The History of the Arcade Machine

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The History of the Arcade Machine
Arcade machines got their start at boardwalks and amusement parks. (Lighted Boardwalk sign image by Jim Mills from

The history of the arcade machine begins with amusement parks in the 1920s. The first arcade games were interactive, such as Skee-ball. Over time, coin-operated machines came into favour, whose popularity paved the way for computerised games.


Coney Island in New York saw the introduction of the earliest arcade games, which were technologically unsophisticated. They encouraged more active participation from the user than modern arcade games. Most games involved shooting or tossing a ball. Around this time, fortune teller machines, such as those seen on boardwalks today, were being introduced.


As technology advanced, so did the machines. By the 1930s, coin-operated pinball machines had popped up. The first two of this type, "Whiffle Board" and "Baffle Ball," were followed closely by "Ballyhoo," which sold more than 75,000 units, according Pinball Fixers.


The tilt function was introduced to pinball machines in 1932, which made the games harder to win -- machines could no longer be picked up and manipulated. In 1947, flippers were introduced, which cemented pinball as a game that relied upon skill, not strength.


The golden age of arcade games, generally placed between the 1970s and late 1980s, saw the switch from mechanical to computerised games. As technology advanced, the graphics and sounds of these games became more and more complex. These new machines spread from arcades into homes, supermarkets and restaurants.


Arcade machines can be found in a wide variety of locations from pizza parlours to bowling alleys but personal game consoles have overtaken most of the market. In fact, some of the classics, such as PacMan, still have cultural significance and are even recognised by younger generations.

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