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Commentary > Game Over
Return of the quarter gobblers
Classic arcade games are the unlikely hit of E3 and retailers love them.
May 13, 2004: 1:14 PM EDT
By Chris Morris, CNN/Money staff writer

LOS ANGELES (CNN/Money) - I was a Pac Man baby.

I battled the Master Control Program in Tron. I escorted Frogger across busy highways and raging rivers. Heck, I knew Mario when he was playing second fiddle to a giant ape.

Like a lot of folks in their mid-30s, I spent a considerable portion of my childhood (and childhood income) shoving quarters into arcade machines. It was the gateway that brought me into the gaming world.

Looking back, I probably could have guessed the $5 I spent in quarters any chance I could would ultimately turn into an expensive hobby. I could not have known, however, I'd still be spending money on the exact same games.

Coming soon...Galaga?  
Coming soon...Galaga?

I'm not talking about the growing industry trend of re-imagining classic titles, either. I'm talking the exact same games I played over 20 years ago at that nameless, now long-defunct arcade on Rockbridge Rd. in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Microsoft is the latest company to jump on the retro phase. On Monday, the company announced a new service for its Xbox Live subscribers that would include classic arcade games from companies such as Atari and Namco (creators of Pac Man).

"These games are easy to get into and a total blast, which makes them perfect for the gamer who doesn't have a lot of time and just needs a quick fix," said J Allard, chief XNA architect for Microsoft's (MSFT: Research, Estimates) Xbox team.

Pricing for the classic arcade games on Xbox Live has yet to be set. The new service will also include puzzle and card games.

Cashing in on yesterday

Microsoft isn't the only company looking to cash in on yesterday. One of last year's best selling titles for Midway Games (MWY: Research, Estimates) was "Midway Arcade Treasures," a compilation of 24 classic arcade titles, including "Defender," "Joust" and "Marble Madness." More than 430,000 copies have been sold since its November release.

(Personally, I think a big part of the success was the inclusion of "Robotron 2084" the greatest game ever made. And if you don't trust my opinion, give Seamus Blackley, co-creator of the Xbox, a call. He'll back me up.)

More gaming news and commentary.

Encouraged by the success of the first entry, Midway will release "Midway Arcade Treasures 2" this fall with 21 classic games, including the first three "Mortal Kombat"s, "Cyberball" and "Wizard of Wor."

Jakks Pacific, meanwhile, introduced a series of plug-and-play TV games in 2003, which were the surprise hit of the holiday season. The joystick-like devices, selling for $25-$30, offer up to 10 classic games from a specific publisher, such as Namco or Activision, or a specific gaming system, like the classic Atari 2600.

Sales took off. While Jakks will not release any specific numbers, the TV games line topped the list of hot toys that did not receive TV promotion in a recent toy industry trade publication.

"It's pretty interesting with Xbox and PlayStation and GameCube, PacMan is just as compelling as it used to be," said Jakks Pacific spokesperson Genna Goldberg. "These games have staying power."

Jakks Pacific is already prepping new plug-and-play systems for later this year, including more Atari 2600 games as well as collections from Electronic Arts, Capcom and Midway. There are no agreements yet with Nintendo or Sega.

Here at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, most of the focus is on future titles rather than classic ones, but on one, particularly crowded corner of the show floor, you'll find people reliving the glory days of gaming, particularly classic home arcade machines, including the Intellivision and Atari 2600.

Midway Games Incorporated
Game Over
Microsoft Corporation
Video Games

The Classic Gaming Expo exhibit is being held at Kentia hall, which is typically the only place in the L.A. Convention Center where you can find a little peace and quiet during E3. Placed here to attract foot traffic for other exhibitors, it has served its purpose.

At any given time during the show, you'll find several hundred people exploring the industry's past. As an added bonus, they can hang onto their quarters.  Top of page

Morris, who rules at Galaga and Robotron, is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.

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