A Brief History of Arcade Games and Activities

From Space Invader to Frogger to Defender, arcade games have long been a quintessential aspect of American youth. And for many, they’re the basis of some fond childhood memories.

But what is the history of arcade games? How did they capture — and continue to capture — the imaginations of generations of Americans? From their roots in classic pinball machines to their contemporary status as nostalgic artifacts, here’s a brief history of arcade games.

The Pinball Craze: 1930s

The earliest incarnation of arcade games debuted in the 1930s with the invention of the pinball machine. An Americanized version of the French game bagatelle, pinball machines quickly became a popular pastime for Depression-era Americans who craved inexpensive forms of entertainment.

The first pinball machines were built without flippers, so players had to maneuver the pinballs into holes by tilting them in the direction where they wanted the ball to travel. When flippers were introduced in 1947, they sparked a wave of innovations in the pinballing industry that rose during the 1950s, including:

  • Multi-player pinball machines
  • Scoring fields
  • Advanced playing mechanisms

The pinball machines of the 1950s further revolutionized the ones that came before, thanks to more artistic designs. They were a far cry from the computerized arcade games that would come out a few decades later, but they helped prime the public for the coming arcade craze.

The Birth of Arcade Games: Early 1970s

For most people, the era of arcade games began in the early 1970s. It was then that computerized arcade games were first introduced to the general public, starting with the game “Computer Space” in 1971. “Computer Space” was developed by the gaming duo Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, inspired by “Spacewar!”, a popular two-player computer game from 1961.

“Computer Space” was something of a flop. Although the concept was pretty simple — you piloted a spaceship through outer space, encountering enemy-piloted flying saucers to shoot down before they shot you — early gaming audiences found it too challenging to be enjoyable. However, Bushnell and Dabney met with success the following year when they released “Pong,” the now-iconic arcade version of Ping Pong that’s often credited with giving birth to computerized arcade games as we know them today.

The Golden Age of Arcade Games: 1978-1983

When “Pong” was released in 1972, it ushered in the era of arcade games known as the Paddle Game era, which flourished until 1975 or so. But as the end of the 70s drew near, gaming audiences wanted something different from arcade games than computerized versions of table tennis.

The industry responded with a fleet of games now considered icons on any reputable arcade games list, including the Pac-Man arcade game, Frogger, and Space Invaders. In 1978, arcade gaming officially entered its golden age. This age lasted until 1983 and saw the release of games with unforgettable titles such as the Pac-Man arcade game, Frogger, and Galaxian. Other classic games of this era include:

  • Tetris
  • Berserk
  • Donkey Kong
  • Rally-X
  • Centipede

The groundbreaking companies formed during the Golden Age of Arcade Games developed and released these popular games. Companies such as Nintendo, Sega, Namco, and Konam debuted during this period and helped make arcade games popular in the 1980s, particularly in the United States and Japan. The popularity of arcade games was also driven by the growing popularity of shopping malls in America, which often featured arcades and other places with arcade games, such as bowling alleys and roller skating rinks.

The Downturn: Late 1980s

Despite the enthusiasm for arcade games during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the games began to fall out of fashion as the 80s drew close. They enjoyed a modest renaissance after 1985 with the invention of conversion kit systems, which allowed multiple games to be played on a single arcade machine. Notable examples of the late-80s conversion kits include:

  • Atari’s System 1
  • Nintendo’s VS System
  • Sega’s Convert-A-Game

Still, even conversion kits couldn’t compete with the coming reign of the at-home gaming console. The first at-home consoles were released in the early 1970s, including the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari’s at-home version of “Pong.” But the release of systems like Sega’s Genesis and Nintendos’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the early 1990s spelled the end of the arcade boom.

Fighting Games and 3D Graphics: The 1990s

At-home consoles from Sega, Nintendo, and other companies gave way to the uptick in martial arts-based fighting games. Soon, traditional arcade games adopted fighting games to entice crowds back into arcades. These games also used modern technology and 3D graphics to sway audiences away from their living room TVs. In 1991, Capcom released Street Fighter II, initiating a boom in arcade fighting games and inspiring a wave of imitators, such as:

Throughout the 90s and into the 21st century, at-home gaming consoles and computer gaming continued to gain favor. Arcade games and arcades have managed to stay afloat amidst the competition. They’ve become popular among adults who want to relive the nostalgia of their youth with classic arcade games. Younger people are drawn to contemporary arcades thanks to popular modern games like Dance Dance Revolution and alternate entertainment options like laser tag.

Relive the Golden Age of Arcade Games

Whether you’re trying to recapture your youth with your closest pals or you want to introduce your children to the fun-filled world of video arcades, there’s one thing to do in Austin you can’t miss: Pinballz. Only at Pinballz will you find Texas’ most extensive collection of classic and modern arcade games, plus an incredible selection of pinball machines. It’s the place to go among Austin event spaces for guaranteed gaming fun.

But we’re more than just games. From delicious food truck-style refreshments to full bar and restaurant dining, Pinballz has everything you need for a good time and entertainment everyone can enjoy.

The Premier Austin Arcade Event Space

Discover the ideal venue for your next celebration at Pinballz, the premier event space in Austin, Texas. Our expansive and vibrant setting makes us the perfect choice for large-scale arcade parties and memorable celebrations.

Choose Pinballz for Your Event

Immerse your guests in the thrill of our extensive collection of classic and modern arcade games. Our gaming options will keep everyone entertained, from nostalgic pinball machines to the latest virtual reality experiences.

Mikki’s Tavern and The Whiskey Bar

Pinballz Lake Creek and Pinballz Kingdom boast fully stocked bars, ready to quench your thirst with various craft beers, cocktails, and beverages. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere while enjoying your favorite drink.

BYOB Policy at The Original Arcade

On the flip side, our Original Arcade follows a Bring Your Own Beverage (BYOB) policy, allowing players to customize their gaming experience with their preferred beer or wine beverage. Perfect for a retro date night.

Whether you’re organizing a corporate team-building event, a birthday extravaganza, or a unique celebration, Pinballz provides the ultimate setting for a memorable experience. Contact us today to explore our event spaces and start planning the perfect gathering in the heart of Austin. Your unforgettable celebration begins at Pinballz!

Contact us today to organize your event and plan fun activities in Austin.