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The golden age of arcade video games was the era when arcade video games entered pop culture and became a dominant cultural force. The exact time period is disputed, but key moments include the release of Space Invaders in 1978 and the vector-based Asteroids in 1979—moments made possible by the increase in power and decrease in cost of computing technology. This led to the rise of both video game arcades and video games in other media, such as songs, cartoons, and movies like 1982's Tron. Other iconic games from this era include Pac-Man, Defender, Galaga, Donkey Kong, and Centipede.

Relevant time period[]

Although the exact years differ, all timelines overlap in the early 1980s. Technology journalist Jason Whittaker, in The Cyberspace Handbook, places the beginning of the golden age in 1978, with the release of Space Invaders.[1] Video game journalist Steven L. Kent, in his book The Ultimate History of Video Games, places it at 1979 to 1983.[2] The book pointed out that 1979 was the year that Space Invaders[3] – which he credits for ushering in the golden age[4] – was gaining considerable popularity in the United States,[3] and the year that saw vector display technology, first seen in arcades in 1977 with Space Wars, rise to prominence via Atari's Asteroids. However, 1983 was the period that began "a fairly steady decline" in the coin-operated video game business and when many arcades started disappearing.[2]

The History of Computing Project places the golden age of video games between 1971 and 1983, covering the "mainstream appearance of video games as a consumer market" and "the rise of dedicated hardware systems and the origin of multi-game cartridge based systems".[5] 1971 was chosen as an earlier start date by the project for two reasons: the creator of Pong filed a pivotal patent regarding video game technology, and it was the release of the first arcade video game machine, Computer Space.[6]

Sean Newton, 3D arcade model builder and author of the book Bits, Sticks, and Buttons states that the defining transitional point which finally ended the first era of arcade gaming (known as the "Black and White Age") and subsequently ushered in the Golden Age was with the North American release of Midway's Space Invaders. The game brought forth with it the power of the microprocessor, as well as a cult phenomenon impact which had only been felt up to that point by Atari's Pong. Following Space Invaders, Atari's Asteroids and Namco's Pac-Man further solidified the strength of the Golden Age.[citation needed]

Other opinions place this period's beginning in the late 1970s, when color arcade games became more prevalent and video arcades themselves started appearing outside of their traditional bowling alley and bar locales, through to its ending in the mid-1980s.[7] The golden age of arcade games largely coincided with, and partly fueled, the second generation of game consoles and the microcomputer revolution.


The golden age was a time of great technical and design creativity in arcade games. The era saw the rapid spread of video arcades across North America, Europe, and Asia. The number of video game arcades in North America, for example, more than doubled between 1980 and 1982;[8] reaching a peak of 10,000 video game arcades across the region (compared to 4,000 as of 1998).[9] Beginning with Space Invaders, video arcade games also started to appear in supermarkets, restaurants, liquor stores, gas stations and many other retail establishments looking for extra income.[10] Video game arcades at the time became as common as convenience stores, while arcade games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders would appear in most locations across the United States, including even funeral homes.[11] The sales of arcade video game machines increased significantly during this period, from $50 million in 1978 to $900 million in 1981,[8] with 500,000 arcade machines sold in the United States at prices ranging as high as $3000 in 1982 alone.[12] By 1982, there were 24,000 full arcades, 400,000 arcade street locations and 1.5 million arcade machines active in North America.[13] The market was very competitive; the average life span of an arcade game was four to six months. Some games like Robby Roto failed because they were too complex to learn quickly, and others like Star Fire because they were too unfamiliar to the audience. Qix was briefly very popular but, Taito's Keith Egging later said, "too mystifying for gamers ... impossible to master and when the novelty wore off, the game faded".[14] At around this time, the home video game industry (second-generation video game consoles and early home computer games) emerged as "an outgrowth of the widespread success of video arcades" at the time.[15]

