This “new” hardware, new game, on still new 3D technology was being developed suspiciously fast. Issues and decisions were quickly settled. Faxes with questions were on my desk in the morning and my answers were needed in time for my evening phone call with Japan. Ultimately we would learn that System 11 was an arcade version of the PlayStation hardware. Though the Sony brand was a household name, the success of the PlayStation was by no means a foregone conclusion. And not being a content producer, Sony quietly flew under the radar as they built a giant developer community.

Tekken PS1

Tekken was a big hit for PlayStation

Ridge Racer was key to the PlayStation's North American launch.

Ridge Racer was key to the PlayStation’s North American launch.

The 1970’s ill-fated strategy of the Betamax more than lingered with Sony management. It taught Sony that superior technology didn’t always win the race. This time around, software support and adopting a whole product approach would be required. Who would be ideal partners to help market the PlayStation? Namco was an industry leader, itself building a library of 3D games. And like Sony, Namco too had a bone to pick with Nintendo. Namco was rewarded with Ridge Racer becoming the key pack-in game in North America. 3D games Tekken, Time Crisis, Soul Blade and Ace Combat sold millions and helped solidify the PlayStation’s success.

Introduction of PlayStation

The original Sony PlayStation

The original Sony PlayStation

The 1994 launch of the PlayStation shook things up as never before. It accomplished what Nintendo nor Sega could do. The PlayStation ran 3D games that looked as good as those in arcades. Now arcade players needed to wait only a few short months before they could buy the same game.

Keeping things in perspective, the coin-operated game industry survived for over 80 years. It survived all eight generations of the home video game console, personal handhelds, and mobile devices. Perhaps years from now, the creation of CD-ROM and even mobile gaming might look like mere bumps in the road.

Arcade Games Lost Their Competitive Advantage

The PlayStation’s parity with coin-op eliminated the arcade’s “competitive advantage”. More specifically their “differential advantage”, because players no longer viewed arcade games to be superior over the console. If Nintendo’s NES started the bleeding, the PlayStation caused a hemorrhage.

After nearly 40 years and through four generations of consoles, coin-operated games finally lost this advantage. Arcade income began to tumble and arcade’s across America closed their doors. With fewer manufacturers selling fewer machines to fewer arcades, for many the ends no longer justified the means.

For Sega, the Dreamcast was no match for the PlayStation. In a market that couldn’t support three consoles, they were the odd man out.

With consoles now the dominant force, games now debuted in coin-op for testing and marketing support. Arcade releases once had six months before their release to PlayStation. But eventually, even this gave way to near simultaneous releases.

Ridge Racer was important to the PlayStation's US launch in 1995

Ridge Racer was important to the PlayStation’s US launch in 1995

Pressure mounted on arcade game operators. The luxury of a wait and see approach to game buying had disappeared. It forced them to buy early and make hay while they could. The growing popularity of the PlayStation was like an incoming tidal wave.

Namco again accepted their role of being a software provider for yet another console. But coin-op was the company’s roots and life blood. Arcade games would need to evolve if they were to continue and have a place in coin-operated entertainment.

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4 Responses to Namco: The Role of Coin-Op in the PlayStation

  1. Bob Weiss says:

    Hi Jerry,
    A little side bar for you regarding the playstation hardware that we used for the production of our coin op games at NAMCO America.
    Unaware we began production of our first games utilizing this hardware, only to discover that we could not export the finished product out of the United States. Seems as though it was O.K. to import the hardware, but we were not able to export it. Turned out there was no one in the U.S. that we could team up with to solve this, not even Sony. The government had concerns about the potential of and for the hardware falling into the wrong hands.
    As such I took it upon myself as Director on Manufacturing, under the direction our COO, Kenji Hisatsune to work with the government to obtain the necessary approval that would allow NAMCO to be able to export the product. When the process was completed, NAMCO became the only company in the U.S. with the government approval that could export product utilizing the playstation hardware.
    Bob Weiss

  2. Bud Leiser says:

    Great article!

    We never did do a class field trip to any arcades. I agree with you thought it’s the games that can’t port to console that dominate the floor space. Especially if they have tickets or prizes.

    Just the other day at Riviera hotel’s pinball museum I saw an “old” game I loved that had a skateboard control system. So much fun and could never be ported without a similar control device. Yet that’s also a double edged sword, because the control is so different it creates a friction barrier. Some people look at it and won’t try it or physically can’t use it.

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