As both an executive in the video amusement market, as well as a recognized writer and commentator on amusement affairs, I was very grateful to be offered a chance to proffer my observations to a wider audience, regarding my own opinions concerning these changes. The new stride in e-Commerce, that Highway Games offers, is a wider canvas than my infrequent articles for the European trade magazines.
Well it goes without saying that things have changed in video amusement, this is one of the fastest moving technological entertainment sectors (as well as the oldest). To be honest it would be easier to observe on those elements that have stayed the same during this stormy ride. Looking at the ten-year upheaval within the international amusement sector, the most startling changes have to be that there is a dearth of any strong content! While players still exist to player seems to have neglected their needs!
Some observers claim that the arcades as a whole are being obliterated under the weight of player interest in consumer consoles and mobile phone bills. Others' point to the erosion of the amusement market due to indifference and country loyalty. All well and good, and I am sure that these postulations will continue long into the 21st century, but what I care about is what is available to keep or improve the audiences interest in a industry renown for its originality.
Jump into my ‘Standard Mrk II Writers Time-machine' (handed out with copies of Microsoft Word 5.2) and we can visit, only for a brief period, the year Nineteen Ninety. We venture into a year of change and rumblings of potent for many. We see Sega Enterprises investing great sums in their Conjoined Entertainment Space, plans that would see theme park style palaces for arcade gaming. Namco investing great sums into focusing on a cheap CGI platform with one time enemy SONY, based on a brand new consumer machine,
Atari Games basks in the reflected glow of their driving game success ‘Hard Drivin', that promised to open up a new genre in amusement gaming and could refuel the companies impacted profits in R&D spend (as well as the end of a relationship with Namco). While other Japanese amusement manufactures focus on creating technology dependant products, which at the same create a financial burden, especially if – as is common in game popularity – only one in four are popular with the players.
Manufactures like SEGA and Namco would spend considerable sums on the great white hope that would become known as Virtual Reality, while a arms race commenced towards owning the fastest and brightest computer graphics architecture.
Welcome to Reality!
Unplug the time machine and return to 2000 and it's clear that not only did most of the high hopes of these manufactures crumble when confronted with reality, but more surprisingly throughout all this upheaval the core amusement market has survived! Regarding the demand for amusement by those operators, even though the independent amusement facilities have be washed from the face of the market like so many Internet Cafes. The franchise now emerges in the shape of Dave & Busters', Jillian's Entertainment, GameWorks, ESPN Zones, Namco Centres, SpeedZone and Playdium facilities (to only name a few). We could be forgiven for thinking that there are more machines in circulation.
Just as an aside, in Chicago there are two D&B facilities, an ESPN Zone, GameWorks, DisneyQuest and more than one franchised laser tag zone, each centre comprising an estimated 200 coin-operated machines. Go back to the time machine, and you would not have found more than three independent amusement centres in operation during 1990, and no way would there have been over 900 machines in operation, and most definitely not 900+ of the latest expensive) dedicated titles. Agreed not every city centre or major conurbation boasts a mega-franchise facility, but don't count the industry out.
So away from this aside; what have we got to fill the obvious amusement vacuum that the last ten years of neglect and indecision has hoisted upon us? Agreed, since 1990 we have had some strong earners and some powerful amusement releases, but against the double diget new releases we saw released each year, we will be luck in 2000 to see a handful of releases before the years out. What many are asking is where is the next ‘Hydro Thunder', the next ‘Tekken' or the next ‘Daytona USA', to invigorate all our earnings.
From industry sources it is clear that shooting games will be making a major come back to the arcades for 2001 – 2002. All the key manufactures have homed their talents to produce politically incorrect, but still engrossing products. At the same time a number of driving games are in development for application in the market, and trusty re-hashes of past success will also make up a key component of the distributors future releases, (can anyone say House of the Dead 3?). But standing back from the ‘coming soon' sign we see a more complicated story.
For each development team that once supported an arcade project - 2000 has seen three jump ship and embrace console development or Internet projects. Especially in America the recent staffing problems to hit prestigious arcade developer has seen swathes of staff migrating to consoles and consumer. To develop on one of the new console systems is a vastly expensive venture, and 2000 offers seven different systems to gamble upon (Game Cube, DreamCast, Playstation, PS2, X-Box, N64 and conventional PC). At a million to million and a half development budget to compete with an A+ consumer game, then add amusement development on a NAOMI or PC based platform to the equation - and things look less than profitable.
The Name of the Game
To support the amusement market needs commitment, and a strength that many of the larger amusement manufactures have had eroded from underneath them. These companies have become ripe for merger and acquisition, especially at a time when development resources are essential to play a part in the new technology or e-commerce based ventures. So in 2000 we see Taito merge with Kyocera Multimedia, we see Jaleco become PCCW Japan, SNK acquired by former Universal (Aruze) and SEGA fragment into diverse groups, held operations, where once there were internal Amusement and Consumer R&D divisions. Considerable investment will follow into many of these groups, but how many will continue to support amusement is another question.
While Japan immerses itself in its first flush of e-commerce and Internet based gaming, we in the International amusement arena wait for our turn!
Capcom games such as ‘PowerStone 2' and the phenomenally success ‘Marvel Vs. Capcom 2' incorporate the use of ‘personal data assistant' (PDA) storage systems for their home market (Japan). These feature mean the collection of points gathered from the playing of the game in the arcades as well as on the DreamCast home version; combined with Internet usage to unlock secret selectable characters or progress to new levels of the game. Sega attempted similar features with their ‘Ferrari F355 Challenge' arcade machine, and their latest (Japanese) released of ‘Virtual On'. But for us outside of Japan these games were emasculated for the perceived backward nature of International players. While ‘Golden Tee-Force' finds Internet Tournament success, the larger manufactures see us player/operators as unsuitable for this technology.
Though my ‘editorial' time machine will not let us venture forwards in time it does not take a genius to ascertain one possible future we may enjoy. As the amusement manufactures of Japan suffer wild indecision regarding what they should produce and whom they should support, the vacuum for new content will be filled by other sources. To date there have been a number of new amusement entrants seeing Out-of-Home Entertainment (OHE) for what it is, understanding its constant troves and peaks. With the confusion immanent in the consumer sector, OHE offers a group entertainment, compared against the solitary features of consumer gaming and the Internet. The rise in popularity of themed bars and the new style restaurants a backlash to the PC and Console.
The game of the future will still strive to entertain, though the creation of giant temples to the latest computer Graphics hardware will be replaced by solid and dependable gaming experiences (though still upgraded to keep one step ahead of the competition). At the same time as we see the development teams in Japan fragment, we also understand that they may have lost the ‘plot' regarding what they are producing. It is surprising that realistic simulation so enthralled the developers while their audiences tired of the latest super realistic driving game. As politically incorrect as many would have us believe ‘Silent Scope' still draws a crowd, while Ferrari lays dormant. ‘Time Crisis II' still a strong earner while the grass grows around ‘Skins Game'.
Technology is king in our industry. New display technology, motion simulation at an affordable price, and revolutionary immersive technology on a grand scale is the name of our game. Echoing what other trade body executives have affirmed. The designers of the games need to focus on the path forward, exclusive thrills for games that are unachievable in the home - Rather than a quick buck for a game to be ported onto the consoles. Obviously we will loose many to the vagaries of the bright lights of the consumer sector, but for those who remain the picking could be very choice indeed.
Business Development Director
Tel: +44 208 222 9700