The second draft with revisions. Final revisions for potential to publish. Maybe a front page shout out can accelerate it.
For now, let?s take away the words ?death? and ?arcade? together in the same sentence. Arcades, in remembrance, are the places where games are the main feature. There is nothing to buy but two-minutes of entertainment and hours of conversations with people of similar interests. It is that secret society where reality suspends itself and the only time is the timer that ticks down on the video game screen. The reality, unfortunately, is that the arcade scene in America is ready to die. Its final gasps exist through the communities that come to enjoy these relics of gaming. Finding these elusive businesses require someone with previous experience and knowledge of its locations. One of the more beloved arcades in the last ten years is huddled away in the corner of a plaza of tea shops, Chinese restaurants and karaoke bars. It exists for the sole reason to bring entertainment and stands as one of the most iconic buildings in the short history of arcades in America. The ushering of Arcade Infinity brings about stories spanning from massive rhythm game tournaments to large local Street Fighter events. Even on a slow Monday night, the noise of the arcade can still be heard from the parking lot of Diamond Plaza in Rowland Heights. The vibrations of the cabinets and machines inside can be felt, shaking the ground, from the bottom of the flight of stairs leading up to the entrance. A pillar of cigarette smoke puffed from two chatting people surround the entrance of the twin glass doors of Arcade Infinity that greet each and every returning customer. Inside, the climate is warm with occasional gusts of wind, created by a combination of machines and people. Opening the doors transports the scene from the dark sky and shop windows to a room of blazing neon lights and a blend of different rock and pop songs. Tonight, the arcade machines outnumber the amount of customers. It?s a common sight throughout California?s arcade businesses. Ken Tao, 38, the owner of the arcade, works in his small office at the end of the building. Between his office and the entrance are two featured machines, the games that get the most attention, and then two rows of Japanese-style cabinets (which are small and cramped two-joystick set ups) that line the rest of building. There are as many empty chairs as machines, blazing their introduction music for no one to listen. This Monday, the herd of arcade-goers is mostly huddled over two illuminating screens blazing the newest fighting game craze, Super Street Fighter Four. The scene consists of two pairs of players sitting closely together with the majority of the arcade standing and shouting behind them. ?Your execution is godlike, Keno!? cries one bystander, who?s excitement could not be contained after seeing a player perform a flashy link combination attack. Dozen other chants and encouraging remarks are made throughout the match, adding to the noise of the arcade?s machines. Girls stand idly by, uninterested in the events unfolding in front of them, in make-up and shiny silver dresses, as their companions played their games. Their rolled eyes told the story of arcades in America. No one outside the community that plays in arcades cares. Inside his office, Tao looks worried. His eyebrows furrow, his lips purse up and his eyes narrow as he stares off into space. He stops and pushes pause to his television show, displayed on his flat screen 40? monitor, allowing for the frozen scene to create the lighting for the room. The arcade is broke. ?No one wants to come to the arcades. I?ve lost 40 percent of my customers and revenue.? Due to the home console release of the newest game, Super Street Fighter Four, there is nothing fueling any arcade?s economy. Even with the two new set ups of Super Street Fighter Four in the building, there is still a drop in revenue. The last month only saw a 25 percent increase of revenue after losing the initial 40 percent. American arcades are no longer profitable where the Japanese counterparts have been faring much better. Japan is still the number one environment for arcades to thrive because of how they are viewed as a social setting. Arcades there are seen as a hip place to socialize. ?It?s different over there. In Japan, arcades are still popular and have other people still going there,? Tao said. ?They play different games. They have RPG (role playing games), racing, soccer and Mah Jong as well.? Despite this, the same issues and problems still plague Japan?s large arcade scene. ?There will be no more arcades in Japan after 10 years,? Tao said. ?In America, also. Every month, in Japan, 20 arcades close down. Right now, Japan doesn?t have any good games to release. Japan still has a lot games to develop and we can still try other games, we want to keep running the arcade to see it happen.? It has been so bad that Capcom is reserved on releasing the arcade version of Super Street Fighter 4 due to the fear that there is a lack of sold units. Despite the reservation, an arcade release has been announced in the month of October because of the amount of orders for it. For the present situation, there hopefully exists a solution. Tao stops talking, puts on the same look of concern and stares at the numbers on his computer. What else can he do?
