Arcade games are literally the oldest form of publically available video games in history. Many people mistakenly believe Pong, created by Atari, was the first video game for public consumption, but this is untrue. A year before Pong, the founders of Atari had created the very first arcade game machine for a game called Computer Space.
Note that we said ‘publically available’ because video games did sort of exist prior to Computer Space – but they were mostly developed for and played by computer scientists in the early 60s, not intended for commercial release. In any case, we don’t want to debate the semantics of “first” video games – we want to highlight the most popular arcade games from history!
Arcade games continue to be popular today, whether it’s physical arcade machines or arcade-style browser games. You can purchase a USB arcade stick, which makes games like Stickman Rope a lot more fun on the PC, rather than playing with a keyboard and mouse.
Fun fact: It doesn’t make the list, being relatively unknown, but 1986’s Turbo Kourier was the first arcade game to feature 3D polygonal graphics.
Developed in 1976 and published by Atari, the creation of Breakout was a joint effort between Nolan Bushnell, Steve Bristow, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Jobs. That’s a lot of Steves, yeah? In fact, Breakout served as the basis for the creation of the Apple II computer, and many of Apple II’s features were part of Steve Wozniak’s desire to include gaming as part of the Apple II experience.
As an arcade machine game, Breakout was Atari’s biggest arcade hit for a number of years, until they released Asteroids in 1979.
Space Invaders is considered the arcade game that totally revolutionized the video game industry. Created by Tomohiro Nishikado and manufactured in Japan in 1978, Space Invaders became an overnight blockbuster success, grossing $3.8 billion dollars in just 4 years. Space Invaders is credited as the first “shoot em up” game, and was ported to nearly every available home console and PC, and spawned probably a million clones.
Some interesting facts: It was originally supposed to have the player shooting down airplanes, but Nishikado had trouble getting them to fly smoothly due to hardware limitations. His second idea was human enemies, but management at Taito Corporation forbade shooting human targets. So….aliens!
As mentioned earlier, Asteroids took over as Atari’s biggest hit in 1979, selling over 70,000 arcade cabinets. Atari raked in a cool $150 million USD from Asteroids, and it was ported to several consoles. Asteroids was actually based on an unfinished game titled Cosmos, and drew inspiration from previous space arcade games like Spacewar!, Computer Space, and Space Invaders.
Yeah, the 70s was full of space-themed games – blame Star Wars?
Another classic coming out of Japan in 1980 (you thought it was made in America?), Pac-Man was designed by Toru Iwatani of Namco. It was actually released in Japan as “Puck Man”, which came from the Japanese word ‘paku’, meaning “to chomp”. It was then licensed to Midway for distribution in the U.S. The title was changed to “Pac-Man” because U.S. vendors were afraid that vandals would change “Puck-Man” to something less…appropriate.
As one of the highest grossing video games of all time, Pac-Man raked in over $2.5 billion USD by 1990. It also spawned a cartoon show in 1982, and Pac-Man has appeared in over 30 spin-offs.
Fun fact: The game was designed to have “no ending”, so theoretically it should have an infinite amount of levels. But the original game corrupts on level 256, due to a bug in calculating the number of fruit for the level.