In 1980, the U.S. arcade video game industry's revenue generated from quarters tripled to $2.8 billion.[16] By 1981, the arcade video game industry in the United States was generating an annual revenue of over $5 billion[1][17] with some estimates as high as $10.5 billion for all video games (arcade and home) in the U.S. that year, which would be three times the amount spent on movie tickets in 1981.[18] The total revenue for the U.S. arcade video game industry in 1981 was estimated at more than $7 billion[19] though some analysts estimated the real amount may have been much higher.[19] By 1982, video games accounted for 87% of the $8.9 billion in commercial games sales in the United States.[20] In 1982, the arcade video game industry's revenue in quarters was estimated at $8 billion[21] surpassing the annual gross revenue of both pop music ($4 billion) and Hollywood films ($3 billion) combined that year.[21][22] It also exceeded the revenues of all major sports combined at the time,[22] earning three times the combined ticket and television revenues of Major League Baseball, basketball, and American football, as well as earning twice as much as all the casinos in Nevada combined.[23] This was also more than twice as much revenue as the $3.8 billion generated by the home video game industry (during the second generation of consoles) that same year;[21] both the arcade and home markets combined added up to a total revenue between $11.8 billion and $12.8 billion for the U.S. video game industry in 1982. In comparison, the U.S. video game industry in 2011 generated total revenues between $16.3 billion and $16.6 billion.[24]

Prior to the golden age, pinball machines were more popular than video games. The pinball industry reached a peak of 200,000 machine sales and $2.3 billion revenue in 1979, which had declined to 33,000 machines and $464 million in 1982.[20] In comparison, the best-selling arcade games of the golden age, Space Invaders and Pac-Man, had each sold over 360,000[25] and 400,000[26] cabinets, respectively, with each machine costing between $2000 and $3000 (specifically $2400 in Pac-Man's case).[27] In addition, Space Invaders had grossed $2 billion in quarters by 1982,[22] while Pac-Man had grossed over $1 billion by 1981[28] and $2.5 billion by the late 1990s.[29][30] In 1982, Space Invaders was considered the highest-grossing entertainment product of its time, with comparisons made to the then highest-grossing film Star Wars,[22][31] which had grossed $486 million,[31] while Pac-Man is today considered the highest-grossing arcade game of all time.[32] Many other arcade games during the golden age also had hardware unit sales at least in the tens of thousands, including Ms. Pac-Man with over 115,000 units, Asteroids with 70,000,[11] Donkey Kong with over 60,000,[33] Defender with 55,000,[34] Galaxian with 40,000,[35] Donkey Kong Junior with 35,000,[33] Mr. Do! with 30,000,[36] and Tempest with 29,000 units.[37] A number of arcade games also generated revenues (from quarters) in the hundreds of millions, including Defender with more than $100 million[17] in addition to many more with revenues in the tens of millions, including Dragon's Lair with $48 million and Space Ace with $13 million.[38]

The most successful arcade game companies of this era included Taito (which ushered in the golden age with the shooter game Space Invaders[4] and produced other successful arcade action games such as Gun Fight and Jungle King), Namco (the Japanese company that created Galaxian, Pac-Man, Pole Position and Dig Dug) and Atari (the company that introduced video games into arcades with Computer Space and Pong, and later produced Asteroids). Other companies such as SEGA (who later entered the home console market against its former arch rival, Nintendo), Nintendo (whose mascot, Mario, was introduced in 1981's Donkey Kong as "Jumpman"), Bally Midway Manufacturing Company (which was later purchased by Williams), Cinematronics, Konami, Centuri, Williams and SNK also gained popularity around this era.