The banks are not helping either. With no real clear plan for making profit, there is a refusal to finance something with the uncertainty of remaining viable or with the potential of bankruptcy. This would mark the worst year of the decade-long run of AI. Beginning with the partnership with Ultrasound to create AI in 1999, the Tao family has enjoyed years of memories from the peak at 2003-5 to the pits of 2008-10. Back at its peak, it was not uncommon to see nearly $1000 worth of profit for a peak night. The explosion of music games like Bemani X and Dance Dance Revolution made AI the place to play for music gamers everywhere. It was the only place to get the most up to date rhythm games available. With such exclusive titles, AI was the one place that carried most players? interest. Now, with only a net income of around $20,000, Tao only gives himself 3 months before deciding on a new business to pursue. ?Right now, with income, I can only stay here for 3 months. If the summer is also bad, I don?t think I can stay until the release (of Super Street Fighter Four)?, Tao said. He?s losing nearly $200 a day with the decreased attendance to the arcade. On a slow Monday, he makes around $250 with a cost of maintenance at $450. On a good day, usually the beginning of the weekend, the profit stands at around $600-$700. It?s enough to scrap by week after week. Tao?s hope lie in the new Super Street Fighter Four set-up, a makeshift cabinet with a stuffed Playstation 3 and monitor inside. There exists no requirement to pay a token since it?s powered off a console. A simple push of the start button will create a new challenger. There is also no way to really monitor the actual exchange in the coin slot. There have already been signs of cheating this ?honor system? with multiple different tokens or small pennies used as disguise. The featured machine only pulls down around $10-$20 a day. ?In the daytime, when I?m outside, some people do not pay. They use other tokens from other arcades,? Tao said. ?I?m not really making money from that machine.? Tao pauses as a roar from the crowd outside his office makes its way inside.
The 20 year history of arcades in America has seen many changes but the communities that play the games remain its most consistent aspect. One of the oldest collections of players are represented by the fighting game community, the current group fueling arcade?s pockets. The peak of arcades and fighting games occurred in the early to mid 90s with the emergence of Southern Hills Golfland. This arcade used to have full houses of 50-60 players inside at any given day. Players coming from San Diego to San Bernardino would pass through and play the best in the region. The passion and talent that was born from that particular arcade is now matched in the casual gatherings that are present today. Without the release of Super Street Fighter Four for the arcade, the majority of the community has instead relied on the console version to get their fix. The other members of this group play their respective games that are also popular within the genre. Games such as Tekken 6, BlazBlue Continuum Shift, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, Street Fighter: Third Strike and Marvel vs. Capcom 2. The most popular casual sessions, meetings where players go to play multiple times in an arcade-like setting, exist within the Orange County area. ?Wednesday Night Fights at Dave and Buster?s? is the latest gathering to gain the most popularity. As a long-running series of Wednesday night casuals, this newest incarnation emerges as its flashiest and most mainstream by inhabiting a public business instead of a person?s house. Currently, these get-togethers are hosted by respected member of the fighting game community, Alex ?Calipower? Valle. A veteran of fighting games; he?s seen the peaks and dips in arcades and made his name during the SHGL days. During these casuals, streaming crews allow for the capturing and video of games to be broadcasted via the online web. ?Dave and Buster?s are proud to welcome ?Level Up?.? The brightly lit sign reads and introduces gamers with black bolded letters to the new location of Wednesday Night Fights. Behind the doors of the party room sits nearly 40 people sitting or standing around 10 television monitors blasting the fighting game, Super Street Fighter Four. The actual room is a picture of red velvet with curtains draping the entirety of the walls. Valle sits behind the microphone with his associate, AJ ?PotatoHead? Papa. Their commentary narrates the action being projected on the wall. Two characters, Guile, a yellowed hair, green sleeveless undershirt and army pants wearing man, are in the fight. It?s a projectile match, with each character mimicking the other?s moves in the same pattern. Finally the lighter green Guile jumps in and lands a straight legged kick. With the momentum changed confidence creeps on one player?s face as he flicks his stick toward the direction of the retreating opponent. ?This is such a terrible match to watch,? Keno ?Keno? Caesar, a well respected Southern California player, puts his hand on his face. With victory in sight, the player slams on his buttons in quick succession. The finality of the match is heard from the speakers in the room. Walking toward the corner of the room, Caesar is greeted by the other players watching the action on the projector. A sarcastic comment is made while he makes his way across. ?Wasn?t that a great match, Keno?? Caesar shakes his head in response. Caesar is a top player in Southern California who plays the character Balrog, a black boxer. His arcade roots run from Video 94 to Super Arcade and then finally, Arcade Infinity. He?s well-known with a reputation of being a clutch player that has spread from videos of tournaments in AI. Caesar provides hope to arcade survival because of the amount of time and dedication he spends playing in there. It?s now 10:30 p.m. but playing late isn?t new to Caesar?s regimen. ?I used to work 5-6 times a week and got off at 10 p.m. where I would drive to Video 94 at 10:30 p.m. and played until 6 a.m. Usually 8 hours a day? Caesar said. ?AI, I played 5-6 days a week from 1 p.m. to 3 a.m. Give or take 13 hours.? Caesar represents the mentality of the new generation of fighting game player. ?Usually by the time I was getting good at a game, it was already six years in. This was the game I had a chance to be good in the beginning,? Caesar said. ?Once I switched characters to Balrog, it was magic. I started off well and it got off from there. Since it was at the arcade, everyone that played