Things I learned in London another yesterday

1. That the arcade videogame business is absolutely dead. In the entirety of the International Gaming Expo (formerly/incorporating the ATEI show), occupying the whole floorspace of Earls Court, there was NOT ONE coin-op videogame on display, and only one pinball machine (an unseemly 24 licence – I didn’t see whether there was a hit-the-targets-to-torture-the-suspect mode).

The world of electronic gaming seems now to be wholly about American-style five-reel video fruit machines – there were barely even any with physical reels, and almost none licenced from any kind of British IP. Jaws and Sex And The City were about as good as it got.

When we went to Funland at the Trocadero later, the story was no better. The huge, sprawling multi-storey arcade was almost deserted, and appeared to have all the same machines it had when I was last there about a year ago. The most recent game was a single pair of Street Fighter 4 cabinets, which we had to search high and low for before a security guard eventually directed us to the dingy corner they were tucked away in.

(I got thrashed, obviously. Bloody cheap Ken-Ryu fanboys and their endless fireball – Dragon Punch – fireball – Dragon Punch – fireball – Dragon Punch – fireball – YAWN.)

2. That on the other hand, air hockey seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance. There were loads of inventive new twists on the subject, including video air hockey on a huge table, a rather excellent one played in a sort of half-pipe with a central shield including blocked-off scoreboard bits to make the puck harder to spot (and which we made even more fun by playing it with two pucks):

…and something I’m sure that I’ll tragically never see in actual real-life use (and just visible at the back of that shot) – four player air hockey, on a big square table with a goal in the middle of each side. There were countless other variants too, including little air hockey for kids and every kind of visual style you could imagine, so I’m hoping it means air hockey is growing in popularity and soon to be found in every town in the land. Perhaps then I’ll find someone who can give me a decent contest.

3. That poker machines are huge now, either as gambling-against-the-CPU devices or as incredibly expensive and elaborate ways to simulate a table and a pack of cards. The most intriguing was Big Tony’s Texas Hold’Em.

In its own right it was an entertaining heads-up poker game, very slick and easy to use and extremely impressive looking. The odd thing about it, though, was the little notice in the top-right corner, like the ones on fruit machines where they proclaim a minimum 72% payout or whatever.

102%? That’s a little generous, no? I’m not sure how keen casino operators are going to be to buy a machine that pays out more than it takes in. Also, there’s a “best strategy” in poker?

4. That some massage chairs really ought to be called “highly personal violation chairs”.

5. That Bacon Mints taste how you’d expect, which is to say like minty bacon.

6. That apparently there’s such a thing as “smokefree gaming”.

Also a “new world order of gaming”. Brrr.

7. That I’m a colossal moron. Needing to do some writing, I decided to take my netbook along, and get a couple of hours done on the train on the way home, as my colleague was staying in London for the evening. The night before I plugged the netbook in to charge, only to notice 10 minutes before I was due to leave that I hadn’t pushed the connector all the way in and it hadn’t charged at all.

Annoyed at my idiocy, I left the netbook in the house and caught the train. Meeting my chum there, I related this tale, at which point he indicated the power points that are located at every seat on inter-city trains these days. I’m a double moron.

8. That Earls Court has a pigeon problem.

9. That civilisation is coming to an end.

2 Responses to “Things I learned in London another yesterday”

  1. Interesting. I went to IAAPA in Vegas in November (US equivalent of ICE) and there were heaps of coin-ops – sega had a bunch for example. In fact it had more floor space than the G2E (gambling) next door, however this was entirely down to most of the floor being taken up by bouncy castles and small fairground rides.

    As for the 24 machine, that’d be a Stern one. They had 2 at IAAPA – the other one was Shrek. They’re the only active pinball manufacturer. Still, for my pinball fix, the Pinball Hall of Fame in Vegas was much better. Imagine an industrial unit, filled with about 200 machines, all lovingly maintained, and all playable for an average of 30p a go (with all profits to charity)…

    As for the 102% payout, this is possible on the odd machine – some video pokers in vegas in each casino are set this high – but it’s more likely they had it set so high for demo mode.

  2. Interesting. There was no Sega stand at all at the show, which I suspect might be the first year they haven’t appeared at the ATEI. Konami had a large presence, but entirely full of fruit machines. And actually, I forgot that the Trocadero had the new version of GTi Club, with the car football game.

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