Arcade Is Dead

Arcade is dead.

A statement made by Housemarque alongside the sad news that they’re leaving arcade videogames behind.

Arcade is, of course, bigger than Housemarque. There’s more of us keeping the spirit alive than Housemarque. Yet in many ways, they’re not wrong.

Making exploitation-free arcade games is playing to a dwindling audience. Games that you pay for once, games that value your time, these shortform oldschool games that crib from arcades and more specifically home computer variations and experiments, is playing ‘selling videogames’ on hard mode.

There is an audience for the sort of stuff I make, Housemarque make, Llamasoft make. Of course there is. I am happy and content with the reception my own work has met, I feel I’ve often been punching way above my weight in games and I’m grateful that it’s something others have appreciated.

Make no bones, the people we do reach have, in my personal experience, been one of the most wonderful and receptive audiences you could ask for. Kind, too.

It’s just the money thing, you know? It’s not really there in huge amounts for most of us.

This isn’t a complaint, this just is.

For many of us, it’s a passion first here (not that you don’t find this elsewhere in games because of course you do) almost out of necessity. There isn’t much choice in the matter because making money in games is hard, making ethical arcade games (don’t worry, we are all fully aware of the contradiction) is really hard.

Asking people to pay money for games that are designed to be put down and done with is tough enough elsewhere. In arcade, it’s brutal.

Yet despite that, many of us persist. The past few years we’ve seen folks hit new heights in arcade games. From the headrush of Llamasoft’s POLYBIUS to Housemarque’s Nex Machina, these are people at the top of their game. I find myself wrestling with it but Nex Machina, I think, may well be the best twin stick shooter that’s not Robotron. It’s an astounding work.

And there are folk with a lower profile doing amazing work. Assault Android Cactus, WEAREDOOMED, Waves, Bezier, Son Of Scoregasm – rich seams being tapped, fantastic games being made.

But yes. Getting sales is hard. I knew this 5 years ago when I dropped the first (and not great, tbh) iteration of Death Ray Manta. I knew this when releasing the special edition two years ago. I know this now as I slowly chip at the sequel.

Breaking out of this, making enough money to get by is rough. It has long been the case.

Arcade is dead, sure. At least in one form. Videogames evolve, times change. It happens. But still, I’m going to explode that corpse into millions of multicoloured particles a few more times.

I dunno, call it compulsion if you will. I call it “making the things I enjoy”.

I’ll miss Housemarque’s contribution but at least they went out on a high note. I only hope that if and when the time comes, I can bow out on something as wonderful as Nex Machina.

The arcade is dead. Long live the arcade.