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Game Centre – Japanese Arcade Games for Everyone


Smart Phones have increased their share of the market as favoured gaming platforms for the past ten years.  It is easier as the players do not have to go outside for entertainment.  Online games are made to be more interactive, and they evolved into mixed media from a standalone game.  (Refer to an article on 24th February 2017)

However, the tide is now shifting.  The good old arcade games, Game Centre as it is called in Japan, is making a comeback.

Decline, Resilience, and Resurgence

Since 2006, the number of customers visiting Game Centres declined sharply, especially a couple of years after the financial crisis in 2008.  After mass closures around the country, the decline stopped in 2014 and started to see a slight increase.  The annual growth of the sales in 2015/2016 was 7%, according to All Nippon Amusement Machine Operators’ Unit.

The most significant reason was the legislation change in June 2016.  Before this date, customers below 16 years of age could not enter any Game Centres after 6 pm, even accompanied by adults.  Young families, visiting to have a little fun after dinner, were refused entry.  School children were denied access after their tutoring school.

This stringent law came into force in 1985.  It was designed to prevent Game Centres from becoming hotspots of Anti-social behaviours by gangs.  After 30 years, following trends in society, technology, and needs from the entertainment industry, the long-anticipated change finally got approval.

Following the change, operators started online marketing campaigns, especially using very young YouTubers.  They, often children, go around Game Centres, introducing new machines and the prizes they get from the crane games.  The game companies, in collaboration with other retailers, offered exclusive limited-edition rewards for them to visit, try, and upload online.  As a result, some games formed long queues to get rare prizes. They continuously bring in a new troop of customers, benefitting the surrounding stores as well.


Changing Demographics, Changing Operations

The other factor is the senior generation, over 65 years of age, gathering in Game Centre during the day.

The games on smartphones can be too small for their eyes and in many cases very complicated.  In Game Centres, the favourite game for this customer segment is called Medal Game, which is relatively cheap to play, and perfect for spending relatively long time on the likes of virtual horse racing, bingo, and poker.  They can play alone or as a group.

Immediately after retirement, many people feel lost as they do not have a particular hobby or acquaintance in the neighbourhood.  At the same time, they are physically not old yet and keen to explore and enjoy their new lives.

Game Centres in the nearby towns provide a comfortable place to go when it suits them.  There is no schedule to stick to, it is open to anyone, and it is possible to spend time without spending a great deal of money, if at all.  As an extra incentive, if you win a prize by playing a game or two, you can take it away as a souvenir for a grandchild.

Guilty Pleasure to Health Care

Prevention of dementia is a great excuse for many senior members of society to engage in what is still seen as a guilty pleasure, ie, visiting Game Centre.

Interaction with others who are at a similar stage of life may provide psychological benefits.  Playing games can require some concentration and physical movement, such as bashing crocodiles that pop randomly out of holes.  There are game machines that can measure physical fitness levels.  Data can be shared with family members or care managers.

Many game centres hire out reading glasses, have installed blood pressure gauges, offer free green tea, and have installed brighter lightings.  Some operators provide introductory tours of their centres, showing how to use popular machines. There are happy hours, offering double prizes on new game machines.  The floor layout is changed to cluster together machines that are popular among different customer segments.

All About Re-Inventing Yourself

The primary target remains working people under 30 years of age.  The increase in their wages has been a major contributing factor for Game Centre resurgence.  But the customer mix differs depending on the areas and surroundings, near a clinic, a school, or a shopping mall.

After a hard decade of decline, Game Centres are starting to establish a new foundation to serve broader customer bases in future.  It is now up to the operators to entertain the broader customer base, making themselves attractive for every potential need.


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