My Thoughts on Arcade Port-Begging
A particularly controversial topic in the arcade community is that of port-begging—a phenomenon in which players repeatedly request console ports of modern arcade games, usually on social media.
I used to most frequently see players ask for home ports of Raw Thrills’ titles, but recently, I’ve seen a much greater demand for home ports of Exa-Arcadia titles and the exclusive content that comes with them. The latter point is primarily what spurred me to pen this very piece.
Since this is a rather broad subject—with varying opinions from both arcade owners and gamers alike—I want to provide an appropriately nuanced take that lies somewhere in the middle.
Whey aren’t there as many home ports in the current era? Quite frankly, it all comes down to money. Console ports tend to hamper arcade earnings the very moment they drop. This problem is exacerbated with genres that bear fewer distinguishable differences whether played in an arcade or at home, such as one-on-one fighters.
“In January 2011, I ordered a Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition kit,” said Adam Pratt, owner of the Game Grid Arcade in West Valley City, Utah. "I did so because Taito & Capcom had stated that the version would only be available for arcades, and I got a strong positive reaction online just floating the idea. At $10k for a computer & dongle (no artwork!), it was a risk, but I figured it would pay off.
“Unfortunately due to various reasons, including the massive Japanese Tohoku earthquake, I didn't get the kit until April—literally just a few weeks after Capcom reversed course and said that due to the quake, they'd release it to home. The purchase was non-refundable, so I was out of luck. During the month and a half that I had the game, it was amazing—it made back about a 5th of its cost. I had 40-50 guys waiting for me to open every day, something I've never had happen again.
“But literally the day that it became available on consoles, 99% of that crowd didn't come back,” he said. “I had to drop the price from 75¢ a play to 25¢ to get people interested, and I still had weeks where the much older SF2 beat it. I never made my money back, although it didn't help that after a couple of years the unit died and I couldn't send it back to Capcom for a repair.”
The lack of consistent access to arcades is a prominent reason why so many players fervently crave home versions of new arcade games. Not everyone lives in a big city with a laundromat and pizza parlor on every corner. Some people, to put it bluntly, live in the middle of nowhere.
I personally split my time between two small towns that both boast plenty of arcade games but very few new arcade games. If I want to play House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn or Time Crisis 5, I have to drive 90 minutes to the Nashville, Tennessee Dave & Buster’s, which is far from convenient.
Another point of contention is the lack of access to the exclusive content found in some arcade releases, most notably on the Exa-Arcadia platform. Every Exa-Arcadia release is required to include extra features beyond what the home version offers. Some gamers aren’t fans of this practice.
I don’t mind arcade-exclusive content simply because I understand why it’s necessary. Arcades need their “killer apps”—their “must-see TV”—to draw people onto their floors. I doubt most players will venture out and pump quarters to play something identical to what they can get at home.
With all that being said, I think one of the main driving factors behind port-begging is that a good chunk of gamers just plain don’t care to leave their homes anymore. Call me pessimistic, but you can’t call me wrong.
As for me, I’ve no quibble with home ports whatsoever. I enjoy having the opportunity to practice a game as much as like before taking those skills back to the arcade. (If only you knew how much time and energy I’ve dumped into Time Crisis 3 and Crazy Taxi on my PlayStation 2.)
I know that’s not a common mentality, though, given that most players will likely opt to stay home completely if given the option. Whether or not the player community continues to support the coin-op version of a game depends on a multitude of factors.
For some, the arcade atmosphere is enough to bring them back.
“I would play if the arcade version offers something the home version doesn't,” said UK-based player MarkExists. “Which could be the ability to show off, play against others or to a lesser extent exclusive content. Though most of that is dependent on the location rather than the game itself.”
Others enjoy the in-person competition facilitated by coin-op.
“If you're good at the home console or PC version then the arcade version is a good opportunity to show off by placing on the scoreboard or challenging others,” said Andy Madin of Onion Soup Interactive. “This aspect of it works for me. Plus, some games just feel better in the arcade no matter now good the port is. I don't get to visit arcades often but when I do I like to mix it up and play some familiar games and some that I've never played or seen before.”
Yet some require arcade-exclusive content to warrant the expenditure.
“If the home version offers far more content than the arcade version, I would not be compelled to play the arcade version,” said California-based player John McGrath. “Home video games, whether it be computer, consoles, or mobile, have the huge advantage of providing design flexibility and players have complete control on how much time they spend with the games. Arcade locations with video games have far less flexibility, which means that arcade video games live and die by exclusive [content] and the ability to entertain the player the whole way through, something that home video games can afford to loosen up the excitement.”
Still, I hope we can find a middle ground between lifetime arcade exclusivity and rapid-fire home ports. I’ve always thought that holding off on home ports for at least 5 years is the best way to ensure an operator makes a return on his or her investment while also affording players a more convenient—and better preserved—means of playing their favorite arcade games.
Developers could incentivize trekking out to an arcade even after the advent of a home port by implementing cross-saves and/or cross-play between the coin-op and console versions. Such functionality already exists in older titles like F-Zero AX/GX, NFL Blitz, Dance Dance Revolution, and the Neo-Geo.
“The idea of homeporting an arcade title should depend on its availability on the arcade game market,” said arcade YouTube creator Jdevy. “If the game is common like Cruis’n Blast, it’s best not to homeport. I think devs should wait a pretty long time until deciding on porting a title. If a game becomes truly hard to find (most FECs with the title have rotated it out, game is discontinued as well), I guess that’d be a good time to port it.
“I’d say if a game has a console and arcade release, exclusive features would help encourage players to go out and play,” he continued. “Hypothetically, [The House of the Dead] remakes come to arcades. An arcade exclusive online leaderboard for participating locations would encourage players with the game at home to play. Maybe some certain secret routes that can give players a secret code to use on console for extra Easter eggs. Then there's also the true light gun control that’d make it stand out from the console version if they aren't making guncons for that.”
While I can’t ascertain that these ideas would ensure the continued success of a given arcade game in the face of its respective home port, I have a strong feeling they would at least lessen the inevitable drop in earnings. Again, I’m just trying to find a compromise here.
Port-begging would be totally fine if didn’t offer veer into absurdity and—dare I say it—entitlement. There are some who believe that every arcade game requires a home translation and that it must include all the same content. As I’ve already explained, this isn’t always the case.
“If the arcade video games can provide controls which cannot be translated to home easily, then porting the experience onto the home version will be much more difficult,” said McGrath. “If the arcade video game only consist of controls that are very familiar, then it may be subject to lots of request of ‘port begging’, regardless of exclusive content that is planned between the arcade in home versions.
“I have no judgment on port begging, but it can be taken too far if a collective hive mind want to argue about it,” he added.
To anyone who wants to see more home ports in the future, try to keep in mind that the arcade industry has to compete for its dollars. Perhaps you can offer developers constructive suggestions for how coin-op and console releases can coexist, much like I have in this article.
I certainly hope you enjoyed my take on the subject. To reiterate, I’m a big fan of home ports; I just recognize that they’re tricky to pull off. My goal was to add a little sumthin’ to the “internet discourse” as it were.
Thanks for stopping by my little arcade blog today. While you’re here, consider following me on Twitter or joining my Discord server. (We talk about this kind of stuff all the time on Discord.)
See ya ‘round, people.