Arcade Golden Age: The Video Gaming History

arcades cabinet and children's playing Pac-Man on arcade golden age

What is the Arcade Golden Age

“Arcade Golden Age” is the term that makes arcade gamers of the 80s and 90s fondly remember the nostalgia, excitement, and unique moments they experienced in the arcades.

This period of technological advancement (especially in electronics) generated a staggering increase in the popularity of arcade video games.

That changed what entertainment was before and forever embedded it in popular video game culture.

This blog post is a comprehensive look at the entire Golden Age of Arcades, examining where it began, when it peaked, and why it sadly fizzled out over the years.

retro arcade cabinets from the early years of arcades

When Was the Golden Age of Arcades?

Most people tend to agree that the Golden Age of Arcade actually lasted from the end of the 1970s right up to mid 1980s.

This period was some of the ever popular and acknowledged games and arcades that have ever been developed. Titles such as “Space Invaders”,”Pac-Man”, and “Donkey Kong” were favourites for anyone who felt the arcade bug and flocked to arcades globally.

At this time, arcades were thus interaction-al centres in which people enjoyed games and competed in them aiming to achieve the highest scores.

Thus, such factors as new ideas in games, use of modern technologies, and the arcades popularity prepared fast development of the arcade business.

When Was the Arcade Golden Age of Gaming?

It’s important to note that the specific term, Arcade Golden Age is commonly used in contrary to global Golden Age of Gaming which dates back to from late 70s to early 90s. This period not only experience the proliferation of arcade games but home gaming consoles were also developed and the personal computer was also introduced as a gaming platform.

The last quarter of 1970s into the early 1980s was one of the best era in the arcade business, while the mid 1980s up to early 1990s was the period which marked abrupt shift of video gaming playing from the business establishments to homes. The first game console that is considered to have initiated this process was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) which appeared in 1985 along with its revolutionary idea of bringing the gaming experience into people’s homes and becoming a foundation for today’s video game industry.

The first video game console Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

When Were Arcades the Most Popular?

Arcades mainstream popular became most popular during early 1980’s. In this period, arcades were located in shopping malls, movies, theaters, bowling allies, and individually based ones. Great number of games was available and the fact that Arcade gaming was very competitive was bound to attract and maintain crowds.

The release of massive features like “Pac-Man” & “Donkey Kong” further helped to fuel the arcade craze. With the result, these games are not only big sellers, but also generated product tie-ins, animated television series and comic strip, along with even cartoon television series, comic strip, and music.

kid playing ms pac-man in arcades

What Was the Arcade golden age Scene in the 1970s?

The 1970s created the base to build up the Arcade Golden Age. The decade was kick started with early arcade devices such as “Computer Space” released in 1971- though it was a commercial failure, it marked the possible future of Video games as entertainment.

Computer Space released in 1971- though it was the future of Video games as entertainment.

However, it started when “Pong “ released in the year 1972 by the company Atari was popular and created a revolution in the arcade games.

‘Pong’ was the first and quite an engaging table tennis game that started getting fairly quickly popular. This success opened the flood gates to the arcade industry and many companies inventing and experimenting with their products.


The famous Space Invaders Arcade Game

The late 1970s brought up famous games like “Space Invaders” which were major milestones influencing arcade gaming because they introduced the notion of scoring.

Thus, by the final years of that decade, arcades became more complex, featuring higher quality graphics and evolving gameplay design. These conditions provided the impetuses to start the arcade industry into high growth in the 1980s.

space invaders arcade cabinet with the first scoring registering

Did Arcades Exist in the 1970s?

Indeed, arcades are a long-going tradition that began in the 1970-s and contributed much the future development. Still, it is worth going to the initial 1970 to define the first video arcade games, which is a starting point for the arcade. Before this, there were few arcade games defined which were involving mechanical amusement machines including pinball machines and electromechanical games.


Early video games such as Pong and Space Invaders changed the arcades into a lively place for entertainment. These games proved popular with all types of individuals — casual gamers and the ‘hardcore’ gaming audience — and set the stage for what has come to be named the Arcade Golden Age of the 1980s.

star wars arcade pinball machine from golden age of arcades

Did Arcades Exist in the 60s?


