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After arcade video games like Pac Man & Space Invaders hit the scene in the ’80s, weekends were never the same again

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After arcade video games like Pac Man & Space Invaders hit the scene in the '80

The new arcade video games: Space games overcome pinballs (1980)

A group of youths crowd around a video terminal watching a companion maneuver a space ship around the screen blasting asteroids they collide with his ship.

A few feet away, a man dressed in a business suit attempts to annihilate descending aliens before they swoop and bomb his ship. At still another machine, young boy standing tip-toed stares into a periscope as he tries to destroy oncoming tanks and fighter planes before they zero in on him.

These folks at the Funway Freeway arcade at Greenwood Park Mall [Alabama] are among thousands of Americans who daily pump thousands of dollars in quarters into video game machines.

“This thing has grown rapidly in the last three-and-a-half years, it’s unbelievable,” said Gary A. Dellapenna, a Shelbyville game distributor. Dellapenna should know — he distributes and sells video games, or “vids” as they’re known in the trade, all over central Indiana.

Vince Urbancic, manager at Funway, estimates the arcade, which houses dozens of video games as well as pinball machines, brings in between $10,000 and $15,000 a month.

“There’s always someone in here,” he said.

Arcade games a big moneymaker

The video game business is a multi-million dollar a year venture, according to business journals. In 1979, the games brought in $250 million, up 25 percent over 1978.

Similarly, pinball machines — which have been around for decades — netted $250 million in 1979, but it was the same amount earned in 1978, indicating the videos are the growth market, while pinball machines have stagnated.

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“The vids are are the thing, ” said Dellapenna. “Pins are out. Pinball’s popularity has dropped, according to Dellapenna, despite manufacturers’ efforts to improve their images.

Manufacturers have built machines that are much flashier than their predecessors. Some pinball machines even “talk”‘ to the player, taunting them to “beat me,” and acknowledging when the player is doing well. Dellapenna said new models will feature multiple playing levels and other special devices to enhance the machines’ marketability.

Players praise vide over pinballs, saying that videos involve more talent and “It’s like you’re inside of it,” said 22-year-old David Fye, who concentrates on the Asteroids game at Runway. The waiter at the mall’s Lazarus dining area plays on his lunch hour, spending “a couple of dollars a day” playing the games.

Asteroids arcade video game

Much better than pinball

Fye described pinball machines as “too limited,” and said video games involve more talent and skill. 

That’s exactly what manufacturers have in mind when they develop the games, according to Dellapenna.

Unlike pinball games, which allow a player garnering enough points to win a game, video games can’t be beaten. After a player clears a screen, the game is repeated at a faster pace until the player is wiped out.

Additional ships are awarded as players reach certain point levels, but never does the player actually win a game, as in pinball.

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The manufacturers pull in the money with repeat business as players try to improve their skills. Pinball machines, according to Dellapenna, involve luck only.

“If you have a bad day,” Fye said, “it seems you spend more trying to get even.”

An incentive in the video games is the 10 top players of the day can display their initials next to their scores on the machine.

“That’s a plus for the business,” Dellapenna said.

The new generation of video machines will feature maze games in which a player tries to complete the maze before assorted ghouls and goblins try to stop him, accordming to Dellapenna. He predicted that “Pac-Man” will be the next “hot”‘ video game.

1981 Pac Man arcade games

The video game business started in the ’70s

The video game industry started in 1972 when Atari, a division of Warner Communications, marketed an electronic ping pong game.

The game didn’t capture the country’s imagination until 1978, when Space Invaders was introduced.

The game, which involves clearing a screen of descending invaders, was so successful that it spawned a novelty record this year by Uncle Vic called, appropriately enough, Space Invaders.

The games have become so popular that they are located almost everywhere there is high people traffic: shopping centers, bowling alleys, bars and taverns, and even grocery stores.

“They’re sprouting up almost everywhere,” Dellapenna said.

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The key to successful video business is rotating the machines, he said. Weekly income sheets are kept on each machine, and when income starts to drop, the machine is pulled and replaced with a different game, he said.

The boom in integrated circuits made video games possible, he said. Circuit boards that control sound and action are described as “rugged” and pretty reliable by Funway’s Urbancic. The machines cost about $3,000 each, Dellapenna said.

Distributors split the profit from the machines 50-50 with places that use them. “It provides them with some ancillary income,” he said.


Pac Man arcade games (1980)

Midway’s aMAZEing new 1 or 2 player full-color video game!

This is a new video game called “Pac-Man.” One game distributor said that Pac-Man is one of the hottest games on the market.

The new generation of video machines will feature maze games where a player must move his man (the opened circle in the center) around the screen gobbling the dots before any of the ghost-like figures can catch it.

Pac-Man arcade video games from 1980


Space Invaders

“The world’s hottest game”

Space Invaders arcade game


Tempest arcade games (1981)

Tempest arcade games 1981


Tron arcade game (1982)

Tron arcade game 1982


Asteroids video games arcade (1981)

Asteroids video games arcade 1981


Burger Time arcade game (1982)

Burger Time arcade game 1982


Centipede arcade game (1981)

Centipede arcade game 1981


Defender arcade video game

Defender arcade game


Frogger arcade game (1981)

Frogger arcade game 1981

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Galaga arcade game (1981)

Galaga arcade game 1981


Nintendo arcade games (1983)

Nintendo arcade games


Star Wars arcade game (1983)

Star Wars arcade game 1983

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