are not limited to video games only, though. Pinball machines and redemption games such as skee ball are also common in many arcades. There may be a counter where players can redeem the tickets earned at the latter for prizes ranging from cheap toys to dolls and jewelry.

Other kinds of machines can also be seen at video arcades, like gambling machines such as slot machines and pachinko machines, or even vending machines. Large toys and rides usually seen in amusement parks are also common on certain video arcades.


Video arcades started springing up in the late 1970s and were most popular during the "golden age" of arcade games, the mid-1980s.

During this time, arcades were so popular in the United States that school children could easily pass one or two on their way to or from school. This disturbed many parents who disapproved of the perceived seedy atmosphere of the arcades and of their children's use of money on the "frivolous" activity of video game playing. Some attempts were made to prohibit children's patronage of such establishments with varying degrees of success.

Most opposition to such stores has evaporated with the decline of these businesses beginning in the mid-1990s, as well as attempts to clean up the perceived image by major players in the industry like Sega themselves. Some stores still exist in the US, typically small independent specialist venues or in the form of large entertainment center chains like Dave & Busters and Round 1, though not in the large numbers seen during the mid-1980s.

The decline of arcades in western territories is often attributed to the fact that after the mid 1990s, arcade game companies failed to stay ahead of the technology curve, and would release games that had graphics equal to or barely better than those produced by video game consoles of the time. Other factors, like a over-saturation of venues and failures by operators to adapt to new prospects like card systems, have also come into play.

High game turnover in Japanese arcades required quick game design, leading to the adoption of standardized systems like JAMMA, Neo-Geo and CPS-2. These systems were essentially arcade-only consoles where the video game ROM could be swapped easily to replace a game. This allowed easier development and replacement of games, but it also discouraged the hardware innovation necessary to stay ahead of the technology curve.

Most US arcades did not see the intended benefit of this practice since many games weren't exported to the US, and if they were, distributors generally refused to release them as simply a ROM, preferring to sell the entire ROM, console, and sometimes cabinet as a package. In fact, several arcade systems such as Sega's NAOMI board are arcade versions of home systems.

Though also seeing a decline, video arcades have attained a degree of popularity in Japan, where they are called game centers (ゲームセンター). Game centers are often made up of four general types of machines: sit-down games, prize-awarding games, casino games, and photo booths. Sit-down games are still the most popular, and as mentioned above, Sega dominates the market for sit-down games, having successfully introduced online card systems that connect machines and record game progress for players.

Prize-awarding games often include machines such as the UFO catcher (known as the "crane machine" in the US), and prizes are generally merchandise of popular animation characters. Casino games (メタルゲーム) include pachinko and slot machines, although you cannot win money from these machines. Photo booths (プリクラ) are especially popular among teenage girls, who trade tiny photos of themselves among friends. Music games, pioneered by Konami with their BEMANI division, have also seen consistent popularity since the late 1990s.

In the United Kingdom, arcades were particularly popular in seaside resorts where, until around 1994, a game would cost between 10p and 30p. The decline of the traditional arcade, however, did not occur in line with the stagnation in technology improvements. Indeed, it was the huge leap towards polygon 3D games in the mid-90s that was a factor in the decline.

With the improvements in technology came considerable price rises, often at £1 a game. This isolated the traditional teen male visitor and many of the businesses fell into decline. They were forced to accommodate more for their other traditional visitor group, the middle-aged male, which precipitated a shift towards a more gambling focused businesses. As a result, many arcades in the UK today are comprised mostly of fruit machines.

A similar decline to the United Kingdom's also occurred in several Western and Central European countries, in a number of cases as a result of the introduction of restrictive legislations on the amusement industry. Some, like Germany, had imposed prohibitive laws on arcades for many years beforehand, however the shift to fruit machines in Greece brought about Law 3037/2002, which banned all forms of electronic games in public places in an attempt to fight illegal gambling (though it has since been repealed).

Other countries and continents, like China and Latin America, have had arcades continue to operate steadily, despite less access to official distributors and machines.

AAMA messages

In the United States, most major arcade manufacturers are members of the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA), a lobby group founded in the early 1980s which represents the arcade industry across the country.

"Winners Don't Do Drugs"

"Winners Don't Do Drugs" message as seen in Golden Axe (1989).

In early 1989 the AAMA announced that it would participate in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)'s Drug Demand Reduction Program, a then-ongoing campaign to raise the awareness of the dangers of drugs[1]. Members American Technos, Leland Corporation, Romstar and Tecmo all presented games with a built in message; "Winners Don't Use Drugs", complete with FBI seal and director William S. Sessions' name.

The idea was that the message would appear as part of the game's attract mode, meaning that arcade goers were likely to see it several times in passing, and thus spread the message amongst the country's youth. Every manufacturer would include more-or-less the same screen, though technology would dictate the resolution and colour scheme. Simpler displays, such as those seen in pinball machines, opted to just display the text.

It is not thought the AAMA could not compel its members to include such screens, but most chose to implement them anyway, with Atari Games, Capcom, Data East, Fabtek, Jaleco, Konami, Merit Industries, Nintendo, Premier Technology, Sega, SNK, Taito and Williams Electronic Games all signing up on day one[1]. The FBI had spent many years cracking down on counterfeit arcade machines, so its relationship with the AAMA and its members was quite positive at the time.

The "Winners Don't Do Drugs" message remained a feature of US arcade games (and machines elsewhere in the world which had their region set incorrectly) until around 1998, when companies began to adopt the AAMA's content rating system. William S. Sessions was dismissed by president Bill Clinton in July 1993, after which his name was dropped from the messages.

Recycle It, Don't Trash It!

Recycle It, Don't Trash It! screen seen in Wing War (1994).

On April 13, 1992, a second AAMA-backed campaign, this time in assocation with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to encourage recycling. Similarly to the above, a static "Recycle It, Don't Trash It" screen, complete with EPA logo and director William K. Reilly's name began being added to attract modes[2].

Three games were displayed at the EPA's headquarters in Washington, D.C.; Relief Pitcher by Atari Games, Legionnaire by Fabtek and B Rap Boys! by Kaneko. Strata Group, Capcom, Data East, Irem, Sega, Taito and Tecmo also announced participation[2].

Manufacturers were set to alternate between the FBI and EPA messages rather than display both, although games with two screens (such as in Sega's case, Title Fight and OutRunners) might display both simultaneously.

Among arcade manufacturers, the environmental message was never as popular as the FBI's war on drugs. By 1995 Sega had dropped the screen from its lineup, although having featured in some of its biggest games of the era (Daytona USA, Virtua Fighter and Virtua Fighter 2), it remained visible for many years.


Sega arcade boards
Originating in arcades

Console-based hardware


PC-based hardware