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The new arcades

There seem to be two dominant business models for game arcades in 2015:

  • run it as a museum;

  • sell beer.

And even then, it’s tricky.

“Don’t do quarters,” Wilson says. “Local and state licensing and taxes are geared from the 1980s which makes it impossible to make a buck that way.” The laws aren’t up to date, and owners still have to pay the same amount to register arcade machines, even if revenue is much smaller than it was in the ’80s. Wilson adds that customers often think a quarter should hold the same 25-cent value in 2015 that it did in 1983.


[A]fter all the work that goes into finding these machines, they are then introduced to a world very different from the arcade homes they once knew. It’s akin to taking fragile dinosaur fossils from a museum collection and throwing them into the middle of a party.

“We have 20-30-plus-year-old video games in a very high-traffic, kind of high-energy environment,” Horne says. “The games tend to get pretty beat up.”

It’s surprising how much of a premium is placed on using vintage machines, given the problems with keeping them in repair.

A motherboard fried on KFS’s Off Road cabinet, and Horne has never been able to find a replacement. Some of the early Nintendo titles, such as Super Mario Bros., have systems that won’t work with newer monitors.

A museum is one thing, but you can imagine a working arcade using modular, replicated equipment. Modern computer guts running emulated software in rebuilt or reused cabinets. Call it physical emulation.

Maybe the market’s just not big enough to make it worthwhile. Or it would lack authenticity. It just doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to do (and could make new kinds of games and business models a lot more feasible).

(Related: see Laura June’s 2013 history of arcades.)