You hear a lot of arguments in the video game business. Some are about how much better X console is that Y for certain reasons, others delve into the minutiae of what makes a game brilliant or garbage. In covering the arcade business for more than 10 years, there is one you hear more frequently than others – that arcades are “dead”. Such arguments tend to be presented by a layperson with little knowledge about the industry, it’s latest releases and business models.
The oddest angle I’ve heard used to “prove” this point came from a video called “The Death Of the Arcade”, produced in 2007 for a group called Play Value. It featured a line-up of self-proclaimed game histori- ans & ‘experts’, enjoying decent production value for the time, enough to probably have been included on a TV show. The big problem was that none of them had any first-hand knowledge of the arcade apart from having visited one before. The most damning and bizarre line uttered in this silly video by one of the ‘experts’ was: “I mean, how do you play a sports game in the arcade? It’s like impossible.”
They say there are no dumb questions, but in this case, I beg to differ. Let’s answer it with this article taking a look at some arcade sports games! Granted, we cannot mention every single one that has ever been released, as there are hundreds to consider throughout arcade gaming history, covering everything from major sports to lesser celebrated ones like cricket – odd for something so “impossible” to do.
We’ll do this by sport, starting with tennis for the obvious reason that every gamer should know about, a little game you might have heard of called PONG by Atari. It wasn’t the first video game in existence but it was the first time that most of the general public would experience the concept of being able to interact with your TV. Prior to PONG, the crew at Atari had learned that you needed something intuitive and familiar if it was going to enjoy any kind of success. Computer Space might have been something most people had never seen before but it was weird and too complicated to be fun.
PONG on the other hand was virtual tennis. People knew the sport and using the simple knob controller, it was easy to play and worth playing over again. This concept was further enhanced with Quadrapong, the first 4-player arcade game. These titles embodied the concept of “Easy to learn, difficult to master”, and might I add, fun to play. The concept was so sound that the initial video creations of many of Atari’s primary competitors would be straight-up clones of their design: Taito (Elepong), Sega (Pong-Tron), Midway (Winner II) and so on.
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