Arcade game

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An amusement arcade featuring several different types of arcade games, located in the Chiba Prefecture, Japan

An arcade game or coin-op game is a coin-operated entertainment machine typically installed in public businesses such as restaurants, bars and amusement arcades. Most arcade games are presented as primarily games of skill and include arcade video games, pinball machines, electro-mechanical games, redemption games or merchandisers.


Broadly, arcade games are nearly always considered games of skill, with only some elements of games of chance. Games that are solely games of chance, like slot machines and pachinko, often are categorized legally as gambling devices, and due to restrictions, may not be made available to minors or without appropriate oversight in many jurisdictions.[1]

Arcade video games[edit]

Arcade video games were first introduced in the early 1970s, with Pong as the first commercially-successful game. Arcade video games use electronic or computerized circuitry to take input from the player and translate that to an electronic display such as a monitor or television set.

Carnival games[edit]

Skee-Ball was one of the first arcade games developed.

Coin-op carnival games are automated versions or variations of popular manned games held at carnival midways. Most of these are played for prizes or tickets for redemption. Common examples include Skee-Ball and Whac-A-Mole.

Electro-mechanical games[edit]

Electro-mechanical games (EM games) operate on a combination of some electronic circuitry and mechanical actions from the player to move items contained within the game's cabinet. Some of these were early light gun games using light-sensitive sensors on targets to register hits. Examples of electro-mechanical games include Periscope and Rifleman from the 1960s.

Electro-mechanical games typically combined mechanical engineering technology with various electrical components, such as motors, switches, resistors, solenoids, relays, bells, buzzers and electric lights.[2] EM games lie somewhere in the middle between fully electronic games and mechanical games.

Merchandiser game[edit]

A claw crane game, where one must time the movement of the claw to grab a prize

Merchandiser games are those where the player attempts to win a prize by performing some physical action with the arcade machine, such as claw crane games or coin pusher games.


Pachinko is a type of mechanical game originating in Japan. It is used as both a form of recreational arcade game and much more frequently as a gambling device, filling a Japanese gambling niche comparable to that of the slot machine in Western gambling.

Photo booths[edit]

A purikura photo sticker booth in Fukushima City, Japan.

Coin-operated photo booths automatically take and develop three or four wallet-sized pictures of subjects within the small space, and more recently using digital photography. They are typically used for licenses or passports, but a specific variety designed for arcades, purikura, creates selfie photo stickers. Purikura are essentially a cross between a traditional license/passport photo booth and an arcade video game, with a computer which allows the manipulation of digital images.[3] Introduced by Atlus and Sega in 1995, the name is a shortened form of the registered trademark Purinto Kurabu, a Japanese term derived from the English print club. They are primarily found in Asian arcades.

Pinball machines[edit]

Pinball machines are games that have a large, enclosed, slanted table with a number of scoring features on its surface. Players launch a steel ball onto the table and using pinball flippers, try to keep the ball in play while scoring as many points as possible. Early pinball games were mostly driven through mechanical components, while pinball games from the 1930s onward include electronic components such as lights and sensors and are one form of an electro-mechanical game.

Slot machines[edit]

In limited jurisdictions, slot machines may also be considered an arcade game and installed alongside other games in arcades. However, as slot machines are mostly games of chance, their use in this manner is highly limited. They are most often used for gambling.

Sports games[edit]

Air hockey tables at an arcade

Sport games are indoor or miniaturized versions of popular physical sports that can be played within an arcade setting often with a reduced ruleset. Examples include air hockey and indoor basketball games like Super Shot. Sports games can be either mechanical, electro-mechanical or electronic.

Redemption games[edit]

A general category of arcade games are those played for tickets that can be redeemed for prizes. The gameplay itself can be of any arcade game, and the number of tickets received are proportional to the player's score. Skee ball is often played as a redemption game, while pachinko is one of the most popular redemption games in Japan. Another type of redemption game are medal game, popular in Japan and southeast Asia, where players must convert their money into special medal coins to play the game, but can win more coins which they can redeem back into prizes. Medal games are design to simulate a gambling-like experience without running afoul of Japan's strict laws against gambling.[4]


Skee-Ball and carnival games (late 19th century–1940s)[edit]