Arcades catering to video games began to gain momentum in the late 1970s with games such as Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), and Galaxian (1979), and became widespread in 1980 with Pac-Man, Missile Command, Berzerk, Defender, and others. The central processing unit in these games allowed for more complexity than earlier discrete circuitry games such as Atari's Pong (1972). The arcade boom that began in the late 1970s is credited with establishing the basic techniques of interactive entertainment and for driving down hardware prices to the extent of allowing the PC to become a technological and economic reality.[39]

While color monitors had been used by several racing video games before (such as Indy 800[40] and Speed Race Twin[41]), it was during this period that RGB color graphics became widespread, following the release of Galaxian in 1979.[42]

The Golden Age also saw developers experimenting with vector displays, which produced crisp lines that couldn't be duplicated by raster displays. A few of these vector games became great hits, such as 1979's Asteroids, 1980's Battlezone and Tempest and 1983's Star Wars from Atari. However, vector technology fell out of favor with arcade game companies due to the high cost of repairing vector displays.[citation needed]

Several developers at the time were also experimenting with pseudo-3D and stereoscopic 3D using 2D sprites on raster displays. In 1979, Nintendo's Radar Scope introduced a three-dimensional third-person perspective to the shoot 'em up genre, later imitated by shooters such as Konami's Juno First and Activision's Beamrider in 1983.[43] In 1981, SEGA's Turbo was the first racing game to feature a third-person rear view format,[44] and use sprite scaling with full-colour graphics.[45] Namco's Pole Position featured an improved rear-view racer format in 1982 that would remain the standard for the genre; the game provided a perspective view of the track, with its vanishing point swaying side to side as the player approaches corners, accurately simuFecvolating forward movement into the distance.[46] That same year, SEGA released Zaxxon, which introduced the use of isometric graphics and shadows;[47] and SubRoc-3D, which introduced the use of stereoscopic 3D through a special eyepiece;[48]

This period also saw significant advances in digital audio technology. Space Invaders in 1978 was the first game to use a continuous background soundtrack, with four simple chromatic descending bass notes repeating in a loop, though it was dynamic and changed pace during stages.[49] Rally-X in 1980 was the first game to feature continuous background music,[50] which was generated using a dedicated sound chip, a Namco 3-channel PSG.[51] That same year saw the introduction of speech synthesis, which was first used in Stratovox, released by Sun Electronics in 1980,[50] followed soon after by Namco's King & Balloon.

Developers also experimented with laserdisc players for delivering full motion video based games with movie-quality animation. The first laserdisc video game to exploit this technology was 1983's Astron Belt from SEGA,[52][53] soon followed by Dragon's Lair from Cinematronics; the latter was a sensation when it was released (and, in fact, the laserdisc players in many machines broke due to overuse). While laserdisc games were usually either shooter games with full-motion video backdrops like Astron Belt or interactive movies like Dragon's Lair, Data East's 1983 game Bega's Battle introduced a new form of video game storytelling: using brief full-motion video cutscenes to develop a story between the game's shooting stages, which would years later become the standard approach to video game storytelling. By the mid-1980s, the genre dwindled in popularity, as laserdiscs were losing out to the VHS format and the laserdisc games themselves were losing their novelty.[54]


With the enormous success of the early games, dozens of developers jumped into the development and manufacturing of video arcade games. Some simply copied the "invading alien hordes" idea of Space Invaders and turned out successful imitators like Namco's Galaxian, Galaga, and Gaplus, though they took the shoot 'em up genre further with new gameplay mechanics, more complex enemy patterns, and richer graphics.[55][56] Galaxian introduced a "risk-reward" concept,[57] while Galaga was one of the first games with a bonus stage.[58] SEGA's 1980 release Space Tactics was an early first-person space combat game with multi-directional scrolling as the player moved the cross-hairs on the screen.[59]

