When I was a kid you did, indeed, put quarters into video games. (Here’s the easiest trivia question in the world for you: What was the first “officially” two-quarter video game?) However, soon thereafter, you stopped putting quarters into the games and started putting tokens into the slots.
There were arcades all over town and we (that is, *MY* circle of peeps) had different rankings for different arcades… there was the arcade that had the best games (Tournament Cyberball 2072 needed to be included to make the grade for this one), the arcade that had the most PvP games (Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, and so on), and the arcade that gave the most tokens for the least money. Sure, most arcades gave 4 tokens for a dollar and 20 for five bucks… but the one next to the movie theater gave 25 for five dollars! *AND* they had Tournament Cyberball!!!! So that was the best arcade.
In any case, if one found oneself at the arcade at the state fair or a cheapo amusement park or similar, one could find oneself in an arcade where not only did every game cost two tokens to play but the token machine gave 3 tokens for a dollar and you had to cash a fiver to get back to a decent ratio of tokens/dollars. Hey, even if you went home with tokens in your pocket, it’s not like you paid more than a quarter for them. Plus, maybe, you could use them at the mall.
So, no. It wasn’t the quarter that caused the death knell of video games in the US. It was greed.
Back in the 80’s, you could go into any given arcade and play any number of genres of video games. Shooters, jumpers, fighters, sports simulators, Tetris (and any number of offshoot puzzleish games), and, of course, whatever crazy stuff happened to be in the Neo-Geo upright.
There was one genre of video game that was found to keep people pumping in token after token after token… the “storyline” video game. Something like Final Fight or Captain Commando (or, much more cynically, Smash TV and it’s “sequel” Total Carnage) would give you a story to go along with the stuff on the screen. You’d fight this group of folks and get one step closer to the end goal of freeing the Mayor’s daughter or whatever… and, unlike infinite quarter/time suck Gauntlet, it was *POSSIBLE* to meet, fight, and beat the end boss and watch the closing credits tell you that you had won. This genre was doing pretty good until… Street Fighter II.
When Street Fighter II came out, folks lined up (and lined their tokens up) to play. Not against the system… not to read some digital text telling them well done… but to fight and *BEAT* the guy standing right next to them. Man vs. Man, 60 second round (not that you’d need 60 seconds), best 2 out of 3. Fight.
Assuming an average round of 45 seconds (high by about 10-15 seconds, if memory serves) you’d get someone yelling “CRAPOLA!” like they were an old lady playing Bingo and someone (maybe someone else) dropping a token every minute to two minutes. That’s $7-15 bucks an hour during peak time (and, when it first came out, peak time lasted all frickin’ day).
The industry (quickly!) learned that the most money to be made was not in side-scrolling storyline games (which, if you were lucky, had 2-3 obsessed folks playing until Magneto was beaten) but in a new token being dropped every 90 seconds. Let’s face it… in theory, two really skilled players could beat X-Men by themselves (in theory). But Street Fighter II? You’d have a token every minute and a half if there were two players there.
The focus ceased to be on games intended to make you keep playing, but games that made you want to (FINALLY) beat the sonova that kept killing you with Dhalsim. And every piece of real estate being taken up by Captain America and the Avengers is a piece of real estate that you cannot dedicate to yet another Street Fighter II SE (or Mortal Kombat, or Killer Instinct, or whatever the heck that dinosaur game was… Primal Rage). For those that didn’t like combat-combat, there were sports games like NBA Jam (or, technically, Cyberball but that was a much more intricate game… a “Go” to NBA Jam’s “Reversi/Othello”).
Meanwhile, at the same time, home consoles were providing the side-scrolling, and Tetrisy, and shooter, and jumper, and storyline games that we all fell in love with in the arcade but had since been relocationed due to the popularity of Street Fighter II (and pretenders).
So any given person knew: If you wanted to play an RPG? You stayed at home. If you wanted to play a side-scroller? You played at home. If you wanted to play a puzzle game? You played at home. If you wanted to play a guy who played Street Fighter II? Well, you went to the arcade next to the movie theater. Hey, where’s Cyberball? Oh… it got sold. Well, thanks, I guess. I guess I’ll just go home, then.
It was when, in the US, that video games ceased to be something that you played yourself and evolved into something that you played against someone else (and there were a *LOT* of tokens to be made in that, don’t get me wrong!) that folks who went to arcades for reasons other than Alpha Male status found that there was no place like home.
Hey, I can play Final Fantasy III for $50. That’s 5 saturdays at the arcade at the mall… and, you know what? It’ll take 5 Saturdays for me to beat it *AND* I can then beat it *AGAIN*. Hey. I can play Ultima VII. Hey, I can play Final Fantasy III. Hey, I can play Lunar. Hey, I can play Final Fantasy VII. Hey, I can play Dragon Warrior III. Hey, I can play Knights of the Old Republic (hey, you should play Knights of the Old Republic). Hey, I can play Dragon Age. (Hey, I can’t believe I’m writing this instead of playing Dragon Age II.)
Quarter/Token arcades ate their own seed corn. They squeezed every token they could out of the folks who went to play Street Fighter II (or its pretenders) and found that there was no one left likely to keep coming. People had grown out of the habit… because they knew that arcades were not for folks who liked shooters, or jumpers, or side-scrollers, or Tetrisy games. They were for fighters.
If arcades survive in Japan, it’s because you can go into any Japanese arcade and play a game suited to your particular tastes, even if you don’t want to play Chun Li again. In the US, the choices you had were between fighting games and not between genres… and that’s why they died out.
Well, except for the one at the mall. It’s got several Dance Dance Revolution games, for some reason. (Now *THAT* is one that I would *ONLY* play at home.)