A row of mutoscopes at a Disneyland penny arcade in the 1980s

Game of skill amusements had been a staple of fairs since the 19th century. Further, the invention of coin-operated vending machines had come about in the 19th century.[5] To build off this, coin-operated automated amusement machines were created, such as fortune telling and strength tester machines as well as mutoscopes, and installed along with other attractions at fairs, traveling carnivals, and resorts. Soon, entrepreneurs began housing these coin-operated devices in the same facilities which required minimal oversight, creating penny arcades near the turn of the 20th century, the name taken from the common use of a single penny to operate the machine.[6]

Penny arcades started to gain a negative reputation as the most popular attraction in them tended to be mutoscopes featuring risqué and softcore pornography while drawing audiences of young men. Further, the birth of the film industry in the 1910s and 1920s drew audiences away from the penny arcade.[6] New interactive coin-operated machines were created to bring back patrons to the penny arcades, creating the first arcade games. Many were based on carnival games of a larger scope, but reduced to something which could be automated. One popular style were pin-based games, such as Baffle Ball, a precursor to the pinball machine where players were given a limited number of balled to knock down targets with only a plunger.[6] Skee-Ball became popular after being featured at an Atlantic City boardwalk arcade. The popularity of these games was aided by the impact of the Great Depression of the 1930s, as they provided inexpensive entertainment.[6]

Early abstract mechanical sports games date back to the turn of the 20th century in England, which was the main manufacturer of arcade games in the early 20th century. The London-based Automatic Sports Company manufactured abstract sports games based on British sports, including Yacht Racer (1900) based on yacht racing, and The Cricket Match (1903) which simulated a portion of a cricket game by having the player hit a pitch into one of various holes. Full Team Football (1925) by London-based Full Team Football Company was an early mechanical tabletop football game simulating association football, with eleven static players on each side of the pitch that can kick a ball using levers.[7] Driving games originated from British arcades in the 1930s.[8]

Mechanical gun games had existed in England since the turn of the 20th century.[9] The first light guns appeared in the 1930s, with the Seeburg Ray-O-Lite. Games using this toy rifle were mechanical and the rifle fired beams of light at targets wired with sensors.[10] A later gun game from Seeburg Corporation, Shoot the Bear (1949), introduced the use of mechanical sound effects.[11] Mechanical maze games appeared in penny arcades by the mid-20th century; they only allowed the player to manipulate the entire maze, unlike later maze video games which allowed the player to manipulate individual elements within a maze.[12]

Pinball (1930s–1960s)[edit]

Pinball machines from the 1960s at the Pinball Hall of Fame

Coin-operated pinball machines that included electric lights and features were developed in 1933, but lacked the user-controlled flipper mechanisms at that point; these would be invented in 1947.[13] Though the creators of these games argued that these games were still skill-based, most governments still consider them a game of luck and ruled them as gambling devices, banning them as well.[14] Beyond this, pinball machines drew the younger generation to the games, making morally-concerned elders across the generation gap fear what the youth were doing and considering the machines "tools of the devil", furthering these bans.[15] These bans were slowly lifted in the 1960s and 1970s; New York City's ban, placed in 1942, lasted until 1976,[14] while Chicago's was lifted in 1977.[16] Where pinball was allowed, pinball manufacturers carefully distanced their games from gambling, adding "For Amusement Only" among the game's labeling, eliminating any redemption features, and asserting these were games of skill at every opportunity.[14] By the early 1970s, pinball machines thus occupied select arcades at amusement parks, at bars and lounges, and with solitary machines at various stores.[14]

Pinball machines beyond the 1970s have since advanced with similar improvement in technology as with arcade video games. Past machines used discrete electro-mechanical and electronic componentry for game logic, but newer machines have switched to solid-state electronics with microprocessors to handle these elements, making games more versatile. Newer machines may have complex mechanical actions and detailed backplate graphics that are supported by these technologies.[14]

Electro-mechanical games (1940s–1970s)[edit]

All American Basket Ball (1969), an EM game produced by Chicago Coin.

Alternatives to pinball were electro-mechanical games (EM games) that clearly demonstrated themselves as games of skill to avoid the stigma of pinball. These overlapped with the introduction of arcade video games, and in some cases, were prototypical of the experiences that arcade video games offered.

