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.)