Others tried new concepts and defined new genres. Rapidly evolving hardware allowed new kinds of games which allowed for different styles of gameplay. In 1980, Namco released Pac-Man, which popularized the maze chase genre, and Rally-X, which featured a radar tracking the player position on the map.[51] Games such as the pioneering 1981 games Donkey Kong and Qix in 1981 introduced new types of games where skill and timing are more important than shooting as fast as possible, with Nintendo's Donkey Kong in particular setting the template for the platform game genre.[60] Namco's Bosconian in 1981 introduced a free-roaming style of gameplay where the player's ship freely moves across open space, while also including a radar tracking player & enemy positions.[61] Bega's Battle in 1983 introduced a new form of video game storytelling: using brief full-motion video cutscenes to develop a story between the game's shooting stages.[54] Other examples of innovative games are Atari Games' Paperboy in 1984 where the goal is to successfully deliver newspapers to customers, and Namco's Phozon where the object is to duplicate a shape shown in the middle of the screen. The theme of Exidy's Venture is dungeon exploration and treasure-gathering. One innovative game, Q*Bert, played upon the user's sense of depth perception to deliver a novel experience.

Popular culture[]

File:Donkey Kong arcade.png

Donkey Kong

Some games of this era were so popular that they entered popular culture. The first to do so was Space Invaders. The game was so popular upon its release in 1978 that an urban legend blamed it for a national shortage of 100 yen coins in Japan, leading to a production increase of coins to meet demand for the game[62][63] (although 100 yen coin production was lower in 1978 and 1979 than in previous or subsequent years,[64][65] and the claim does not withstand logical scrutiny: arcade operators would have emptied out their machines and taken the money to the bank, thus keeping the coins in circulation).[65] It would soon have a similar impact in North America, where it has appeared or is referenced in numerous facets of popular culture. Soon after the release of Space Invaders, hundreds of favourable articles and stories about the emerging video game medium aired on television and were printed in newspapers and magazines. The Space Invaders Tournament held by Atari in 1980 was the first video game competition and attracted more than 10,000 participants, establishing video gaming as a mainstream hobby.[66] By 1980, 86% of the 13–20 population in the United States had played arcade video games,[67] and by 1981, there were more than 35 million gamers visiting video game arcades in the United States.[68]

The game that most affected popular culture in North America was Pac-Man. Its release in 1980 caused such a sensation that it initiated what is now referred to as "Pac-Mania" (which later became the title of the last coin-operated game in the series, released in 1987). Released by Namco, the game featured a yellow, circle-shaped creature trying to eat dots through a maze while avoiding pursuing enemies. Though no one could agree what the "hero" or enemies represented (they were variously referred to as ghosts, goblins or monsters), the game was extremely popular. The game spawned an animated television series, numerous clones, Pac-Man-branded foods, toys, and a hit pop song, "Pac-Man Fever". The game's popularity was such that President Ronald Reagan congratulated a player for setting a record score in Pac-Man.[69] Pac-Man was also responsible for expanding the arcade game market to involve large numbers of female audiences across all age groups.[70] Though many popular games quickly entered the lexicon of popular culture, most have since left, and Pac-Man is unusual in remaining a recognized term in popular culture, along with Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Mario and Q*bert.

In 1983, an animated television series produced for Saturday mornings called Saturday Supercade featured video game characters from the era, such as Frogger, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, Donkey Kong Jr., Kangaroo, Space Ace, and Pitfall Harry.

Arcade games at the time affected on the music industry, revenues for which had declined by $400 million between 1978 and 1981 (from $4.1 billion to $3.7 billion), a decrease that was directly credited to the rise of arcade games at the time.[71] Successful songs based on video games also began appearing. The pioneering electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) sampled Space Invaders sounds in their 1978 self-titled album and the hit single "Computer Game" from the same album,[72] the latter selling over 400,000 copies in the United States.[73] In turn, YMO would have a major influence on much of the video game music produced during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.[74] Other pop songs based on Space Invaders soon followed, including "Disco Space Invaders" (1979) by Funny Stuff,[72] "Space Invaders" (1980) by Playback,[75] and the hit songs "Space Invader" (1980) by The Pretenders[72] and "Space Invaders" (1980) by Uncle Vic.[76] The game was also the basis for Player One's "Space Invaders" (1979), which in turn provided the bassline for Jesse Saunders' "On and On" (1984),[77][78] the first Chicago house music track.[79] The song "Pac-Man Fever" reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over a million singles in 1982,[80] while the album Pac-Man Fever sold over a million records, with both receiving Gold certifications.[81] That same year, R. Cade and the Video Victims also produced an arcade-inspired album, Get Victimized, featuring songs such as "Donkey Kong".[82] In 1984, former YMO member Haruomi Hosono produced an album entirely from Namco arcade game samples entitled Video Game Music, an early example of a chiptune record[83] and the first video game music album.[84] Arcade game sounds also had a strong influence on the hip hop,[85] pop music (particularly synthpop)[86] and electro music genres during the early 1980s.[87] The booming success of video games at the time led to music magazine Billboard listing the 15 top-selling video games alongside their record charts by 1982.[15] More than a decade later, the first electroclash record, I-F's "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass" (1997), has been described as "burbling electro in a vocodered homage to Atari-era hi-jinks",[88] particularly Space Invaders which it was named after.[89]

