The death of the arcade could mean the future of out-of-home gaming

Arcades haven't died, they've just become so ubiquitous, so entwined in our everyday entertainment experiences that we may not recognize that our visit to a museum, an amusement park, a restaurant or a movie theater is actually another trip to the arcade.

Or at least that's the idea behind the burgeoning Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Network Association, a collective of movie theaters, amusement parks, arcades and restaurants brought together by their common interest in and use of video games.

This week, executives from the group are gathering in Los Angeles to discuss the future of their trade. The meeting of future entertainment includes an "amorphous amalgam" of hybrid technologies and diversions. There will be talks about next-generation arcades, new models of interactivity in movie theaters, how to bring augmented reality experiences to amusement parks and at least one visit to a technology-driven entertainment experience brought to life.

"Most people's perception of what out-of-home entertainment is, is an arcade video game black box," said Kevin Williams, founder of the association. "A lot of people have perceived that it has died or gone away and that the only gaming out there is console gaming."

But it hasn't, it has evolved, Williams said, to become something much broader and further reaching.

Now amusement is something you find in the rides at Disneyland, the virtual changing rooms of some retailers, the touchscreens of some hotels, exergaming at gyms and even educational entertainment at museums.

Take Disney's Toy Story Mania!, a ride that has park-goers tramming their way from one large 3D screen to the next, using plastic guns to shoot virtual pies, darts, balls and hoops to score points. That's both a relatively small amusement park ride, and relatively huge video game.

"We can show that the business model works again, even if that means we have to walk over the corpse of the amusement business to do that."

"I think they will meet in the middle, with the need for all sizes of venues offering an attraction element in the leisure sector I think this will be a varied and diverse sector, but the separation between an attraction and an amusement piece may blur," Williams said.

That blurring is the thing that Williams' organization is pushing for. They're also hoping to help create experiences that draw on the incredible popularity of sites like Facebook and Twitter to augment the social aspects of gaming, something arcades long ago mastered.

"Just think on this, I walk past a facility and it texts my phone that my high score has been beaten and it will give me a discount to play if I come in now," Williams said. "I Facebook my friends and we agree to meet up. I compete and get the new high score and win the weekend purse. That is not the future, that is now! And yes, I can check my stats and player avatar at home, but it's competing out-of-home that rules, and the link to secondary spend (avatar, food, drink and merchandising) that offers a strong retail opportunity."

While the association is still in its infancy - this will be its second gathering - it is the offshoot of The Stinger Report, a nearly 20-year-old newsletter that tracks the comings and goings in the amusement, edutainment and attraction industries. It is a report that increasingly reads like an obituary for the old vanguard of arcade gaming.

Williams said he hopes to change that with this new association.

"We can show that the business model works again," he said, "even if that means we have to walk over the corpse of the amusement business to do that."

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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