Today, I write to you not of how I would improve the arcade industry, but rather I tell a tale of woe. You see, I was 90 percent finished with the aforementioned article, and I was slowly coming to a starkly bleak realization. Me? Write a list of points on how arcade games could improve? It was positively preposterous in the face of my sheer lack of experience as anything beyond a player. Never have I been an operator; and certainly have I never been a developer. I was ill-equipped to make such bold claims.
But hark—what did I hear next? I heard the chilling echoes of the final nail in the coffin, for last Saturday, something far more important came up for me to write about. Besides, I ain’t publishing no gosh darn ill-informed article to the web! I’ve gotta digital reputation to protect!
Yeah, despite that unnecessarily superfluous introduction, I’m being dead serious. I just didn’t feel ready to publish an article about how to improve arcade games, especially since I didn’t even feel that hot about the arcade pricing article. Thankfully, I’ve accepted my role on the internet: I’m just some kid who writes about personal arcade experiences and occasionally reviews a game or talks about recent news from Arcade Heroes. I’m not this big force of arcade power that needs to tell arcade games how to improve themselves.
But speaking of personal arcade experience, I’m highly considering writing an article about my history playing arcade games. Let’s hope I actually do that, because I also want to write an article about kind of a “fantasy list” of arcade games I’d totally want Raw Thrills to make.
Now you may be wondering what that “final nail in the coffin” was, especially since I prioritized it over a nearly finished article. (You’re probably curious about why my title is so long and weird, too. We’ll get to that.) Well, come along with me, and I shall tell you.
It all started on a Saturday like any other. Well, I suppose it wasn’t like any other; after all, it was my younger brother’s birthday! And to celebrate his birthday, we took him to the Rollerdome Fun Plex, a place that is pretty much the undisputed king of hosting elementary school-aged children’s birthday parties in our city. That’s mostly because it’s the only real entertainment available outside of an indoor bouncer place and a movie theater, though.
You’re probably wondering what the Rollerdome is, and luckily for you, I will gladly take the liberty of telling you about it. Here, I’m gonna try to make it sound like the beginning of a Wikipedia article: “The Rollerdome Fun Plex is a skating rink based in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. It’s owned by this guy who’s, like, running for state representative or something named Walker Thomas, and it’s been open for, like, ever.” You know, I’d say I nailed that Wikipedia format. Well, give or take a few stylistic errors.
But in most seriousness, that’s it. The Rollerdome’s been here forever. I personally have always loved the place, so I was really glad that Gavin asked to go there for his birthday. My mom never takes us because, well, she doesn’t exactly appreciate the smell of mold and the decrepit building. But if you’d like to get a feel for the place, here’s a video from the Hopkinsville Christian Country YouTube channel or whatever. To picture our visit to the Rollerdome, just imagine that there’s only one family skating, because that’s literally what happened. We were the only ones there. The only time the Rollerdome is busy is during birthday parties or late at night.
I, for one, think (or perhaps thought) the Rollerdome was awesome. Why? When I was a first or second grade kid in Hopkinsville, it was the coolest place in the universe. The best birthday parties were always at the Rollerdome, and the Rollerdome had the best stuff. What’s this “stuff” I’m referring to? The skating rink (of course), the big play area in the back, and the arcade games.
Let me stop you right there. I just said arcade games, didn’t I? Yeah, I’ll admit that that may have been part of my motivation for wanting to go there. My brother likes arcade games, too, so it’s cool, and I skated with him plenty.
Now back in my day (even though I’m only 16 so I can’t utter such a phrase), the Rollerdome had just a few games. These included The House of the Dead, Lucky and Wild, NASCAR Arcade, a few cruddy redemption pieces, and some DDR machine that was literally never turned on. The House of the Dead was a game that always intrigued me as a child, especially when I and a few other people were gathered around this guy who got to the first boss. Then, there was Lucky and Wild, which was always on and looking appealing, but had completely busted controls. And NASCAR Arcade I never played as a child.
You can imagine that, when I saw all of those new games on a Christian County YouTube video, I was pretty gosh darn excited. I simply couldn’t believe that the Rollerdome had bothered to update that much!
But alas, we now approach the part of the story that makes my title so incredibly negative. Get ready to be scratching your head in confusion at the actions I proceed to take.
When I walked into the Rollerdome with my younger brother and the rest of my family for his birthday, I scanned the game selection. They had NASCAR Arcade, two FnF cabinets, San Francisco Rush 2049, Sports Shooting USA (apparently Atomiswave cabs are more common than I thought), Hydro Thunder, The House of the Dead, and Target: Terror. They also had a Sega pinball machine and even MORE cruddy redemption pieces. You know what was awesome? Seeing all of those games in person. You know what wasn’t awesome? Seeing that the only working videogames were NASCAR Arcade, The House of the Dead, and Target: Terror. And from what I saw on the machines, the games are operated by Alpha-Bet Entertainment. I guess I should have realized that plenty of people had this “free game but you have to split the earnings” idea before me.