Arcade games also influenced the film industry; beginning with Space Invaders, arcade games began appearing at many movie theaters,[11] while early films based on video games were also produced, most notably Tron, which grossed over $33 million in 1982[90] which began the Tron franchise which included a video game adaptation that grossed more than the film.[91] Other films based on video games included the 1983 films WarGames (where Matthew Broderick plays Galaga at an arcade),[92] Nightmares, and Joysticks, the 1984 films The Last Starfighter, as well as Cloak & Dagger (in which an Atari 5200 cartridge implausibly containing the eponymous arcade game becomes the film's MacGuffin). Arcades also appeared in many other films at the time, such as Dawn of the Dead (where they play Gun Fight and F-1) in 1978,[93] and Midnight Madness in 1980, Take This Job and Shove It and Puberty Blues in 1981, the 1982 releases Rocky III, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Koyaanisqatsi and The Toy, the 1983 releases Psycho II, Spring Break and Never Say Never Again, the 1984 releases Footloose, The Karate Kid (where Elisabeth Shue plays Pac-Man), The Terminator, Night of the Comet and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, the 1985 releases The Goonies,The Boys Next Door[94] and Ferris Bueller's Day Off[92] as well as Something Wild, The Color of Money and Psycho III in 1986 (where Norman Bates stands next to a Berzerk cabinet).[94]

In more recent years, there have been critically acclaimed documentaries based on the golden age of arcade games, such as The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007) and Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007). Since 2010, many arcade-related feature films have been released including Wreck It Ralph (2012), Pixels (2015) and Ready Player One (2018) which is based upon the novel by Ernest Cline and directed by Steven Spielberg.

Strategy guides[]

The period saw the emergence of a gaming media, publications dedicated to video games, in the form of video game journalism and strategy guides.[22] The enormous popularity of video arcade games led to the very first video game strategy guides;[95] these guides (rare to find today) discussed in detail the patterns and strategies of each game, including variations, to a degree that few guides seen since can match. "Turning the machine over"—making the score counter overflow and reset to zero—was often the final challenge of a game for those who mastered it, and the last obstacle to getting the highest score.

Some of these strategy guides sold hundreds of thousands of copies at prices ranging from $1.95 to $3.95 in 1982[95] (equivalent to between $5.00 and $10.00 in 2022).[96] That year, Ken Uston's Mastering Pac-Man sold 750,000 copies, reaching No. 5 on B. Dalton's mass-market bestseller list, while Bantam's How To Master the Video Games sold 600,000 copies, appearing on The New York Times mass-market paperback list.[95] By 1983, 1.7 million copies of Mastering Pac-Man had been printed.[97]

List of popular arcade games[]

The games below are some of the most popular and/or influential games of the era.[98]

