Arcade History: A Look Back at Early Coin-Op Games

Did you know that Skee-Ball was the very first arcade game ever? It was first advertised in 1909 by Billboard Magazine. Crazy, right?

Back in the 70s and 80s, arcades were all the rage. Home gaming consoles weren’t invented yet, so people would flock to arcades to play their favorite games. Fast forward to the present day, and video games have come a long way; however, arcades aren’t as popular as they used to be. But there’s still something special about playing games in an arcade that you just can’t replicate at home.

It can be fascinating to look back on the history of arcades and see how technology has evolved over the years. If you’re interested in learning more, keep reading for a quick trip down memory lane.

Where It Began

In the past, arcade bars were not equipped with games like Street Fighter or PAC-MAN. Instead, patrons would find themselves surrounded by coin-operated machines such as Pinball and Skee-Ball, which were more mechanical than video-based. Although these games were highly popular, the introduction of video games in arcades brought about a significant change. 

The first of its kind was Computer Space which was released in 1971. It fit in well alongside the other coin-operated games available at the time but offered a completely new experience. It was a simple game that required the player to control a rocket ship in space and battle against two smaller ships. While this game may seem rudimentary by today’s standards, it was revolutionary at the time. This marked the beginning of a wave that saw the development of a vast range of arcade games that continued to evolve and become more advanced over the years.

The Most Iconic Games in Arcade History

Arcade gaming has seen an abundance of games throughout its history. However, there are a select few that have left an indelible mark on the industry, shaping the landscape for the biggest video games of our time. These games are considered the most iconic in arcade history:

Space Invaders

Released in 1978, the game featured pixelated aliens descending to invade Earth while the player controlled a spaceship at the bottom of the screen, trying to shoot them down before they reached the ground. What made this game so popular was its simplicity and addictive gameplay – it was easy to pick up but difficult to master. Space Invaders paved the way for future arcade games and helped establish video gaming as a popular pastime. Even today, gamers continue to play and appreciate this iconic title that has stood the test of time.


This classic video game has been entertaining players for over four decades. In the game, you control a smiley face character and navigate it through a maze while eating dots and avoiding ghosts. The objective of the game is to clear the entire maze without getting caught by any ghosts. PAC-MAN offers a simple yet addictive gameplay experience that has stood the test of time. Despite its age, it remains one of the most recognizable and iconic video games in history, with merchandise and spin-offs featuring its lovable characters. 

Donkey Kong

Released in 1981 by Nintendo, the game featured the character of Mario, who was tasked with rescuing his girlfriend from the clutches of Donkey Kong, the game’s main antagonist. Donkey Kong is considered to be one of the founding games in the platformer genre and has had a significant impact on video game history. The game’s success helped establish Nintendo as a major player in the video game industry and propelled them into releasing more successful titles like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. 

Today, Donkey Kong remains a beloved classic among gamers worldwide. Its simple but challenging gameplay mechanics and iconic characters have firmly placed it in pop culture history while inspiring future generations of platformers and other types of games.

Street Fighter

Created by Capcom in 1987, this fighting game franchise became a cornerstone of the video game industry. The game revolves around two characters engaging in combat to deplete each other’s health bar and emerge victorious. With its diverse array of fighters and iconic special moves, Street Fighter has been regarded as one of the most influential fighting games of all time. Its competitive scene has seen worldwide success, with both professional players and casual gamers participating in tournaments. 

Furthermore, it paved the way for future fighting games by introducing new mechanics, such as combos and special move inputs that have become industry-standard features. Despite starting out as an arcade game, Street Fighter is now available on various platforms, including consoles and PC, ensuring its longevity within the gaming community for years to come.

Daytona USA

First released in 1994, this game gained immense popularity for its realistic graphics, exhilarating gameplay, and impressive sound effects. Developed by Sega AM2, Daytona USA boasts three different race tracks and eight unique cars to choose from. The game allows players to experience the sensation of driving at high speeds while competing against other players or computer-controlled opponents. It also features a championship mode where players can progress through various stages and compete for the ultimate prize – a chance to become the champion of Daytona USA. 

Due to its widespread appeal, Daytona USA has been ported to various consoles and mobile devices over the years. Even today, it remains a beloved classic among gamers who appreciate fast-paced racing games.

House of the Dead

Sega first released this first-person shooter game in 1996.  The player assumes the role of an agent tasked with fighting against a wave of undead creatures, fighting their way through numerous levels occupied by increasingly complex enemies and end bosses. The game’s mechanics are designed to test not only players’ reflexes but also their accuracy and tactical abilities, as they must dodge bullets and other hazards while maintaining their aim on the zombies. The arcade version featured dual light guns for two-player co-op gameplay, which added to the thrill of the experience.

Despite its age, House of the Dead remains popular due to its mix of classic arcade-style gameplay and horror elements, which continue to appeal to fans today.

Other Games

Most arcades offer more than just video games. Generally, a diverse range of options offering a unique experience can be found. Some of the most popular choices include:

  • Air Hockey
  • Bubble Hockey
  • Foosball
  • Pool
  • Shuffleboard

These games are perfect for those who want to take a break from video games. Additionally, Pinball, Skee-Ball, and Arcade Basketball are also highly sought after and commonly found in arcades.

Modern Arcades

Many modern arcades have evolved into social spaces, offering food and drinks for patrons to enjoy while they play. When visiting an arcade today, there’s a good chance you won’t see these original games but instead updated versions. Many arcades might opt for newer versions of games like House of the Dead, Tekken, Time Crisis, Dance Dance Revolution, and more.

With the rise of online gaming, modern arcades have had to adapt and offer unique experiences that can’t be replicated at home. For example, some games have features like full booths with surround sound or seats that move that, make for a more immersive experience. Newer games may have advanced features that add to the gaming experience, such as modern lightgun arcade games. They can include features like haptic feedback or interactive reloading — House of the Dead Three even uses a shotgun-style lightgun, the perfect weapon for going on a zombie-killing spree.

Many modern arcades still feature a mix of old and new games, and despite the modern changes, the nostalgia of classic arcade games still draws in crowds reminding people why they fell in love with arcades in the first place.

Emporium Arcade Bar

While arcades are less common than they once were, there are still some awesome spots to get your gaming fix. Emporium Arcade Bar has a range of locations across the US in Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, and San Francisco.

If you have an interest in arcade history, this is the perfect venue for you. We have a wide range of classic games available such as Asteroids, Galaga, Tetris, Crazy Taxi, and many more. We also have plenty of Pinball machines, Skee-Ball, and other table games.

Take a look at our Games page to see a full selection of what we have available at our arcades.

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