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The 1970s to 1990s was truly the golden era for public arcades.
Tilt, Aladdin's Castle, Time Out Arcade, Space Port Arcade, and Time Zone were among the most popular arcade chains during that period, and many who were fortunate to be children during that period have very fond memories of their experiences.
However, times changed very quickly for the arcade industry as console gaming hit the market and people started spending more time playing games at home.
Much like the pinball industry, public arcades nearly went extinct by the late 90s and early 2000s. Despite the decline, some of these arcade chains, such as Time Zone, are still operating but at a much smaller scale. These arcades were a huge part of pop culture for decades and their cultural influence still lives on in many places today.
Heck, one could even argue that arcades are entering a new renaissance of sorts, driven largely by the barcade scene.
Even though the industry seems to be in a period of growth today, it’s still worth remembering where we came from. Here are a few of the more popular chains that were prevalent during the golden age of arcades.
The Golden Era of the Arcade
These two decades saw a considerable surge in arcade popularity. Kids were spending their weekends at arcades, game parlors, and family fun centers, looking to pump quarters and tokens in exchange for high scores and arcade glory.
Tilt is one of the few arcades still operating, though at a much smaller size now. The video arcade chain was founded in 1972 by Craig Singer as Tilt Family Entertainment Center, with Nickels and Dimes Incorporated as its parent company.
The arcade was first founded in Texas, but it shortly expanded to cover the entire country, with branches from New York to Hawaii.
At some point, the arcade was so popular that it had nearly 200 locations across the country. However, like most arcade chains that were popular in the 80s, it started declining alongside the rest of the industry as gaming technology advanced and moved towards the home market.
As of now, there are only five Tilt Arcade locations and 12 Tilt Studio (founded in 2010) locations, which are an offshoot of the Tilt Arcades brand but focused on family fun centers.
Aladdin’s Castle was perhaps one of the most popular arcades of its era, due largely to its expansion that would see the chain reach a peak of about 450 locations nationwide by about 1983.
Aladdin’s Castle arcade started as a family project by brothers Merrill Millman and Jules Millman, who opened the first location at the Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, IL in 1969.
It went by the name of American Amusements Inc. then, and was later changed to Aladdin’s Castle when Bally Manufacturing (yes, the pinball company) purchased the chain in 1974, merging it with other arcade assets under its umbrella.
After Bally Manufacturing bought the arcade, it started its journey of exponential growth, opening more than 50 locations per year. It sure helped that the mall-based arcade centers proved popular among children, families, and adults as well.
Unfortunately, the inevitable decline started soon after. Bally sold their stake in the chain in 1993 to Namco, and the rest is history, as they say, with the last remaining outpost closing for good by in 2021.
Every Long Island resident born between the 1960s–1970s is probably familiar with the Time-Out Arcade. With its signature framed entrance and tunnel-like insides, Time-Out was a staple in every mall on Long Island, and it later expanded to cover the entire country.
Time-Out was founded in 1970 by Tico Bonomo, an entrepreneur and the creator of Turkish Taffy. It was the only arcade chain to open in malls on the East Coast, which earned it a slew of visitors as arcades rose in popularity.
Time-Out is largely notable today due to its iconic design, which lives on in nostalgia tinged photos found in various corners of the internet. The arcades were dark, featuring bright wall colors and tunnel-like interiors. Each video game had its own compartmental booth, which helped keep the place feeling uncrowded.
The first Time-Out location was located in Colonie, New York, and they quickly expanded, as Bonomo was relentless in making sure his arcades were always updated with the latest coin-op games.
By 1978, when Space Invaders hit the market and changed video games and arcades forever, Time-Out was at its peak. It stayed at the top for about one more decade before declining at the end of the 80s as most arcades did. Time-Out would eventually be purchased by Sega in 1986, and would inhabit a fraction of its peak footprint by 1990.
Space Port Arcade
Nothing screams retro arcade more than space-themed video games! That’s why Space Port was one of the most popular arcades in the 80s, and it was the biggest competitor to Aladdin’s Castle and Time-Out.