Vector display
Raster display
Name Year Manufacturer Legacy Notes
Space Invaders 1978 Taito (Japan) / Midway (U.S.) Considered the game that revolutionized the video game industry.[99] The first blockbuster video game,[100] it established the shoot 'em up genre,[101] and has influenced most shooter games since.[102]
Galaxian 1979 Namco (Japan) / Midway (U.S.) Created to compete with Space Invaders. One of the earliest games using multi-color sprites.[103] Aliens move in a swooping formation and attack by dive bombing the player's ship.
Lunar Lander 1979 Atari Arcade version of an earlier minicomputer game concept. First Atari coin-op to use vector graphics.
Asteroids 1979 Atari Atari's most successful coin-operated game. It is one of the first to allow players to enter their initials for a high score.
Battlezone 1980 Atari Custom cabinet with novel dual-joystick controls, using two 2-way joysticks for movement, and periscope-like viewer.[104] Early use of first-person pseudo 3-D vector graphics. It is widely considered the first virtual reality arcade game.[105] Also used as the basis for a military simulator.[106]
Berzerk 1980 Stern Electronics Early use of speech synthesis was also translated into other languages in Europe. Indestructible adversary appears in order to eliminate lingering players. This became an oft-employed device (e.g. Hallmonsters in Venture) to increase challenge and limit play duration of arcade games.
Centipede 1980 Atari Co-created by programmer Dona Bailey.
Missile Command 1980 Atari Theme of the game was influenced by the Cold War era.
Pac-Man 1980 Namco (Japan) / Midway (U.S.) One of the most popular and influential games, it had the first gaming mascot, established maze chase genre, opened gaming to female audiences,[107] and introduced power-ups[108] and cutscenes.[109]
Phoenix 1980 Amstar Electronics / Centuri (U.S.) / Taito (Japan) One of the first games to feature a boss battle.
Rally-X 1980 Namco Driving game with overhead, scrolling maze. First game to feature a bonus round, background music,[110] and a radar.[51] When released, was predicted to outsell two other new releases: Pac-Man and Defender.
Star Castle 1980 Cinematronics The colors of the rings and screen are provided by a transparent plastic screen overlay
Wizard of Wor 1980 Midway Game featured maze-like dungeons infested with monsters and aliens. Allowed two-person competitive play, but uniquely also offered two-people cooperative play.
Defender 1981 Williams Electronics Horizontal scrolling space shooting game that was praised for its audio-visuals and gameplay. Was predicted to be outsold by Rally-X, but Defender trounced it, going on to sell 60,000 units.
Tempest 1981 Atari One of the first games to use a color vector display
Donkey Kong 1981 Nintendo Laid foundations for platform game genre as well as visual storytelling in video games,[60] and introduced a carpenter protagonist named Jumpman, a character who would evolve into Nintendo's mascot, Mario in subsequent games.
Frogger 1981 Konami (Japan) / SEGA-Gremlin (North America) Novel gameplay notable for being free of fighting and shooting
Scramble 1981 Konami (Japan) / Stern (North America) First scrolling shooter game, featuring forced horizontal scrolling motion
Galaga 1981 Namco (Japan) / Midway (North America) Space shooting game that leapfrogged its predecessor, Galaxian, in popularity.
Gorf 1981 Midway Multiple-mission fixed shooter game. Some of the levels were clones of other popular games. Notable for featuring robotic synthesized speech.
Ms. Pac-Man 1981 Midway (North America) / Namco One of the most popular of all time, this game was created from a bootlegged hack of Pac-Man. It featured different mazes, increasing speed, and rewards (fruit) that required chasing.
Qix 1981 Taito The objective is to fence off a supermajority of the play area. Unique gameplay that didn't have shooting, racing, or mazes.
Vanguard 1981 SNK (Japan) / Centuri (US) Early scrolling shooter that scrolls in multiple directions, and allows shooting in four directions,[111][112] using four direction buttons, similar to dual-stick controls.[113] Along with Fantasy, Super Cobra and Bosconian, is significant as being among the first video games with a continue screen[114]
BurgerTime 1982 Data East (Japan) / Bally Midway (US) Platform game where the protagonist builds hamburgers while being pursued by food. Original title changed from Hamburger when brought to the U.S. from Japan.
Dig Dug 1982 Namco (Japan) / Atari (North America) Novel gameplay where underground adversaries were defeated by inflating them or dropping rocks on them. Rated the sixth most popular coin-operated video game of all time[115]
Donkey Kong Junior 1982 Nintendo Jumpman was renamed Mario in this sequel. This was the only time Nintendo's mascot was featured as an antagonist in any of their games.
Front Line 1982 Taito While up to this point, military themed games featured vehicular combat such as ships, aircraft or tanks, this is one of the first of many 80s games to feature commando-style infantry ground combat (guns, grenades and tanks) as the theme.
Joust 1982 Williams Electronics Allowed two-player cooperative or competitive play.