The transition from mechanical arcade games to electro-mechanical games dates back to around the time of World War II, with different types of arcade games gradually making the transition during the post-war period between the 1940s and 1960s.[17] In 1941, International Mutoscope Reel Company released the electro-mechanical driving game Drive Mobile, which had an upright arcade cabinet similar to what arcade video games would later use.[2] It was derived from older British driving games from the 1930s. In Drive Mobile, a steering wheel was used to control a model car over a road painted on a metal drum, with the goal being to keep the car centered as the road shifts left and right. Kasco introduced this type of electro-mechanical driving game to Japan in 1958 with Mini Drive, which followed a similar format but had a longer cabinet allowing a longer road.[8] Capitol Projector's 1954 machine Auto Test was a driving test simulation that used film reel to project pre-recorded driving video footage, awarding the player points for making correct decisions as the footage is played. These early driving games consisted of only the player vehicle on the road, with no rival cars to race against. By the 1950s, EM games were using a timer to create a sense of urgency in the gameplay, such as the boxing game K.O. Champ (1955) by International Mutoscope Reel Company.[17] By 1961, the US arcade industry had been stagnating, which in turn had a negative effect on Japanese arcade distributors such as Sega that had been depending on US imports up until then. Sega co-founder David Rosen responded to market conditions by having Sega develop original arcade games in Japan.[18]

Periscope, a submarine simulator and light gun shooter,[19] was released by Namco in 1965[20] and then by Sega in 1966.[21] It used lights and plastic waves to simulate sinking ships from a submarine,[22] and had players look through a periscope to direct and fire torpedoes,[18] which were represented by colored lights and electronic sound effects.[23][24] Sega's version became an instant success in Japan, Europe, and North America,[25] where it was the first arcade game to cost a quarter per play,[21] which would remain the standard price for arcade games for many years to come.[25] The success of Periscope was a turning point for the arcade industry.[18] It revived the novelty game business, and established a "realistic" or "audio-visual" category of games, using advanced special effects to provide a simulation experience.[8] It was the catalyst for the "novelty renaissance" where a wide variety of novelty/specialty games were released in the late 1960s, from quiz games and racing games to hockey and football games, many adopting the quarter-play price point.[26] It particularly represented a trend of missile-launching gameplay during the late 1960s to 1970s,[17] with the game's periscope viewer cabinet design later adopted by arcade video games such as Midway's Sea Wolf (1976) and Atari's Battlezone (1980).[27] Periscope also led to American distributors turning to Japan for new arcade games in the late 1960s, which in turn encouraged competition from traditional Chicago arcade manufacturers.[18] Taito entered the EM industry with sports games such as Crown Soccer Special (1967), a two-player game that simulated association football using electronic components such as pinball flippers,[28] and Crown Basketball, which debuted in the US as the highest-earning arcade game at the 1968 Tampa Fair and also had a quarter-play option.[29]

Sega's Gun Fight (1969), a two-player EM game that used light-sensitive targets.

The late 1960s to mid-1970s was considered the "electro-mechanical golden age" for Japanese EM manufacturers such as Kasco (short for Kansai Seisakusho),[30] while the late 1960s was considered the "novelty renaissance" in North America.[26] A new type of driving game was introduced with Kasco's 1968 racing game Indy 500,[8][30] which was licensed by Chicago Coin for release in North America as Speedway in 1969.[31] It had a circular racetrack with rival cars painted on individual rotating discs illuminated by a lamp,[8] which produced colorful graphics[8] projected using mirrors to give a pseudo-3D perspective on a screen,[17] resembling a windscreen view.[32] It had collision detection, with players having to dodge cars to avoid crashing, as well as electronic sound for the car engines and collisions.[17] This gave it greater realism than earlier driving games,[8] and it resembled a prototypical arcade racing video game, with an upright cabinet, yellow marquee, three-digit scoring, coin box, steering wheel and accelerator pedal.[2] Indy 500 sold over 2,000 arcade cabinets in Japan,[8] while Speedway sold over 10,000 cabinets in North America,[30] becoming the biggest arcade hit in years.[8] Like Periscope, Speedway also charged a quarter per play, further cementing quarter-play as the US arcade standard for over two decades.[8] Other EM racing games derived from Indy 500 included Namco's Racer and Sega's Grand Prix,[30] the latter a 1969 release that similarly had a first-person view, electronic sound, a dashboard with a racing wheel and accelerator,[33] and a forward-scrolling road projected on a screen.[34] Taito's similar 1970 rear-projection driving game Super Road 7 involved driving a car down an endlessly scrolling road while having to dodge cars, which inspired Tomohiro Nishikado to develop the Taito racing video game Speed Race (1974).[35] Chicago Coin also adapted Speedway into a motorbike racing game, Motorcycle, in 1970.[17]

