A Few Thoughts on Pinball News' Coverage of Round 1

I found it rather amusing that someone at Pinball News, on their way back to the airport, stopped by the Round 1 at Puente Hills, CA. I actually visit that location from time to time, but they only had time for a quick visit, so I felt like I ought to elaborate, especially since a number of thoughts welled up from inside me. (It’s entirely out of curiosity and amusement.)

The first thing I want to point out is that Pinball News found four machines there: The Walking Dead, Star Trek, Metallica, and Kiss. There actually used to be six: Those four plus WWE Wrestlemania and Mustang. (I can understand why they might be taken out–they were never that popular compared to these four.)

Another thought is that they refer to the card-reader system as “proprietary.” I guess arcades are mostly dead in many other parts of the world, but this is actually a standard for arcades nowadays, as it’s the system most difficult to cheat. I actually carry several arcade cards, one of whom is, of course, for Round 1.

The third, and I feel is the one I can elaborate on the most detail, are the “obscure (to us) Japanese games.” I had to chuckle when I saw the “(for us)” part, as to the Japanese, most of these are actually staples. (The one that was photographed, School of Ragnarok, is not one of them.)

That’s because in Japan, arcades are still common, and they are still thriving. This is because in Japan, especially in large cities, arcades are social hangout spots for teenagers and young adults, much like they were in the west in the 80’s and early 90’s (only without the drugs and thugs and such). As a result, there are companies mostly unknown to westerners that stay afloat nearly entirely through selling arcade machines, like Arc System Works and Compile Heart. Incidentally, Capcom and SEGA, companies that ARE well-known internationally, get much of their revenue through selling arcade machines too.

It would’ve been a lot funnier had Pinball News put up a photograph of one of Round 1’s pop’n music games, as this is an arcade-only game franchise that’s successful enough to have had 22 sequels (and is still going).

As for why pinball never really took off in Japan, despite arcades being highly successful venues there up to the present? The answer’s simple: Pachinko got there first and took the whole country by storm. Pachinko gets entire parlors dedicated to it and it alone. (That, and pachinko machines can’t be put in normal arcades due to legal reasons, as it is a gambling machine.) That being said, it will be interesting to see if pinball can make its way to Japan in the following years, as pachinko machine sales and pachinko parlor attendance is on the decline. Any pinball manufacturer hoping to sell to Japan (or made by Japanese people) will have to make a theme the people of Japan will care about though, which there are almost none. The only recent releases I can see having any Japanese success are The Wizard of Oz and Game of Thrones, the latter of which has a small but cult following there. (For the record, superhero movies tend not to do very well in Japan. For instance, The Avengers: Age of Ultron has the 5th worst box office numbers for 2015. They also have their own thriving music scene, so any western music short of Michael Jackson or The Beatles will be largely ignored.)

I visit the Puente Hills one on occasion, as I am also somewhat of a IIDX and Sound Voltex addict as well.

Moreno Valley always had 4 machines, and Puente Hills should still have 6. Though most of them have issues in some way (e.g. Mustang’s ramp not registering, and WWE’s existence). It’s a solid enough collection of games, but a little underwhelming if all you’re going to play is pinball.

  1. If you’re carrying a bunch of arcades’ cards in your wallet, they are proprietary systems prima facie.

  2. I wouldn’t say that arcades here are thriving. The market’s certainly large, but it’s tightening slowly. The more marquee places seem to be doing well, but many of the prestigious arcades are pretty dire. Having game communities certainly helps: an arcade doesn’t have 50 SF4s for no reason. As a side note, it’s simply true that the number of youth in japan is dropping, which doesn’t help. Schools are closing, towns are closing, it happens when people simply don’t have kids.

  3. SEGA also owns a large chain of Arcades, which seems to surprise many visiting gaijin.

  4. Re: pachinko and gambling. Gambling is illegal in japan, full stop. Pachinko operates in japan in the same grey area as bingo machines did in the US. Officially, you can win nothing of value in a pachinko parlour; there’s a grey-market dodge where there just happens to be a man around the corner that will buy that valueless thing for cash moneys.

  5. Most pachinko parlours have slot machines now too: the appeal is the same, the skill level is the same. Pachinko is much more similar to the slot market than it ever was to the pinball market. The footprint is about the same, too, so slots and “pachi-slots” have started moving in.

  6. Yes, pachinko is on the decline. There are still about 1000 machines on location within 1km of my local train station. There are less than 20 pinball machines in all of tokyo on location. This isn’t apples and oranges: it’s fleas and elephants.

  7. I’m afraid that link was to ‘disappointing’ (critically) not box office records. Age of Ultron did fine here, earning about $25 million on annual turnover of $1.8 billion or so. (vs. $0.5b on $11b in the US). It went #1 the week of its release. Yes, not as huge as in the US, but not nothing, either.

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You know, I somehow missed that they went to Moreno Valley and not Puente Hills. I had a real brainfart there.

Wow! What a detailed response.

Compared to the United States, the arcades in Japan certainly look thriving to me. But I’ll take your word for it. I heard that arcades in smaller towns are the ones hit the hardest while arcades in large metropolitan areas are doing relatively okay. But they still seem to be rather stable as businesses, which is amazing from the perspective of an American like myself, who has seen arcades dropping like flies with most attempts to start one up falling flat if it isn’t chock full of redemption games. Unlike your UFO Catchers and such though, our redemption machines are rigged (and that was actually proven in court–the Canadian province of Alberta bans claw machines for that reason). A lot of people don’t know it though, so you get a lot of passers-by dropping coins in there hoping to win that PS Vita or iPhone for a dollar.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was on the brink of collapse during the economic downturn of the late 00’s, which is supposed to be the largest arcade chain in the world. When people have less money, entertainment venues are the first to go.

Oh yes, I definitely know about next-door shop where you redeem stuff for prizes…and prizes for cash. I didn’t know gambling is completely illegal in Japan though. How does pachinko exist at all then? If you redeem them for little trinkets, isn’t that still gambling? Then again, I guess it’s a similar kind of loophole for those aforementioned redemption machines, only there isn’t an “unrelated” business that buys those prizes.

That list was for movies that were critically disappointing? All right then. Sorry about that; I misinterpreted the article. I do remember some discussion about Whiplash being on that list though, as it was a well-liked movie in North America (but that’s neither here nor there).

Hi there.

I’m glad you got to read the Round 1 report and found it interesting. I’d never heard of Round 1 before that visit to Moreno Valley, and the scale of their operation is impressive even to someone who’s been in more than their fair share of arcades over the years.

I think those Japanese video games are unknown in quite a few areas of the world, and more so to pinball players as opposed to video gamers. That’s why I found them interesting and unusual enough to comment on. :slightly_smiling:




Wow, I didn’t expect a reply from someone at Pinball News. This is quite flattering.

I apologize as I realized later on you went to Moreno Valley, and I was thinking of the Puente Hills location, which is just west of there. I have not been to the Moreno Valley location, so I don’t know exactly what’s there.

These Japanese arcade machines can be found in a lot of different locations in southern California, by the way. Most arcades around here of a decent size that isn’t Chuck E. Cheese’s will have at least a Melty Blood or a pop’n music, but Round 1 is a REAL special case as the only American arcades to get preview import games from Japan and Korea. Maybe it’s some degree of confirmation bias because of where I live.