Those of a certain generation, the children of the 1980s and early ‘90s, will recall fond memories of the golden age of the arcade game. They were commonly to be found in the corridors, nook or free wall of a cafeteria beside the Slush Puppy machine in public swimming pools, leisure centres, ice rinks, bowling alleys or the common room of caravan parks.
Many will recall a few favourites from the likes of Street Fighter to Golden Axe and Double Dragon, a couple of games on which were a weekly tradition at a regular haunt. Hammering away on the buttons, building up proficiency in the execution of special moves and pleading with parents for another coin to get to the next level. Quite possibly breaking down into a tantrum when the plea was firmly resisted.
By the early Nineties, the first generations of Sega and Nintendo home consoles and PCs signalled the end of the arcade game as a fixture in public spaces. The latest technology was able to shrink the processing power and hardware needed to run the same quality, and eventually far more sophisticated games and bring it into the home. It no longer made sense for kids to spend their limited pocket money budget on arcades and the tradition of a generation withered. Arcade games can still be found. In a handful of particular environments, it seems they cling to some kind of profitability. Perpetually retro bowling alleys, in the corner of a cinema foyer and motorway service stations. They are probably even still there in the common room of caravan parks. But I don’t know for sure, having not been in one for a long time.
History, it is said, moves in repeating cycles. The latest technology in the world of VR gaming is at a similar point to where traditional computer games were in the 1980s. Immersive VR gaming experiences that include motion simulation involve hardware that’s not yet commercially viable as mainstream home entertainment. So one start-up is going back to the arcade format to bring their product to market. Immotion VR has recently closed a £500,000 investment from Sure Ventures, a specialist fund in the VR technology space. It takes the total investment the company has secured to £1.8 million and the funds will be used to bring VR gaming and experience pods to cinemas, shopping malls, arcades and all of the kind of locations that once hosted previous generations of arcade games.
Immotion VC’s pods will initially focus on VR ‘experiences’, such as a jaunt through a dinosaur safari and a virtual House of Horrors-esque ride. However, games are planned to follow. The cost of VR headsets, around £500, and the limited number of games and experiences available for them, mean the technology has been slow to take off as mainstream entertainment. Immotion VR will hope that like previous generations of computer games, taking the arcade approach will popularise VR enough to build the demand that will then lead to a big enough market for a transition into the home. Perhaps in another 20 or 30 years, tomorrow’s 13-year olds will look back fondly on their weekly VR arcade tradition after swimming lessons.