there set the trend because there wasn?t any console versions.? He believes AI will be fine because of the new tournaments for Super Street Fighter Four that will soon start up. The next match featured Chun Li, a female character wearing a metallic blue tethered dress with yellow accents and spiked bracelets, and Guile. Two players sit side by side with one holding a Chun Li controller pad and the other holding an arcade-like stick. The pad player, Shane ?Shizza? Cummings needs a comeback. He moves his character with a directional pad on his controller back and forth, extending an arm or fireball with the hope of closing the gap in life. ?Shizza still very dangerous with that ultra and super,? Papa said. ?Oh! That was a dangerous focus attack!? ?Gay it out!? shouts someone from the crowd, encouraging the Guile to ?turtle? or run the clock out and block everything. Trying to keep it together, Dustin ?Warahk? Delmer reacts as his character, Guile, responds to each motion of the stick. Leaning forward in his chair with his mouth opened, Delmer holds back and pushes forward, letting go a ?sonic boom? projectile. Li?s jumping medium kick connects at the same time as the projectile hits as Delmer lets go of his stick, his face relaxed and relieved of the pressure of the match. The announcer yells KO (knock out) as Chun Li?s defeating words fill the room?s speakers. ?Yo! That was godlike! Good shit!? The shout from the crowd indicates the victor in the game. Cummings looks as his pad before reaching over for his wireless connector. His face contorts with a frown. ?I played like ass,? mouthed Cummings. It doesn?t prevent his manners from escaping him as he shakes Delmer?s hand in a ?good game? gesture. Delmer stands up slowly, smiling, and walks back to his seat where three people bombard him with statements of ?Good shit?. Valle stands up from his seat and starts to move toward the bulk of the players huddled around the 10 monitors. He watches a few second of every match, patting the winner on the back before moving to another monitor. Smiles and handshakes follow each time Valle moves behind the players of each station. A few players follow Valle at his last walkthrough of the stations, yelling with excitement with each victory. Finally, Valle picks up his microphone and announces, ?Last game?. Buttons and sticks move at a faster pace after the statement and each station?s personal announcer within the game shouts out its last ?KO? before a frantic shuffling from every player indicates the end of the evening. Valle stands outside the venue, in front of the closed doors of the empty Dave and Buster?s. Several Asian males carry silver cases and television monitors toward 3 cars starting up in the empty parking lot. Their grunts and exhausted exclamations prompt Valle to help carry some of the equipment. He returns back and stares blankly at the darkening parking lot before him. His group of Level Up staff stands idly by their cars, talking in exciting chatter. It?s been another successful Wednesday night. Valle?s been around the arcade scene since the 1980s with his first arcade being in 1984 with Family Fun Arcade in Orange County. His most dominant competitive arcade was Beach and Warner in Huntington Beach. He?s well known for playing in the arcade scene in the 90s with the now out of business, Southern Hills Golfland in Stanton, CA. ?Going into the 90s, the Golden Era of the arcade was slowing down but the ?Arcade Rat? days started. You had a lot of pride back then compared to today. You go to arcades that are left and you?re reminded of mere memories or just a new arcade that is trying to come up but cannot because arcades are not very profitable these days,? Valle said. ?It?s not about pride anymore; it?s more about social networking.? Valle is one of the few original gamers in the USA who still has revered respect from peers and newcomers despite the change to console versions. His social networking in his group, ?Level Up?, is a model that can be emulated by all arcades across America. ?The arcade used to get its business from its games, people would come there to play certain titles at the arcade only,? James Chen, a veteran arcade player and respected member in the fighting game community, said. ?They simply can?t compete with console games anymore, the arcade experience I had no longer exists. It just has to be a cool place to hang out for potential of arcades to grow again.? Ken?s lack of an idea in the 3 months is not the end of Arcade Infinity as Chen notes. The arcade can exist with the same format as the casuals like Wednesday Night Fights are currently implementing; making the arcade a casual and hip place to hang out. It?s Friday night at AI. The busiest day of the week for the arcade and it?s close to a full house. The two rows of Japanese cabinets that were once empty on the Monday night are now occupied by button pushing fighting game addicts. The two featured cabinets of Super Street Fighter are as busy as ever. One bystander throws a bronze shiny token on the flat surface where the stick and the buttons are located. 20 tokens total on the surface. Two more players turn to each other with agonized looks as one player raises their hand in a last-second victory. Ken looks on at the budding scene before his office and shakes his head. His face blank as he exclaims that this was nowhere near the packed house he used to have back in 2003. Tao?s intentions to keep the arcade open are strictly for the same reasons he goes to work, the people. ?I know most of the people out there like a friend. The arcade, to me, is just a business but the people out there are now my friends. I still get excited for the games that are played, especially when my friend is playing it. I?m not interested in games, just my friends that are playing it,? Tao said. As long as the community exists, arcades will still be relevant. The current movement of casual sessions and face to face imitates the model that made arcades so popular in the early 90s. ?The people are why I stay playing. The amount of friends I?ve made in this community, you find some really interesting people. Back in the SHGL days, I did make a lot of friends there. A lot of them are still friends,? Chen said. ?Nowadays, with the Street Fighter scene being as big as it is now, I feel like I have a lot more friends. The competitive drive is there as well and keeps me coming back to play, but honestly, it?s really the people. If fighting games go purely online, the scene will not go anywhere because it?s really about being together and having a great time with people.?