Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Brought back to life through the hugely popular Netflix’s series ‘Stranger Things’, the coin-op arcade machines of the 70s and 80s witnessed ‘bucket loads’ of coins feeding machines to fuel the battle for leader board supremacy. The popular games of the time included Pac Man, Defender and Donkey Kong and their popularity led to 13,000 amusement arcades operating in United States in 1982. However, alongside this explosion in gaming centres, the games themselves were mastered by many. Games publishers responded by making their games harder and thereby lost the mainstream ‘casual’ gamers in the process. Combined with the popular notion that they were not the best place for kids to be left alone, , gaming centres began to close down just as fast as they’d opened up.
However, in the early 90s, Nintendo released Street Fighter II, which resulted in the renaissance of the gaming arcade centre. Players were encouraged to experience the game in an arcade rather than at home on their SNES.
In 1994, Sony released PlayStation which lead to more gaming at home than in arcades. When Microsoft brought out Xbox, it seemed to cement a lack of inclination to leave home, but gaming was entering a golden period.
With increased bandwidth available dedicated LAN (local area networks) parties emerged where like-minded gamers (or ‘nerds’ as they lovingly described themselves) got together to compete either for fun or for a prize. At the same time, there was a growth in gaming centres and internet cafes, which promised faster speeds and better rigs (monitor, PCs, keyboards, and mice) than any player could access at home. LAN parties offered gamers the chance to bring their home rigs to a dedicated event space and share their love of gaming with friends in an offline environment. (The largest number of attendees to a LAN event was 22,810 at the Dreamhack Festival, November 2013, Sweden).
Whilst LAN gaming still forms a component of live event experience (3.000 BYOC (Bring your own company) fans attended Insomnia 67 last August at Birmingham’s NEC) it is the re-emergence of gaming centres that draws parallels with the heady days of the 1980s amusements centres. Whilst technological advances offer a completely difference experience for the consumer, the chance to play a range of games with other like-minded people is still appealing.
Some of the biggest names in the gaming centre industry include Belong (now owned by Vindex group), Nerd Street Gamers, Wanyoo and Platform Experience Bar in London, which attract the casual gamer who might drop in to play with his/her friends. At the other end of the competitive spectrum are dedicated esports performance centres for professional teams such as Kinguin’s Performance Centre in Poland.
It is the inclusive aspect of all ability levels that provide an opportunity for anyone and everyone to either try gaming for the first time or hone their skills as a professional esports player. Nerd Street’s ‘The Block’ is a complete esports campus that includes Localhost Philadelphia, an all-inclusive facility for community, scholastic, amateur and professional esports tournaments.
© NERD STREET GAMERS/VIA YOUTUBE
The number of locations in which digital entertainment is offered is growing daily. Wanyoo is now the largest internet gaming café in Asia with 1,000 stores in over 50 cities and 10 million members worldwide. It now has centres in America, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the UK, with further expansion planned in other territories.
Platform Bar offers a different concept to Wanyoo and is described by Nicolo Portunato, the co-owner as a ‘destination experience,’ with a wood-burning pizza oven and a range of craft beers on tap. In Nicolo’s words, visitors ‘visit for many reasons’ ranging from dates (although not first dates we are told!) to corporate nights out. Nicolo and his team have created a destination which focusses less on gaming and more on the overall ambiance.
It’s an exciting time for gaming centres and we look forward to seeing how they evolve further!
We wanted to hear from the man himself about where this taste for gaming experience centres has come from so please click the link below to find out more. We are excited by the future for ‘in-person’ gaming experience and look forward to seeing what the future holds for the gaming community.