At some point in our lives we have all been drawn to the lights and sounds of video games and spent an afternoon or more competing against our peers for the top spot on the leader board. But what is it that keeps generation after generation drawn to these games? Helen Fletcher spoke to some of the leading companies within the industry to find out...

The main difference between arcade video games and playing on a console at home is the experience - arcade games are built and designed to give a unique experience and provide an adrenaline rush. Shoot ’em-up games for example, use force feed guns and motion to engage in an experience only available outside the home market.

One of the market leaders in all genres of video amusement games is Sega and Sega Europe provides games to Europe and the Middle East. Justin Burke, marketing and promotions manager for the company, said: “It is extremely rare to find games where the player cannot play another person, the obvious attraction being greater enjoyment, greater realism and, for the operator, the potential for better cash box revenues. Our newest arcade video game Let’s Go Jungle is a two-player fantasy jungle shooting game, housed in a Jeep themed cabinet.”

Jungle fever

Set on an uninhabited spice island, it features two characters who set out for a cheap holiday that goes horribly wrong when they realise the island is occupied by massive mutant life forms.

The aim of the game is for players to shoot their way to safety together, overcoming various stages including river rapids, ruined temples and jungle safaris. The two players must work together to combat various obstacles and the better their timing together the quicker they can escape.

“The Let’s Go Jungle cabinet is based on an off-road Jeep and allows the players to sit inside the vehicle,” said Burke. “So many cabinets merge into one in arcade locations, not only does this game overcome that issue, but it has an appeal that attracts customers to it.”

And it would appear the game certainly has the appeal mentioned, with operators who initially tested the water with one or two games going back to distributors with increased orders. UK operator Peter Ketteley of Southend’s Las Vegas, said: “It is a game everyone plays, which just boosts the cash box no end; it is a definite winner for us.”

Although video games that require players to work together will always be popular, players will tell you that there is nothing that will get the adrenaline pumping more than beating a friend to the top of that all-important scoreboard.

Experience is key

“Players love to brag to their peers,” said Caryn Mical of Global VR. “As well as this social aspect of these games, they are also much easier to learn and play when compared with the console/in-house counterparts. At Global VR we have taken time to ensure players receive value for money from the first game, which immediately engages them to the last game, which continues to challenge them.”

John Farrington of Cosmic Video, which distributes the Global VR range, added: “There is a time and a place for home games and console playing, but for fun, variety and a great social experience arcades cannot be beaten. Compare the enjoyment of arcades, bowling, music, food, drinks and the company of friends to that of a lonely evening in front of your PlayStation – there is no comparison.”

He added: “The interaction, graphics and often the simulation on coin-operated games will always be a far better experience than that of home computer games, plus the variation and style of games can only be appreciated in an arcade type environment.”

Global VR develops and manufactures a full range of coin-operated video games including titles such as EA Sports PGA Tour Golf, Need for Speed, Underground, Aliens: Extermination and the recently introduced Paradise Lost, which is a two-player co-op action game set deep in the jungle and inside the laboratory of evil. With over 50 missions in the game, that each get progressively more difficult, players use a variety of weapons including rockets and grenades to defeat evil forces.

Whether the game requires players to work with or against each other does not appear to affect the arcade video game’s popularity. What counts is the thrill and experience players get compared to playing on a home console. But does this vary from country to country? According to John Brennan, product manager for Namco, apparently not.

“We have markets throughout the EC and all related markets such as Russia and the Middle East and although there are variations between markets, the players and their interests remain very similar,” he said. “Products travel across cultures providing the necessary translation is taken care of. The stimulation of playing with one’s peers is evident from small children to adults. To play is human, with friends is preferable.”

Namco kept this idea in mind when developing its latest game, Mario Kart 2, which uses a Nam Cam feature to superimpose the player’s face onto the characters selected in the game. “This game is truly for all ages and allows all members of the family to interact,” said Brennan. “It is possibly the only game able to offer this family friendly fun experience.”
Mario Kart 2 features 32 variations of courses across eight different worlds and is a phenomenon that comes complete with a ready-made fan base. The game features new characters from Bandai, live in-race commentary and is available with an optional re-writeable card-playing system.