Around the same time, Sega began producing gun games which somewhat resemble first-person shooter video games, but which were in fact electro-mechanical games that used rear image projection in a manner similar to a zoetrope to produce moving animations on a screen.[36] They often had vertical playfields that used mirrors to create an artificial sense of depth.[17] It was a fresh approach to gun games that Sega introduced with Duck Hunt, which began location testing in 1968 and released in January 1969. It had animated moving targets which disappear from the screen when shot, solid-state electronic sound effects, and awarded a higher score for head shots.[37][38][39] Missile, a shooter and vehicular combat game released by Sega in 1969, had electronic sound and a moving film strip to represent the targets on a projection screen. A two-way joystick with a fire button was used to shoot and steer the missile onto oncoming planes displayed on a screen, while two directional buttons were used to move the player's tank; when a plane is hit, an animated explosion appears on screen, accompanied by the sound of an explosion.[40] According to Ken Horowitz, it may have been the first arcade game to use a joystick with a fire button.[41] Midway later released a version called S.A.M.I. (1970)[41] and adapted it into the arcade video game Guided Missile (1977).[17] Midway also released the submarine-themed missile-launching games Sea Raider (1969) and Sea Devil (1970).[17] Sega's Jet Rocket (1969)[18] was a combat flight-simulator featuring cockpit controls that could move the player aircraft around a landscape displayed on a screen and shoot missiles onto targets that explode when hit.[42] Upon release, the game was cloned by three Chicago manufacturers.[18]

Sega released an EM game similar to air hockey in 1968, MotoPolo, where two players moved around motorbikes to knock balls into the opponent's goal; it also used an 8-track player to play back the sounds of the motorbikes.[43] Air hockey itself was later created by a group of Brunswick Billiards employees between 1969 and 1972.[44] Sega's EM driving games Stunt Car (1970) and Dodgem Crazy (1972) are seen as precursors to later driving video games that involve ramming cars, such as Exidy's Destruction Derby (1975) and Death Race (1976) as well as Atari's Crash 'N Score (1975), while lacking their dynamically changing open arenas enabled by video game technology.[17]

Following the arrival of arcade video games with Pong (1972) and its clones, electro-mechanical games continued to have a strong presence in arcades for much of the 1970s, especially in Japan. However, electro-mechanical games declined following the arrival of Space Invaders (1978) and the golden age of arcade video games in the late 1970s.[30][45] In 1972, Sega released an electro-mechanical game called Killer Shark, a first-person light-gun shooter known for appearing in the 1975 film Jaws.[36] In 1974, Nintendo released Wild Gunman, a light-gun shooter that used full-motion video-projection from 16 mm film to display live-action cowboy opponents on the screen.[46] Kasco similarly used 8 mm film for a 1970s driving game, The Driver, which projected live-action video footage filmed by Toei Company.[30] One of the last successful electro-mechanical arcade games was F-1, a racing game developed by Namco and distributed by Atari in 1976.[47]

Arcade video games (1970s–present)[edit]

A row of video games at an arcade

After two attempts to package mainframe computers running video games into a coin-operated arcade cabinet in 1971, Galaxy Game and Computer Space, Atari released Pong in 1972, the first successful arcade video game. The number of arcade game makers greatly increased over the next several years, including several of the companies that had been making EM games such as Midway, Bally, Williams, Sega, and Taito, and as technology moved from integrated circuits to microprocessors, a new wave of arcade video games arose, starting with Taito's Space Invaders in 1978 and leading to a so-called "golden age" of arcade video games that included Pac-Man (Namco, 1980), Missile Command (Ataro, 1980), and Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981). The golden age waned in 1982–1983 due to an excess number of arcade games, the growing draw of home consoles, and a moral panic on the impact of arcade video games on youth.[14][48]

The arcade industry was partially impacted by the video game crash of 1983, and while titles like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat helped to revive it in the early 1990s, the growing popularity of home video game consoles drew crowds away from arcades.[14] Today, most arcades serve highly specialized experiences that cannot be replicated in the home, including lines of pinball and other games, coupled with other entertainment options such as restaurants or bars. Among newer games include games like Dance Dance Revolution that require specialized equipment, as well as games incorporating motion simulation or virtual reality.


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