Arcades were around in the 1960s but they were not video game arcades like we came to know in later years of the same decade and 1980s counterparts. Most of the arcades within the 1960s were of mechanical and electromechanical games, and a few of the games included pinball machines, shooting galleries and various kinds of amusement games.


However a game that is worthy of some kind of attention is the “Periscope” game, which was created by Sega in 1966. A classic game called “Periscope” offered voters the control of an aim-able Periscope that had to seize ships and fire torpedoes. It quickly gained much popularity for being a hub of games in arcades and is a great reference of the future of arcade video games.


Although video games had not emerged on the horizon yet, the base for technological innovations within the sphere of arcades had been created in the 1960s, and it allowed for the processes which accelerated in the next decade.

original Periscope arcade machine from SEGA

When Was the Arcade Golden Age Boom?

This development can be pegged to the late 1970s and the early 1980s as the arcade craze swept through the population. This period was marked by growth in arcade markets which had adopted the use of video games. Two of the most significant events that were responsible for the creation of arcade games were the releases of “Gun Fight” and “Space Invaders” in 1978. Its popularity resulted in the public’s eager desire for arcade games which created the demand for new and improved games.

one of the first arcade game: Gun Fight

However, the arcade enjoyment was derived, during the arcade boom, arcades were established almost in every place possible. The market became mature and several companies invested heavily in games development and manufacturing to produce the next “hit”. There are few games that defined the culture of gaming during this time and they include “Pac-Man,” “Galaga,” “Defender,” and of course, “Donkey Kong” that helped to keep the momentum of the arcade craze.

retro game Defender

But with the introduction of arcades, came competition Over the years, people competed with each other in an attempt to make the highest scores ever. Arcades evolved as cultural meeting places where people could go and play games, interact and build camaraderie among fellow gamers.

galaga arcade golden age game

When Did Arcade Golden Age Decline?

The decline process of arcades started in the middle of the 1980s and felt throughout the 1990s. Several factors contributed to this decline:

1. Rise of Home Consoles

 This is attributed to the introduction of home gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which made it convenient for the players to play video games from the comfort of their homes. It also shifted the expectations of gamers back to needing to visit arcades to play the newest games.

2. Economic Challenges

There were several economic troubles that arcade businesses experienced; for instance, acquiring arcade machines is expensive and so is managing and upgrading them. Furthermore, the home console market including video game crash of 1983 also impacted the arcades games indicating the industry was not immune from the adverse effects of such approximation.

 3. Technological Advancements:

Technology advancement had progressed to a point whereby home consoles and personal computers provided gambling experiences that were almost as good as those offered in the local arcades. Consequently, these platforms became popular among players as a way to meet their needs in the sphere of video games.

4.Changing Consumer Preferences:

The new home-based entertainment has driven the consumers to abandon the once crowded arcades. The social and competitive elements of arcade games in terms of the game play and gamer relations were slowly substituted for the online gaming and home based gaming networks.

Nevertheless, the arcades didn’t disappear completely after this or was not closed for good. Because of these factors, video game companies changed over time and adopted to such industry concepts as catering to a particular segment, game customization, and the use of advanced innovations such as the use of virtual reality. Also some manufacturers change the shape and size of the cabinets to fit in a small room (mini arcade bartops are popular our days).

cabinets from arcade games golden age

What Was the First Arcade Game?


The first arcade game is presumed to be “Computer Space,” which came into the world in 1971 and was created by Nutting Associates. ‘Computer Space’ was designed by Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell who together came out to form Atari. It was based on a computer game called ‘Space war!’; players maneuvered a spaceship and had to struggle against flying saucers.


golden age of arcade games: Space War

Technically, Computer Space was a great pioneering game, or a progenitor of Space Invaders; however, it was not very saleable. On the flip side one major factor that was a downside to the game was its controls, and gameplay most players found hard to master. It was the first game of its kind and although the game was not that successful it paved way for other future arcade style games while proving that video games could be the future of entertainment.