Luckily, my brother and I got to try out Target: Terror for just a little bit, and I learned that that game is FUN. Eugene Jarvis really knows how to nail arcade-style gameplay, that’s for gosh darn sure. It’s why Raw Thrills is as hugely successful as it is today. Now that I mention it, I kinda miss early Raw Thrills. Then again, early Raw Thrills didn’t have Play Mechanix, and therefore did not have Terminator Salvation. Moving on!
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try out The House of the Dead (I’ll play you someday, you elusive videogame), but I did play NASCAR Arcade. The game was fun and the sound was killer, but I was terrible at playing it and it cost 3 tokens per credit. So I didn’t play that one too long at all. I would have played that Sega pinball game, but it didn’t work, because apparently the Rollerdome either destroys their games or Alpha-Bet Entertainment doesn’t know how to maintain said games. (I’m betting it’s a mixture of the former and the latter. People beat up the games at the Rollerdome, and it becomes almost not worth the money to Alpha-Bet to fix anything.)
But heh, you’re really gonna laugh at this next bit. You know how I said only three games work? Well, I was really banking on getting to beat either The House of the Dead or Target:Terror. So I, uh…I put $15 in the token machine.
Yeah, I’m a real egghead.
It turns out I’m not allowed to play those with my brothers in such close proximity, so I basically lost all of that money. I mean, I wasn’t good at NASCAR, so why waste tokens on that? I figure that I’ll come back alone someday and beat a good ol’ light gun rail shooter with the plethora of tokens I didn’t actually use.
It still hurts to think about how completely brain-dead it was for me to put ALL of that money in the token machine. I could have purchased a 3DS game or something if I had known I couldn’t play the games! But alas, I have zero common sense, and that is where half of today’s title comes from. You’re probably wondering where the other half of the title came from, right? Well, we’re just about to get to that.
After my little financial mishap, I gave myself a punishment. I won’t be spending any money for the next few months, and any money I accrue will go straight in my bank account. Of course, this wasn’t a completely fruitless adventure. I learned some things at this rather impactful day at the Rollerdome, so let’s go over it in a kind of half-sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek way.
Always assess your surroundings. If there’s token machine right next to the games, don’t turn all of your money into tokens at the front desk because you worry you won’t make it back in time to continue if you run out of money.
Don’t kid yourself. If the games are violent, you probably aren’t allowed to play them in front of your brothers. Just wait, and someday you’ll get to try out all of those arcade games you’ve dying to play.
Never spend any money ever. I’m a complete buffoon, ya know that?
And finally, tokens are the most dastardly force of evil in the entire universe. Yes, we have reached the second half of my pessimistic title, and it is something I simply cannot fit in one bullet point. Lemme press the Enter key real quick-like.
No seriously, I hate tokens—with a passion. And by being essentially the same concept, I hate card swiping systems. Before I criticize tokens, let me direct you to an archived magazine article I once found called “Brother Can You Spare a Token?” from the Spring 1983 issue of Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games (Vol. 1, No. 1). This particular article was written by Mr. Owen Linzmayer. (And here’s a link if you want to read the whole thing. Before I was scarred by the gosh darn Rollerdome, I found it to be interesting reading.)
So after introducing us to the then-recent development of the token in the arcade industry, Mr. Linzmayer gives us his thesis statement, as I suppose a high school English teacher would call it. He writes, “Why would anyone want to use a token in the first place; isn't a quarter just as good? Not to most arcade hall owners. Tokens offer many advantages in the arcade. Most of these advantages benefit the game room operators, but some help the players as well.”
And that’s where I first take objection to the implementation of tokens in arcades. That’s a good question, Mr. Linzmayer. Isn’t a quarter just as good? In my opinion, the benefits for the operator FAR outweigh the benefits for the player. However, let’s keep reading. I shouldn’t cast a judgment just yet.
Next, Mr. Linzmayer gives us what is perhaps the most operator-centric benefit to tokens ever. He writes, “The problem with quarters is that you can spend them anywhere you like. If the manager of an arcade hall goes to the trouble of breaking a dollar for you, he wants those quarters--all of them--in his machines. Unfortunately, there is nothing that forces you to spend them at his establishment.
“If, however, you receive tokens that are honored only in his establishment, you have no use for them elsewhere. In such cases, you usually feel obligated to spend them right there and then. Americans, being an orderly people, don't want strange tokens jingling around in their pockets all day long, so they spend them to simplify their lives. This is exactly what the operators want.”
