High scores are, without a doubt, one of the most integral and enduring aspects of arcade gaming. In fact, the concept’s allure is still so strong that high scores have become a regular part of modern, online home console gaming, albeit as “leaderboards.” However, the arcade idea of high scores has, unfortunately, become a bit antiquated as time and technology have marched on. Although many modern titles provide QR code-based social media sharing support, and some have built-in online infrastructure for displaying global scores on the machine itself, some other games have, quite simply, been left in the past. When you nab that high score and enter a series of three to seven letters, it’ll basically be stuck there...forever. Local infrastructure, local renown—the exact opposite of what today’s gamer’s have come to expect.
This dilemma is obviously most prominent with classic arcade games, which were never privy to internet-connectivity. These games—and the scores they maintain—exist almost in a vacuum, distant from all else. Any given player’s three initials are practically anonymous and locked to a single arcade cabinet. And with some older titles erasing scores once the power is unplugged, a “high score” becomes almost inconsequential. The scores don’t breed player-versus-player competition as much as they encourage an individual to top his or her own scores. Considering how central scores are to arcade gameplay, this is downright tragic. Of course, more recent, offline arcade games (like, say, The Fast and the Furious or Time Crisis 4) allow for longer player names and save scores indefinitely, but they still don’t function as worldwide rankings. Players will never know how they compare to the best of the best—only how they stack up to those in their local area.
Fortunately, we’ve seen some efforts to remedy this in recent years. There’s always been Twin Galaxies for the most “official” rankings (although TG status is only really attainable for the most hyper-competitive gamers). And more recently, we’ve seen the birth of self-reported online rankings through Aurcade. With this site, arcade operators and players are able to relay the highest scores on games from their locations, and the best of the best are ranked nationally. However, while Aurcade is an excellent resource for documentation, it falls short in that it will never truly be complete. Not every arcade or player knows of the platform’s existence, and not every score will be reported. For that reason, Aurcade is a remarkable effort that absolutely gets the job done but isn’t quite perfect.
That’s why I’m somewhat intrigued by a new development from Royce D’Orazio and Don Adams of Royce’s Arcade Warehouse. For those not in the know, Royce’s Arcade is an arcade sales and repair warehouse based in Chatsworth, California, open to the public for freeplay gaming every Saturday. But now, to further expand their business model, Royce’s plans to put arcade game high scores online. Using a technology called “SmartCade,” the warehouse wants to pull high scores from every game in their arcade and share them with an online community. All a player has to do is scan the official smartphone app to the designated space on the cabinet to begin capturing his or her score. And when the game is complete, the score is sent to the SmartCade cloud, where it will be added to the user’s history of games played. If the player attains the high score that machine, his or her score will be shared publicly showcased on the SmartCade network. Anywhere that a “Royce’s SmartCade machine” is connected to the internet, players can participate and have their scores ranked amongst everyone else’s. Which, according to the Kickstarter video, will create the “first ever global retro arcade.” Click this (and I mean literally the underlined word "this") to see the Kickstarter. (Or click the word "Kickstarter," as well. Your choice.)
Admittedly, I was at first confused by how the technology is being advertised. In the video, D’Orazio explains it as a means of bringing his arcade to everyone in the country (without having to literally build multiple locations), and he explicitly stresses the “retro arcade” aspect. But after corresponding with him some more, I realized that this was something much broader. SmartCade isn’t exactly more Royce’s arcades, per se—rather, it’s boldly pushing the arcade community as a whole into the future. Due to the nature of brick-and-mortar venues, many arcade gaming communities are very localized, but this high score sharing infrastructure (and the idea of more encompassing features as the platform evolves) is very enticing. Aurcade is awesome—and I really appreciate it—but self-reporting scores has its limitations. A massive, national network of interconnected arcade games fueled by a unified service could solve all our problems and more.
As long as the technology isn’t too cost-prohibitive and the installation process is relatively simple for most arcade machines in existence, SmartCade could be a super cool innovation for the industry. (And the cost is key. From what I’ve heard, all of the “cashless” payment systems currently on the market are ridiculously expensive, and this is a fairly similar piece of hardware.) D’Orazio states that, “The cost would be minimal, if any at all; that depends on finishing the development and making some larger deals to implement the readers.” The plan at the moment is, naturally, to start the network with Royce’s Arcade because they have “100 different machines.” However, it will, as I’ve mentioned, be available to all arcades. (“That is the vision,” Royce said.) If the SmartCade network takes off, we arcade gamers could be privy to a very robust, competitive ecosystem. It’s exciting stuff.