Jungle King 1982 Taito An early side-scrolling (and diagonal-scrolling) platformer, featuring vine-swinging mechanics, run & jump sequences, climbing hills, and swimming. Almost immediately re-released as Jungle Hunt due to a lawsuit from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate claiming character copyright infringement on the character of Tarzan. This version changed the Tarzan character to a pith helmet-wearing white explorer.[116]
Kangaroo 1982 Atari Unusual for a platform game, there is no jump button. Instead, the player pushes up—or up and diagonally—to jump.
Moon Patrol 1982 Irem (Japan) / Williams Electronics (U.S.) The first arcade game to feature parallax scrolling.[117]
Pengo 1982 SEGA A maze game set in an environment full of ice blocks, which can be used by the player's penguin, who can slide them to attack enemies.[118]
Pole Position 1982 Namco (Japan) / Atari (U.S.) After SEGA's Turbo revolutionized sprite scaling with their third-person cockpit racer, Namco brought 16-bit graphics to the arcade, dropped the player's perspective closer to being directly behind the car, and added dramatic curves to the track. The game also incorporated product placements for companies (including licensee Atari) on passing billboards.
Popeye 1982 Nintendo Nintendo used higher resolution foreground sprites displayed over lower resolution backgrounds achieving comparable visuals to select games in the Midway Card Rack (MCR) system[119]. This display method was previously used on Nintendo's Sky Skipper, from which many Popeye cabinets were converted. Donkey Kong was originally intended to be made with Popeye characters, but at the time, Nintendo was unsuccessful at securing the licensing from King Features Syndicate. [120]
Q*bert 1982 Gottlieb Became one of the most merchandised arcade games behind Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.[121][122]
Robotron 2084 1982 Williams Electronics Featured novel dual joystick gameplay which popularized the twin joystick control scheme
Gravitar 1982 Atari Not popular in the arcades due to its difficulty, but the gameplay inspired many clones like Thrust and Oids.
Time Pilot 1982 Konami (Japan) / Centuri (U.S.) Time travel themed aerial combat game with free-roaming gameplay in open air space that scrolls indefinitely in all directions, with player's plane always remaining centered.[123][124][125]
Tron 1982 Bally Midway Earned more than the film it was based on[126] Featured four subgames based on the film.
Xevious 1982 Namco (Japan) / Atari (U.S.) The first arcade video game to have a TV commercial.[127] It was also responsible for popularizing vertical scrolling shooters.[55]
Zaxxon 1982 SEGA First game to employ isometric axonometric projection, which the game was named after
Crystal Castles 1983 Atari Among the first arcade games which do not loop back to earlier stages as the player progresses, but instead offers a defined ending.[128]
Dragon's Lair 1983 Cinematronics (U.S.) / Atari (Europe) / Sidam (Italy) An early laserdisc video game, which allowed film-quality animation. The first arcade video game in the United States to charge two quarters per play.[129] It was also the first video game to employ what would become known as the quick time event. This game is one of three arcade games that are part of the Smithsonian's permanent collection, along with Pac-Man and Pong.
Elevator Action 1983 Taito An action game that is a mix of platformer, puzzle and shooter genres.
Gyruss 1983 Konami (Japan) / Centuri (U.S.) Often remembered for its musical score that plays throughout the game, Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor"[130]
Mappy 1983 Namco (Japan) / Bally Midway (U.S.) Featured early side-scrolling platforming action
Mario Bros. 1983 Nintendo A game featuring simultaneous play with Mario and his brother Luigi as Italian-American plumbers in pest-inhabited sewers.
Sinistar 1983 Williams Electronics First game to use stereo sound. It was also the first to use the 49-way, custom-designed optical joystick that Williams had produced specifically for this game. Notable for appearance of menacing villain.
Spy Hunter 1983 Bally Midway Overhead view, vehicular combat game that is memorable for its music, "The Peter Gunn Theme", that plays throughout the game
Star Trek 1983 SEGA Space combat sim featuring five different controls, six different enemies, and 40 different simulation levels. Features voice of Spock and Scotty. One of the most elaborate vector games released.[131]
Star Wars 1983 Atari Features several digitized samples of actors' voices from the movie
Tapper 1983 Bally Midway Originally aligned with American beer Budweiser, was revamped as Root Beer Tapper, so as not to be construed as attempting to peddle alcohol to minors
Track & Field 1983 Konami (Japan) / Centuri (North America) The first Olympic-themed sports game.
1942 1984 Capcom Capcom's first arcade hit featuring Pacific aerial combat with a Xevious-inspired design. Standardized the template for aerial shoot 'em ups featuring vertical scrolling.
Karate Champ 1984 Technōs Japan/ Data East (US) The first popular player vs. player fighting game for arcades.[132] Featured a pair of four-way dual joystick controls for simultaneous play.
Kung-Fu Master 1984 Irem (Japan) / Data East (US) The first side-scrolling beat-em-up arcade game.[133]
Paperboy 1984 Atari Novel controls and high resolution display
Punch-Out!! 1984 Nintendo A boxing fighting game featuring digitized voices, dual monitors, and a third-person perspective.

