Closure of Japanese Arcades does not signal that the end is near
I can’t help but feel somewhat amused at all the attention online news sources are giving to the news that Namco Bandai will be closing 50-60 of their arcades in Japan due to “high oil prices and the holiday success of the Nintendo Wii”. In fact on my Google News page the group of articles Google finds that the number of articles about the subject number at 300 – while right beneath it sits the Guardian article I posted the other day stating how good the arcade scene is doing, but there are only 4 articles about that subject. It just further proves that people enjoy negative news far more than positive news, especially where the arcade is concerned. So let’s rant about it for a minute!
I should point out that this is in Japan only. Namco still owns arcades in the States and I presume Europe but they did not say that they’d close any of those. And to be honest it’s not like Namco is the only chain of arcades in the world. Japan is a separate market for one and you haven’t heard news of chains like Tilt or Dave and Busters closing down due to the same reasons. Of course Namco is not the only one closing arcades in Japan – Sega and Square Enix are as well so the economic factors in Japan are obviously playing a role here but if you have to close 50-60 of your arcades (a fairly staggering number) you can point all the fingers you want but let’s be honest here – they obviously aren’t running their own business right if that’s the case. It’s funny that businesses are always quick to blame something out of their control but never themselves for poor performance. There’s no way that other factors could include lousy management of their own arcades or lousy marketing or maybe even the developer themselves not putting out compelling enough games to get people out of their homes and into the arcade. In the case of Namco people will be quick to say “Well what about Tekken 6?” and I’d respond “What about it? It’s the 6th installment of a series and it costs $15,000 per cabinet so who do you think has to foot that bill? There’s a reason you’re charged $2-$3 on a game like that.” I sure as heck have a hard time caring for a Namco title at the moment for my own arcade because A) They are all way overpriced which means I’d have to charge more just to make up for it and higher prices drive customers away B) Chances are Namco will release a console version shortly after the arcade release and it doesn’t matter if the arcade is better or not, sales drop. C) Sequels get a little tiring after a while – give us something new like you used to Namco. This is why I advocate developers looking to something new instead of the racer/fighter/light-gun combo cycle that never seems to end. When arcades were at the top of their game, they offered a variety of titles, not just a few types and called it good. At least it seems that a few developers are starting to understand that now and I’ve praised companies like Sega, Konami and GlobalVR for the strides they’ve been taking in changing things but I believe that every one of them can take it further. Hopefully Raw Thrills’ will join that soon with their new unannounced game that promises to be different and Incredible Technologies puts out some great sports titles at a low price that I can get behind. If I had the money, I’d make my own arcade game development company to join the chorus and lead the fight like I want to. But we have to take things one step at a time. I have more to rant about but I’ll cut it off here, hit the post break if you care to read more.
In the end it’s also about your local economy as well. People seem to think that economies only work on a national scale so when they hear that the market is going down the toilet nationally, they assume it’s everywhere. That’s not necessarily the case – yes if the national economy is bad that will have an affect on every one but locally it can still be good depending on certain factors. Where I live in Utah is a great example of that – while the news media hypes the oncoming recession practically non-stop, my local economy is doing great with job creation and a booming housing market with a positive outlook for the future. And that’s more of a reason as to why I will be opening my own arcade here soon instead of chucking the idea out the window. I know that if I aggressively market my business and combine that with things like constant competitions and offer a few games that can’t be had at home (like The Act, Slambot and others) then I’ll give people a reason to come. I hate how many arcade owners live off the notion that “If you build it they will come.” That’s a nice catch phrase and all but it means nothing if “they” don’t know where it is – or in the case of an arcade why they should come in the first place. It’s true that consoles are in direct competition with arcades but that has been true since the existence of the Atari 2600, which was also a wildly popular system in it’s day – but people still went to arcades for a number of reasons. The graphics were better then, the variety of games was far greater (a point far too overlooked), and the arcade was a great social environment (the Nintendo Wii’s online service sucks and doesn’t offer anything close to a social experience. Xbox Live does although it’s still never the same as talking with a human being face-to-face.). Unfortunately the graphics now lack behind consoles and the variety of games is about as varied as communal housing due in part to the fact that we only have a handful of developers as opposed to the concourses of companies that used to produce arcade titles.
The point is that the arcade scene still isn’t dead, even in Japan. I’m sure that AOU will help drum up interest in that country as there are some cool titles coming out like Konami’s Action Cop and Jubeat (pronounced You-Beat but I guess they don’t realize that English speakers won’t see it that way) or Capcom’s Street Fighter IV, Square Enix’s Lord of Vermilion or games running on the Taito Type X2 platform like Samurai Spirits or BlazBlue. And of course there is more than that although I’ve noticed that it seems that Namco doesn’t have much to offer at AOU.