The History of Arcade Machines

The exact history of the first arcade machines to their rise cannot be precisely pinpointed as there have been many influences that have contributed to the development of arcade machines and arcade games in general. From the military, sciences, technology and computer developments they all played part in the creation of what arcade games and arcade machines would become. 

As early as 1907, Skee-Ball the original arcade game was invented in New Jersey by Joseph Fourestier Simpson.  It is played by rolling a ball up a hill incline and over a hump edge that jumps the ball into rings with different scores.  Skee-Ball has been around for over 100 years and still remains popular across arcades and gaming venues.

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We skip to the 1950’s, where early computer games were developed for the purpose of showing off newly developed computers and computing power as well as programming capabilities and then later recognised for entertainment.  One of the first of what we could call the beginnings of arcade games was Bertie the Brain.  Bertie the brain was an early custom made machine game of Tic Tac Toe against an AI, a four meter tall computer built for the 1950 Canadian National Exhibition.  

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However, the idea of video games to be used purely for entertainment was with the launch of Tennis for Two in 1958.  It simulated a game of tennis using an Oscilloscope Cathode Ray Tube heralding the beginnings of arcade gaming machine CRT monitors. 


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You cannot go past Spacewar’s contribution of the first computer based video game.  A space combat video game designed and developed in 1962 for the DEC PDP-1 minicomputer as display monitors with computers became more common.  

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In 1971, Computer Space a space combat arcade game developed by partners of Syzygy Engineering - Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney with the idea of commercialising the game. By replacing the computer with a custom built arcade machine using a coin-operated mechanism they revolutionised the commercial arcade gaming industry.  Although the game itself was not a major hit only selling 1,500 units, it paved the way for arcade machines. The machine itself looks out of this world and one of the most unique designs ever made!  


retro arcade machine history

Pong, the legendary arcade game manufactured by Atari in 1972 became a huge success. Many consider Pong as the game that launched both the arcade machines industry and the home arcade consoles since they made a few versions. 


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The late 70’s and all of the 80’s led the arcade machines industry to the Golden Age of Gaming.  With the release of Taito Space Invaders, the competitive nature of arcade games came forward with the game tracking high scores.  Shortly after, a number of blockbuster titles soon emerged from Namco, Atari, Nintendo, Williams Electronics, Stern Electronics creating a massive gaming culture.  Pacman, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga, Dig Dug, Asteroids, Centipede, Defender, Moon Patrol and many others brought on rapid growth, huge profits for their developers and significant technological development and change for the arcade machines industry.  We must not forget that it wasn’t just the arcade games themselves but also the design, style and appearance of the arcade cabinets themselves set the path and had a major appeal to people of all ages.  This era also saw the rapid spread of dedicated venues for arcade machines like amusement centers and video game arcades.  Arcade machines then became mainstream and started to appear across restaurants, supermarkets, pubs, bowling alleys and many more retail stores.       

Graphics and gameplay on arcade games improved as a result of technological advances.  A range of gaming genres emerged from Racing, Strategy, Platformers, Shooting, Puzzle, Action, Adventure and Fighting.  Shooter Games introduced a new style of combat using weapons like light guns pointed at the screen to shoot enemies.  Some of the most popular being Duck Hunt, Virtua Cop, Time Crisis and House of Dead.  

In the early 90’s, Capcom’s Street Fighter II began to open new doors with it’s well known fighting game style leading the way for other modern fighting games like Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, King of Fighters and Tekken.      

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 From the year 2000 onwards, arcade machines and games were seemingly impacted by the home console market.  Arcade machines and arcade games were adapted to compete.  One of these changes was adding redemption and prizes that can be claimed.  The move from coin mechanisms to smart cards allowed an easier way to play and removed the need for coins which also helped increase the average number of games played by using the smart card.  Further to this, new types of controllers and features were introduced that could not easily be replicated with home consoles such as adding larger rifles or guns, fishing rods, drums and other devices as part of the gameplay.

For the here and now, the only way to play the classic retro arcade machines and games is through emulation such as MAME.  At times arcade publishers will port the games over to other devices such as computers, home consoles or mobile. The Legacy of arcade machines spawned the gaming revolution.  Arcade Machines and games although have declined are re-emerging from the ashes as retro gaming gains momentum with people searching for the nostalgia of gaming for their own purposes or to pass on this wonderful experience onto their family, children and friends. 

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