The true turning point was the one that we mentioned above in this blog:  the first-ever video game known as “Pong”, released in 1972 by Atari. “Pong” was a simple counterpart of the real table tennis game that contained basic options and controls and was rather gaminator-like at the same time. It was the first arcade game to fully prove this model successful and in turn sparked the arcade craze.

pong arcade golden age game

When Were Arcades in Their Prime?

The specific time in arcades was early eighties when arcade games were said to be at the best of their stage which is the Arcade Golden Age. During this period, numerous famous and distinctive games that garnered fans from all over the world were launched. Gaming arcades were popular, and so the industry was expanding to levels never seen before.

These classic video games include “Pac-Man,” “Donkey Kong,” “Galaga,” “Frogger,” and “Defender,” which were smashing hits in the early ‘80s. Such games have interesting concepts of playing involvements, favourite characters, and levels of difficulty which makes peoples engrossed in them.

Gaming was also accepted by society, and a few video game arcades were established as social attractions for people of all ages. Intense ratings and challenging game situations were a major aspect to the arcade and made gamers of much closer.

pac-man, galaga and ms pac-man retro arcade cabinets

Did People Go to Arcades in the 80s?


Absolutely! Arcades seemed to be most popular in the 1980s, and that definitely was an era of their successful development. Every age group could be seen visiting the arcades to play improving the scores on newly created games, and have fun with their friends. Gaming became social and provided arcades with communication platforms that engaged gamers into sharing their enthusiasm for video games.


The small scale arcades popular in the eighties had classic games as their main attraction and this is what made them famous. “Pac-Man,” “Donkey Kong,” “Ms. Pac-Man,” “Galaga,” and about 50 other titles became cultural icons with people flocking to arcades to play the latest video games.


These arcades were not only occasional independent venues; they were also installed in shopping malls, amusement parks, movie theaters, and restaurants. It also ensured that people had ready access to arcade gaming, as it was widely spread throughout the country; this played a role in its success too.

donkey Kong arcade golden age game

Why Are Arcades No Longer Popular?

Several factors have contributed to the decline in popularity of arcades:

Home Gaming Consoles:

Home gaming consoles that began with Atari 2600, NES and the progression to PlayStation and Xbox became some convenient solutions for gamers. These consoles have provided quality gaming experience that could be compared if not allied to the arcade games.


Sony Playstation the original video game console

Economic Factors:

The expenses associated with producing arcade gaming equipment, and supporting it with frequent patches as was the case before the release of powerful graphical Sprint CDC accelerators, was becoming expensive. Moreover, the major problem, which had a bad influence on the games industry, was the video game crash in 1983.

Technological Advancements:

The growth of personal computer and internet brought about opportunities for online multiplayer game playing and playing in leagues in particular was ushered in. This shift adversely affected arcade spaces as their physical presence was no longer as essential.

Changing Consumer Preferences:

This general decline in arcade patronage was due to changes in the ways that consumers engaged with games due to the availability of gaming on console and PC. The privatised social and competitive aspect of arcade gamin popularised the online gaming communities and multi player gaming.

Rise of Mobile Gaming:

 However, the new innovation on the gaming market was the smartphones and mobile gaming. This means that mobile games complimented the idea of convenient and easily accessible games that the players could engage in at will.

Even though the trend of typical arcades might have faded, arcade gaming has not been forgotten as such; aficionados can enjoy retro gaming games, barcades, and even specialized rooms of arcade lovers.

arcade golden age shooting game


The Arcade Golden Age was one of the most significant stages in the development of video games, and it contributed to the formation of trends, cultural value, and togetherness. From 1977 to mid 1983, arcades were the home of entertainment, influencing its gamers and consumers with games of great innovation and turning them into memories.


The importance of the classics cannot be denied even though the original arcades have faded way to modern game shops. Arcade Golden Age games are to this date admired and played by gamers while the impact from the period can still be noted in the contemporary video/board gaming scene.


Reflecting on Arcade Golden Age people view the excitement which was felt back in those days as well as the joy people got from games and the sense of camaraderie during those wonderful days. This was a time when arcades were the hub of excitement and we can never sever the connection with our love derived from those units.

coins for credits in arcade golden age of gaming
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