I loved my local arcade. The cacophony of electronic sounds, the flashing lights that made ceiling lights redundant, the smoky haze upon entry and that real feeling of a like-minded community as everyone gathered around the Street Fighter machine. It all combined into something special. Sadly, my local arcade, just like the arcade industry, died long ago.
While the arcade in most countries is a thing of the past, its spirit does live on in a way. HMV’s Gamerbase stations in stores around the UK have proven to be extremely popular with gamers who gather together to play solo, competitively, and cooperatively.
First introduced into Glasgow in July 2009, Gamerbase has grown in popularity, hosting tournaments on a national scale. The areas themselves are well laid out, with gamers having ample space between one another, and the walls decorated with a plethora of gaming posters and memorabilia.
Graeme Loarridge is the manager of Gamerbase Glasgow, though this isn’t his first gamer hangout in the city. “I started with Microplay and we had a loyal customer base. When HMV asked me about doing Gamerbase then I wanted to bring these people over and grow the community, which we have done.
“On a good week we’ll have over 2,000 unique gamers passing through to play. In total we have around 11,000 accounts here and nationally it is about 40,000 accounts. So it’s doing well.”
Services such as these rely upon their communities, and engaging and encouraging its participation is something Gamerbase has embraced. Tournaments are a regular occurrence, and winners have their names and pictures featured on the site.
Graeme added, “We need the gamers here but if we don’t offer what they want then the interest will wane. Gaming is one of those odd things where, I think, about 90% of guys aged 10-30 play, but most will hide it and be ‘closet gamers’. So we try to show people that this is a social thing, it’s not all about sitting in your bedroom alone and hiding it.”
It isn’t just tournaments that the service uses to entice new and old customers. A very solid working relationship with games publishers has been forged, with Gamerbase locations now a regular fixture for the next big game launch. “A week before launch we had Super Street Fighter 4 on free play for our customers to come in and try out. During that time we had literally hundreds of people come in and play. We also held the UK launch party for the game down south.”
There’s also some attractive cash prizes on offer for those with the skills, “Our national Street Fighter 4 tournament had a £4,000 cash prize for the winner. We also had a nationwide Need For Speed racing tournament with the best lap times getting to contest the UK final in our Reading branch.”
In the arcades of old it was the fighting game that was king; the best way to earn bragging rights was to be simply better than everyone else at Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Graeme thinks that Gamerbase goes beyond a reliance upon one genre however.
“There’s also a lot of play on (military games) Counter-strike and Modern Warfare 2. It’s not just the usual fighting and shooting though; World of Warcraft is always a top three game when it comes to hours played, and Heroes of Newerth was in our top 5 PC games last week. Considering the game hasn’t had its full release yet, it is surprising.”
While the true arcade experience will pretty much never come back to UK shores, there is certainly a feeling of nostalgia that permeates when walking around Gamerbase. Teenagers huddle around a single console playing the latest Street Fighter, solitary gamers try out the latest new experiences, and teams of players get together to practice.
The strong sense of an arcade isn’t lost on Gamerbase’s manager. Graeme feels the same way.
“Whenever I try to describe it to people I do use the phrase ‘a modern-day arcade’. Nowadays we give people the chance to play games they wouldn’t normally play or buy, in a way like the arcade did. There are so many games that the average person can’t afford to buy them all, so they can come in here and pay their £3 for an hour here without having to sink the £40 it would cost to buy the game.”
Since the demise of the arcade, there hasn’t really been anything that has filled that void. For those who miss the buzz of walking into a room full of machines and taking your pick, of both opponent and game, you might want to give Gamerbase a try.
For more pictures from my visit to Gamerbase, check out this blog post here.