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Get details on classic video games and the rise and fall of arcades.

The popularity of arcades peaked in the 1980s. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The popularity of arcades peaked in the 1980s.

After gaining popularity in the early 1980s, video game arcades have become entrenched in American society. During the 1970s, video games with outer space shootouts or sports themes took over the pinball market. In 1972, Atari's first arcade game, Pong, sparked the interest of America's youth. The early 1980s marked an explosion in new video games -- hits like Pac-Man and Defender went on to top a billion dollars each in revenue .

Although home consoles were available during the early 1980s, they could not compare to the graphics and speed of play in arcade games. After reaching a peak in 1982, the video game industry crashed and arcades were never able to fully recover, due to increased competition from home consoles.

In 1985, Nintendo led the revival of the video game industry by closing the gap between the quality of home console games and arcade games. According to Nintendo, more than 60 million Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES) were sold in the United States in the first two years. Nintendo also debuted Gameboy, the first handheld game system, in 1989. As video games became increasingly violent and featured mature themes, the market captured more adult fans. DFC Intelligence predicts the worldwide video game market will reach $57 billion in annual revenue in 2009.

Arcade Games from the 1970s

According to BMI Gaming, notable arcade games released in the 1970s include:

  • Pong
  • Tank
  • Death Race
  • Sea Wolf
  • Space Invaders
  • Super Breakout
  • Asteroids
  • Galaxian
  • Lunar Lander

Many of the hit games, such as Space Invaders and Asteroids, had a space-shooting theme. Space Invaders required a lone human to shoot aliens and prevent them from reaching Earth. Each level had 48 aliens in six columns that advanced and attacked. Atari's Asteroids also featured a lone spacecraft that rotated around shooting asteroids and flying saucers . Namco's Galaxian was the first video game in RGB color.

Arcade Games from the 1980s

The year 1980 was a pivotal year when some of the most popular games of all time were released, including:

  • Asteroids Deluxe
  • Battlezone
  • Berzerk
  • Centipede
  • Defender
  • Eagle
  • Missile Command
  • Pac-Man
  • Phoenix
  • Rally-X
  • Star Castle
  • Tempest
  • Warlords

Battlezone was the first game to require players to monitor off-screen events (a requirement shared by Defender). Berzerk was one of three games to first include synthesized voice as a sound effect. Rally-X featured a fuel gauge and had four-direction scrolling.

By 1981, 1.5 million arcade games were in operation . Similarly-styled games were released the following year, including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man and Stargate (Defender II) . Between 1980 and 1982, the number of arcades doubled to a total of 10,000. The following year, the closing of 2,000 arcades marked the beginning of the industry's crash. By the mid-1980s, raster graphics replaced vector graphics, and new types of games began to emerge, including wrestling, racing and Olympic sports.

The mid-1980s had few hit games, although notable releases in 1983 included Dragon's Lair and Atari's Star Wars. Atari's Gauntlet, released in 1985, was the first interactive environment game for multi-players. For the most part, new releases were sequels to popular games, like with Donkey Kong 3, Galaga 3 and Dig Dug II . The late 1980s produced even fewer games considered to be classics .

Top-Grossing Arcade Games of All Time

According to GameSpot, Pac-Man remains the top-grossing coin-operated video game of all time. Launched in 1980 by Namco, the maze-style gameplay was nonviolent and easy enough for even young kids to master. Eating a power pellet allowed Pac-Man to turn and chase down his enemies -- Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. In July of 1999, Billy Mitchell achieved the first perfect score of 3,333,360 after eating every dot, fruit and ghost on all 256 screens using only one Pac-Man. Other maze-style sequels followed, including Ms. Pac-Man in 1981, which lured females into dropping quarters in, and Junior Pac-Man in 1983. Pac-Man turned into a craze that led to a cartoon show and a hit song, "Pac-Man Fever ," which all helped Pac-Man to gobble up profits.

Also released in 1980, Defender put players in control of a spaceship charged with defending Earth from an alien invasion. Gameplay required manipulating a joystick and five buttons, and players were required to keep an eye on their radar screen, which showed off-screen action. These innovations, combined with the fast gameplay and increasingly difficult levels, ended up costing players a lot of quarters. The game's creator, Eugene Jarvis, released a sequel, Stargate, in the following year .

Arcades Today

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were nearly 2,350 arcades operating in the United States in 2006. Kids and adults still enjoy playing arcade games, although the games rarely cost a quarter anymore. In fact, many arcades have moved away from coins altogether, requiring players to use tokens or a refillable card that the machine scans . To make playing time more affordable, some arcades offer unlimited gameplay for a set price, although this type of deal may be limited to nonpeak days and hours .

Funspot Family Entertainment Center in Weirs Beach, N.H., is the largest arcade in the world. Opened in 1952, the arcade holds more than 500 token-operated games, including many of the classics . The new type of arcade combines video games with carnival games and other games that appeal to a wider market. These arcades also serve food to entice players to stay longer and attract birthday parties with special package pricing .

For the many adults who lived during the boom of arcades and still enjoy playing the classics, they can continue to relive their childhood by conveniently playing games like Asteroids and Pac-Man for free online or even on their mobile phones.

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