List of best-selling arcade games[]

For arcade games, success was usually judged by either the number of arcade hardware units sold to operators, or the amount of revenue generated, from the number of coins (such as quarters or 100 yen coins) inserted into machines,[134] and/or the hardware sales (with arcade hardware prices often ranging from $1000 to $4000). This list only includes arcade games that have sold more than 10,000 hardware units.

Decline and aftermath[]

The golden age cooled around the mid-1980s as copies of popular games began to saturate the arcades. Arcade video game revenues in the United States had declined from $8 billion in 1981 and $7 billion in 1982 to $5 billion in 1983,[146] reaching a low of $4 billion in 1986.[147] Despite this, arcades would remain commonplace through to the early 1990s as there were still new genres being explored. In 1987, arcades experienced a short resurgence with Double Dragon, which started the golden age of beat 'em up games, a genre that would peak in popularity with Final Fight two years later.[148] In 1988, arcade game revenues in the United States rose back up to $6.4 billion, largely due to the rising popularity of violent action games in the beat 'em up and run and gun shooter genres.[147] After yet another relative decline,[148] U.S. arcade video game revenues had fallen to $2.1 billion by 1991,[149] by which time the sales of arcade machines had declined, with 4000 unit sales being considered a hit at the time.[150]

One of the causes of decline was new generations of personal computers and video game consoles that sapped interest from arcades. In the early 1990s, the Genesis (Mega Drive outside most of North America) and SNES (Super Famicom in Japan) greatly improved home play and some of their technology was even integrated into a few video arcade machines.


The Golden Age of Video Arcade Games spawned numerous cultural icons and even gave some companies their identity. Elements from games such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Centipede are still recognized in today's popular culture, and new entries in the franchises for some golden age games continued to be released decades later.

Pac-Man and Dragon's Lair joined Pong for permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. for their cultural impact in the United States. No other video game has been inducted since.[151]

See also[]


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Further reading[]

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