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Former pillars of fighting games are fading away due to COVID-19

Arcade centers in Japan are one of the few remaining callbacks to the 1990s, but COVID-19 has made a big dent recently

Posted by Jon 'Catalyst' Grey • August 1, 2021 at 2 p.m. PDT • Comments: 34

Japanese arcades were said to be in the range of 22,000 strong back in a robust period for amusement centers in the 1990s. There was roughly 4,000 of them left in 2019, and now COVID-19 is threatening remaining gaming locations.

There's nothing quite like the feel of walking into a busy arcade and seeing gamers throw down. A busy arcade amusement center has a vibe to it. It's loud, there's a lot of energy, and it may not smell exactly refreshing, but you pick up on the liveliness around you right away.

Unfortunately, arcades started to fade away once console games started to offer arcade-lite experiences. While it started with the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo in the early 1990s, machines like the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation offered near arcade perfect quality ports later on.

What was once an acceptable lower quality version on the early consoles, turned into something that was barely discernible from its arcade counterpart by 1994, and only hastened the decline of arcades around the globe.

Back in the heyday of arcades, these machines had pulled in billions of dollars annually, making the industry quite lucrative for a number of companies and individuals, but in this current era a number of operators are having trouble keeping their businesses in good financial standing.

According to a really compelling piece from Wired about what's happening in Japan currently, arcades were already struggling to keep their doors open, and COVID-19 hasn't made it any easier. Due to being closed for a few months, and new social distancing guidelines, arcade operators had to make a profit running half or fewer of their arcade setups.

Arcade centers in Japan are where some of the best players in the fighting game community, and most well known personalities, cut their teeth.

Japanese arcades were spoken about as one of the big pillars in the fighting game community for a number of years, as some of the best players around would regularly go there to train against one another and compete in an environment regularly where they didn't have to deal with online latency.

Arcades in the land of the rising sun were so popular and well thought of that a number of competitors from other countries relocated to Japan, and shared their experiences like in this video from Phil H.

Now though, some game centers in Japan are taking to crowdfunding and community support to stay alive.

The Wired article also cites a comment from Jason Moses, a Japanese-English translator who has lived in Japan for the last five years, who states that the crowdfunding support is a good sign in terms of avoiding a total shutdown. He said that Game Newton and Mikado are "too well loved and well connected to have to close up shop permanently."

Moses thinks that, if anything, these arcade centers may scale down to smaller locations, or close satellite arcades. "Mikado especially isn't going anywhere," he added.

Still, the fact that many of these centers are struggling stay afloat is a rough sign for a once vibrant and amazing part of the fighting game community. While it seems a number of amusement centers will be able to keep their doors open for the foreseeable future, it's rough to see a once extremely high impact part of our community be decimated by the pandemic.

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