Computers to invade game arcades

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    Victoria Laney

    AMOA, Atlanta, October 24, 1997

    Jason Rober is a “technology evangelist” for Microsoft, and his mission is to bring the wonders of Windows to the masses. Today his target mass is game gurus gathered at the Amusement and Music Operators Association to learn how to restock their arcades with the latest technology.

    The arcade industry is ready to listen. Total industry revenue declined by 30 percent each year since 1992. Kids could stay home and play games on their personal computers without spending a pocketful of quarters. The arcade game industry was still relying on a handful of manufacturers for everything from software to cabinets, Rober said.

    The success of Intel’s booth at AMOA shows that the convergence has begun, thanks to Open Arcade Architecture. The Architecture is a combination of Intel Pentium power and programming tools which can be used to create arcade quality games on personal computers. Programmers can write a game and be sure it will run on any hardware that complies with the architecture.

    The products in the Intel booth are works in progress. At another recent games show, a programmer took out his laptop and made immediate changes to game software, based on comments from customers. Traditional arcade games could not be modified, he said.

    “Open Arcade Architecture” is all about timing. Everyone has been talking about how to get PCs into arcades. They were worried that they wouldn’t be profitable. They worried that the quality of the games wouldn’t be up to arcade standards. The timing is finally right, and the industry can see that the games are right,” said Albert Teng of Intel. He joined Rober on stage for an announcement that Microsoft was joining the Open Arcade Architecure Forum.

    As the PC becomes the development platform of choice, it makes sense for it to become the delivery platform of choice. Microsoft is not planning to make software or hardware for arcade games. It won’t make arcade cabinets. It won’t make games. It will be a vendor of software tools for developers and hardware manufacturers. “We just want to foster the growth of a new and innovative idea,” Rober said.

    Microsoft will announce Windows 98 this spring, and new versions of DirectX next spring, with better, faster graphics. DirectX is not an operating system, but a set of extensions to Windows. Programmers to use it to create high performance graphics, 3D, voice recognition, and multiplayer capacity, he said.

    We are working with the Open Arcade Architecture Forum to define arcade extensions to DirectX. We will be supporting arcade developers and vendors through standard evangelism programs. We want to brand Windows as the premier entertainment platform. We will be examining and exploring other uses for PC technology in public spaces. “This is all about great content that will drive players back into arcades,” he said.

    “Its the future of our industry I’m looking forward to it.” said Jim Hayes. Gem Music and Vending in Ohio. An AMOA vice-president, he stocks arcades with juke boxes and other amusements. “It takes 18 months to 2 years to pay for the average game. Standardization will bring the cost of the games down, so we can pay for them sooner. This is important, because the games become dated so quickly.”

    “I thought that the presentation that was on target,” said Mike Leonard, President of Coin-op Specialists in Adrian, MI, also an AMOA vice-president. “We’ve known it was coming, because Microsoft talked about it last year. It is good to see the progress. Last year, very few arcade operators raised their hands to show they used the Internet. This year, nearly everyone raised their hands.”

    Rober challenged arcade owners to become involved with the PC industry. The best forum for meeting game programmers is the Computer Game Developers Conference to be held in April 1998 in Los Angeles. Last year 6,000 programmers attended, but many more are expected this year. The Open Arcade Architecture Forum needs to hear from arcade operators, especially on payback time for games. The biggest game show will be in May in Atlanta, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), he said.

    More information is available at www.microsoftw.com/directx or by e-mail at . For information on the arcade industry, e-mail .

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