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Arcades are not dead, they just moved to our smartphones

Posted: , by Damian M.

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Arcades are not dead, they just moved to our smartphones
Gaming has evolved quite a bit since the 70s, when the first arcades were introduced. We now have multi-million dollar franchises, nearly lifelike 3D graphics, and huge amounts of games right next to our TVs.

This, of course, translated to the somewhat newer platforms, such as mobile gaming. Or did it, really? When we think about it, just how different are the majority of the games on our smartphones from those in the arcade venues 40 years ago? Let's put the original Pac-Man and Subway Surfers side by side and find out.

In order to do that, however, we first need to set something straight. What are the main traits of an arcade game? Arcades were defined by several key elements – most of them featured infinite repetitive gameplay, based on few simple mechanics; story, when present, was usually quite limited and was never the focus; players were given a finite number of lives to achieve the highest possible score.

Simple, infinite gameplay comes with infinite potential


When it comes to arcade games, simplicity is king. They have almost no story, no cutscenes, and almost no lore to explore. However, this doesn't mean that they don't have a surprising amount of depth to them, and won't take ages to truly master.

Pac-Man Kill Screen, Level 256 (Image by Wikipedia)
Let's take Pac-Man as an example. The gameplay is extremely simple – avoid the ghosts and eat all the pellets, move on to the next level, rinse and repeat. In theory, the game should be endless. However, as a lot of you might know, once level 256 is reached, the cabinet runs out of memory and glitches out.

Bottom line is that you could be stuck at the arcade for four or five hours straight, doing the same repetitive thing over and over again, until either you or the machine runs out of patience. This formula is what the majority of the mobile gaming market relies on. Subway Surfers, Candy Crush Saga, and Temple Run are only a handful of examples of the thousands upon thousands of infinite games on our smartphones.

In order to understand why such games are successful, we have to take a look at our next point.

The ultimate goal is the ultimate high score


There is no massive fire-breathing, warrior-stomping dragon of a final boss in the end of Centipede. Neither is there one in Fruit Ninja. The final boss are your own limitations. Each time you start a game, your goal is not to reach the last level, but to record a better score than your current best (or your friend's current best).

This is exactly what makes these games addicting. The satisfaction of bettering yourself is a thrill enough on its own to keep us clicking that restart button. And I have to admit, I have spent ungodly amounts of time starting games of 2048 over, just for that very reason.

Flipping Legend provides separate high scores for every aspect of its core gameplay.

We keep dropping quarters, kind of


Milking the infinite gameplay for cash is still a thing, just not exactly the same. Instead of dropping a quarter to restart Space Invaders, we now watch ads or pay a small fee to get past the time gate the developers inserted.

And, as we established before, the goal of reaching a new high score can be addicting. That's why we're more than happy to pay a dollar for a lives refill, or sit through 30 seconds of ads to receive a bonus that would make it easier to beat ourselves.

Some food for thought


Of course, these traits are not what all mobile games rely on. There are plenty of studios that go in a completely opposite direction and base their games on concepts that have been established in the modern PC and console market, or experiment with completely new possibilities that smartphones uncovered.

And while mobile games come in all shapes and sizes, it appears that the formula that developers default to, in order to produce an almost-guaranteed enjoyable title, seems to be that of the old arcade cabinets.

With all that in mind, next time you fire up a game on your smartphone, ask yourself something. Have we pushed forward towards what is mobile gaming now, or have we spent 40 years walking in circles?

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