And that, my friends, is precisely the conundrum I have run into with my Rollerdome tokens. I’d say that 97 percent of that is my fault for being such a doofus and blowing $15 bucks in a token machine, but the other 3 percent is the fault of tokens for being so systemically dumb by their very own nature. But I don’t know; maybe I can still be convinced…still be converted to tokens. (I would say that I’m too embittered to make puns, but that one was just too good to pass up.)
What’s your next reason, Linzmayer? What other reasons do you have for supporting pure evil? Well, let’s see. Next, Mr. Linzmayer tells us this: “One of the worst ailments that can strike an arcade game is a jammed coin mechanism. Obviously, if a machine can't accept coins, it can't be profitable. A coin mechanism can fail if an imperfect coin is placed in it. At best, this happens rarely. But, every time it does happen, it costs the owner money in the form of lost revenue.
“Tokens have the advantage that they are used solely for vending machines, thereby avoiding the misuse to which common coins are subject--how often have you tried to remove a screw with a token? Since tokens lead a rather pampered life, they tend to last longer. If a token is somehow damaged, it can be replaced with another inexpensive token.
“Because tokens are less likely to jam machines, game players find more games in working order.”
Wow. That’s actually a really compelling reason for both operator AND players to prefer tokens. I mean, Lake Barkley’s game room used quarters, and they had at least one set of coin mechs that was completely and utterly obliterated. Could such a fate be avoided if they made the switch to tokens? For the sake of supporting my own bias, I’m going to assume some kid vandalized the coin mechs because there’s no attendant in that game room. Yeah, that’s it. Quarters didn’t do this, I tell you!
For the sake of brevity on this already 6-page Word document, I’ll just tell you that Mr. Linzmayer’s final two points in support of tokens are as follows: Tokens are less attractive to thieves (be it an employee checking cashboxes or just some kid), and tokens can be part of giveaways or freebies to get players playing games. And yeah, these reasons don’t really do too much for me. Since tokens aren’t real money, I suppose that’s good for operators looking to avoid thievery cashboxes. Also, the whole freebie thing is good, but I still have my heart set on quarters. Before I get in my opinion on the subject, though, let’s take a look at this dude’s last sentence in the entire article:
“If you haven't seen a token yet, you probably will soon. It is a slow process, but more and more arcades are converting to tokens. Their advantages are many, and their drawbacks few.”
WHAT. Their advantages are many, and their drawbacks few? Yeah, for the operator, I guess. Tokens aren’t the best thing in the world, dude. But hey, I can’t go saying something like that. After all, just because I’m some embittered little loser who lost $15 to tokens doesn’t mean I can go criticizing Mr. Owen Linzmayer. That’s why, in my case against tokens, I’d like to zero-in on one especially key component of the systemic brokenness of tokens: Like the guy said, you can’t spend them anywhere else.
Now I may be an extreme example (spending $15 on tokens only to be not allowed to play two out the three games that actually work), but I still think this is totally bogus for players. When I went to Lake Barkley’s game room, I brought a bag full of quarters. Why? Because that’s how you play arcade games. And you know what I did? I spent every last bit of it on Demolish Fist. I know that operators want to get all of your quarters if they break a dollar for you, but geez, is it that bad to spend the remainder of our money somewhere else? This is totally whack! (Oh gosh, the cringe. I’m sorry for saying “whack.”)
Sigh, I’ll just quit while I’m ahead. I’m a bit to embittered by my own lack of brain cells to properly write a piece against tokens.
Before I let you go, I’d like to bring up something that made my tokens somewhat worth it at the Rollerdome Fun Plex: Fun-E-Ball.
If you’ve never heard of it, Fun-E-Ball, is a redemption piece that involves driving a ball through a maze. There are both whimsical sound effects and the ability to score a bonus prize. For whatever reason, I really like ball redemption games. Like, you know how I really dislike redemption arcade games, right? Ticket games, claw machines, all that stuff. But for just the weirdest reason, I really, really like bouncy ball redemption games. I assume that I like them because you literally always win. The ball games don’t cheat. You just put in your quarter and get a ball, simple as that. What makes Fun-E-Ball especially appealing is that the bonus is so incredibly easy to get that you can essentially double the value of your quarter every single time you play. I think I won, like, fifteen balls or something for my brothers. It was fun, ya know?
So what else have I learned from my Rollerdome experience? If I ever start an arcade, I’ll never make my games run on tokens, and I’ll be sure to buy Target: Terror and Fun-E-Ball. Of course, don’t hold me to that token thing. Someday, when I become an operator, I will become much more knowledgeable about the arcade industry, and I may learn that tokens really are the way to go. But for now, with my small 16-year-old brain, I’ve resolved to always have my games run on quarters.
Thanks for reading. It’s been a pretty cool summer. Keep it real, or whatever the heck I say at the end of these articles.