As for bringing the technology to more arcades, that’s a bit of a long-term move. When asked about contacting game developers, Dave and Buster’s, and other local arcades, D’Orazio explained that, “I would approach everyone, but we need to finish the build out and add users.” However, I’m still pretty gripped by the concept. It’s like he told me: “At some point, all video game scores need to be indexed, and I really do think we can pull this off with enough word of mouth.” And if this could act a second pillar of sorts to more—for lack of a better word—official channels like Aurcade and Twin Galaxies, the coin-op gaming community could have something special on our hands. For too long, we’ve been limited by geography. I, personally, would love to compete on, say, The Fast and the Furious at my local Walmart with players across the world in semi-real-time. I want my scores to matter, ya know?
Of course, the end-game success of this product depends largely on operator support. And unless we really—and I mean, really—push for it, I’m afraid some arcade owners will cheap out and avoid the hassle of online infrastructure. But it pays to be positive, and that’s what I’m about. To see to this come to fruition, the Kickstarter needs to reach its goal...which is where the problem lies. As of right now, the project is at $319 of the $15,000 goal with 15 backers and 21 days to go. This isn’t exactly ideal. D’Orazio, however, seems to understand the hurdles. “If the Kickstarter doesn’t succeed,” he says, “we will still move forward, but it would be a lot easier and faster with the needed funding.” Which, I mean...makes sense.
As a quasi-journalist, I have to forewarn that with crowdfunding comes potential consequences. A crowdfunding campaign is not a guaranteed product but rather an investment in an idea. Whether the concept comes to light or not depends entirely on the team behind it. (See: A plethora of failed Kickstarters, or ones that didn’t turn out the way folks had hoped.) However, as an avid arcade gamer, I’m super-duper pumped for Royce’s Arcade putting high scores online. The little video game boy inside of me wants it to happen. Because if it doesn’t, I will be a sad video game boy.
I think what I find so compelling about SmartCade is that it is attempting to solve an industry problem that no one else, aside from (obviously) Aurcade, seems to be addressing. There is no unified, real-time, online scoring system in arcades. We’ve got a handful of services, such as Coin-Up from Play Mechanix (which is mainly used on Big Buck Hunter and only if the operators connects the machine), e-AMUSEMENT (which is only available in the West for the token locations with Dance Dance Revolution A), and Banapassport (which is only available in the West for Maximum Tune 5). All great options, yes, but none widely adopted. It seems to me as if Western operators and developers are digging their feet in the ground, avoiding online connectivity at all costs. And when operators and developers don’t make an oft-requested service available, it becomes the responsibility of third-parties, like Royce’s Arcade, to make it happen. Why shouldn’t we have a national index of arcade game scores? Or rather, why don’t we already? I just really like it when people answer the questions I’ve been asking for ages.
However, invest at your own risk. Watch the video, research Royce’s, and decide what you’re willing to put in. I like it—and boy do I want it to happen—but I’m not everyone. At the end of the day, you all get to decide where your money goes. But if SmartCade does end up as another miraculous Kickstarter success story (like Atari Pong Table before it), I’ll be mighty excited to see where it ends up. Honestly, I really hate Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing policy. It bars little startups from seeing even a penny of what they earned if they don’t meet their target goal. (And I do believe there are other platforms that don’t require an all-or-nothing basis.) Either way, it is how it is, so if you’re diggin’ this idea, I would highly recommend investing now. There’s, like, 20 days left, I guess.
We’ll certainly see what happens. The real test of this product’s might will be if they don’t meet their goal and SmartCade comes to fruition anyway. Obviously, it would easier with the funding, but you know. I’m just spreading the word. I am the arcade news boy, after all. Admittedly, part of my desire to support this technology comes from wanting to support the arcade industry as a whole. Throughout my journey with this blog, every single community member I've come in contact with has been incredibly generous and helpful. So when Royce reached out to me about his Kickstarter, I wanted to help the best way I knew how. That's where I am with this.
I literally cannot wait to see where Royce’s Arcade takes SmartCade next. Until next time, though, I’m out. See ya ‘round, ya sweaty flippin’ nerds.