New markets

Video arcade games are well established within the European market but new markets and opportunities are appearing all the time. James Anderson, product planning manager for Konami, told InterGame: “The growth in the likes of the Russian market is unbelievable and it is amazing to hear them say that five years ago there were no video games in Russia. Now they are building family entertainment centres at an unbelievable rate and are proving to be one of the largest markets in our territory.”

Anderson added: “The EU market has always been very important for Konami and over the years we have seen markets come, go and then come back again. For example, at this year’s ATEI exhibition we had a great number of visitors from Greece and I am pleased to hear that their market is starting again. It also looks like there is progress in Italy at the moment with the homologation of machines.”

One side of the video arcade sector that received a massive amount of interest when first introduced into the market and that now performs consistently well is the dance floor video games. So much so in fact that annual tournaments are held all over the world. Satinder Bhutani, executive vice president of Andamiro, sees that one of the main reasons they are so popular is down to the health benefits they carry.

“Besides being a lot of fun it is a great workout game as well,” said Bhutani. “It takes care of player’s health and our Pump It Up dance floor game in particular displays a calories lost graph at the end of each song.”

Players select a song out of 150 on Andamiro’s current NX software and then follow the arrows to move their feet on the dance floor pads.

Bhutani added: “The game is extremely good for the younger generation and we feel it is a must for every school. Every player’s performance is rated at the end of each song and a score achieved and displayed on the monitor screen. This feature in Pump It Up helps a location conduct tournaments.”

Tournament play

If there was ever a sign that video arcade games are still popular and cater for a crowd of loyal patrons, it is the fact that a number of games have tournaments attached to them.

Andamiro holds an annual World Pump It Up Festival, an international three-night event that will be held this year in Korea in November. The first WPF was held in 2005 with a total of 11 nations participating. Nations compete in club competitions at national festivals, with the top Pump It Up players from each nation going on to compete for top prizes of US$50,000 in each of three divisions – male speed, female speed and freestyle – at the grand final. “The competition proved really popular and these numbers grew to a total of 19 nations the following year,” said Bhutani.

Sega and Global VR also have products with tournaments attached to them and Sega is currently planning its second World Cup for the World Club Championship Football game which will see players from across the world visit the UK for an international play off.

And Global VR’s PGA Tour Golf is known worldwide for its compelling tournament games. Players can play a range of tournaments, from two-week nationals to local operators’ tournaments. “All players stand to benefit from the winnings which are awarded in Plus Points that are redeemable online for gift certificates,” said Caryn Mical.

So, what does the future hold for the arcade video games market? As far as Europe is concerned, it has been suggested by some that we look to Japan for the answers. In the late 1990s the amusement market in Japan was in decline and needed a radical new approach to revive it.

Konami developed an online system called e-Amusement and launched it into the Japanese market. It had a difficult start, as operators did not want to pay the charges for the service, but the company persevered and pushed the system into the market and it soon became successful. It was not long before other large manufacturers followed suit and developed similar systems. Now in Japan almost all machines are linked to some form of online service and it has resulted in the reinvigoration of the market.

“After the system was successful in Japan, Konami started to roll it out country by country throughout the Asian region,” said Anderson. “We are now trialling the system in Europe with plans to launch later this year and then, like Asia, expand into new markets where there is demand.”

The first title to feature this system in the EU is the Pro Evolution Soccer Arcade Championship 2007.

“PESAC lends itself to e-Amusement seamlessly and showcases the system’s features,” said Anderson. “The game is based around the Pro Evolution Soccer series, which is an excellent game to begin with as it allows players to compete against realistic CPU opponents as well as a two-player option so they can compete against friends.

“When the e-Amusement is added to the machine it unlocks a new range of features including real-time head-to-head play between players in different locations across the EU, provided they are on machines linked to the system. When the player uses an e-Amusement pass, which is a card that allows them to save play data on the Konami server, they gain an enhanced game experience with more features, including team management and access to real-time league and cup events.

“As the machines are linked to the system via ADSL, we are able to upload information to the game and make specific cups and tournaments for national operators or brewery chains. And on other products we are able to upload new game levels and features depending on the time of the year. Favourably, players only need to use the one e-Amusement pass for all of the machines.”

Anderson added: “We see the interactive competition against live opponents in real time as the next advance in game play for the amusement market and already have plans to bring other e-amusement titles to Europe.”