Like Time-Out, it launched by opening locations in East Coast malls, but it was different because its interiors looked like spaceships instead of a cool tunnel, or what we now think of as a classic arcade. The designers of Space Port probably had a field day with all the escape hatches on the wall and the future-forward portals that filled the place.
The employees even wore knockoff of NASA jumpsuits to complement the highly thematic atmosphere.
But the space age theme wasn’t the only reason for Space Port’s success. The arcade succeeded because it provided a fun place for the entire family at a time when most arcades were full to the brim with interested adults exploring the latest video and arcade games, such as the then-new Space Invaders.
Timezone is one of the rare arcades that were popular in the 80s and are still present today. We don’t know whether it was because the arcade had plenty of locations globally or because it was constantly updated to fit modern standards, but Time Zone is still as magical as it was in the 80s.
The arcade first opened in Australia, the same year as the release of Space Invaders, in 1978. The opening was timed perfectly with the rise in fame of arcade video games, and the arcade started expanding shortly after.
By 1995, the first Timezone location outside of Australia had opened. It gained insane popularity because it was one of the first arcades that employed the magnetic swipe card system. So, instead of carrying a bunch of tokens, users only had to charge their cards and reuse them.
As of now, there are more than 200 locations of Timezone globally, spread over Australia, India, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Vietnam. The headquarters are currently in Singapore, but the arcade keeps its Australian origins. They have yet to make it to the United States.
Station Break was an arcade chain that continues to inspire nostalgic memories from those who experienced the establishment in the 80s, though not a lot of detailed information remains about its active years or date of founding.
The chain was owned by the Mall Management Division of Edison Brothers Inc., which is a well-known retail conglomerate that specializes in entertainment, apparel, and footwear.
The arcade likely started declining at the start of the 90s, when Edison Brothers Inc. founded a new entertainment brand named Exhilarama.
Malibu Grand Prix
Like Timezone, Malibu Grand Prix is one of the few entertainment centers still operating today. However, it now operates under the name Boomers! after changing hands several times, and even closed completely in 2004.
Malibu Grand Prix was one of the most popular centers of its time because it included plenty of other entertainment attractions. Its claim to fame was its miniature Indy-It wasn’t only about arcade games, but it also included bumper cars, mini golf courses, go-karting tracks, and water play areas. It was practically heaven for kids and teenagers.
The first Malibu Grand Prix opened in 1975, in the Anaheim Stadium’s parking lot in California. It gained unrivaled attention because of the unique entertainment it offered. Some celebrities were even reportedly huge fans of the center, like a teen-aged Leonardo DiCaprio and and adult-aged Paul Newman.
As with all arcades in the 80s, Malibu Grand Prix started declining by the 90s, and by 2002, it had only three locations left.
Palace Entertainment bought these three locations in 2002, and then FunWerks bought the chain sometime after that. However, they closed the locations in 2004 when they announced bankruptcy.
Malibu Grand Prix only reopened in 2013 under the name Boomers!, and it’s still operating today.
Gold Mine isn’t as popular as the other arcades on this list because it was mainly only present in regional shopping malls. It was first founded in the Kingsport Town Center mall, which opened in 1976 in Kingsport, Tennessee. However, by the 1990s, the arcade had been replaced by Tilt, which opened in Gold Mine’s previous location in the mall.
The mall is now known as Fort Henry Mall, and it’s the only shopping mall in the area.
It’s not clear when Gold Mine opened, but it was pretty popular in the 80s, so it probably opened shortly before that. It started in one mall in Tennessee, but it then expanded to include locations in the entire US.
Some of these locations were in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, and Florida. California alone had 10 Gold Mine arcades in different shopping malls.
Like other arcades in this list, Gold Mine was partly notable for its mineshaft theming.
Nickel City was popular in the 80s, and it’s still operating today in Orem, Utah. It attracts plenty of gamers because of its wide selection of games, and the ticket prizes that come with them.
Nickel City is called that because its initial idea was that each game only cost a nickel. The owner made sure the arcade was affordable for plenty of kids because he appreciated the arcade memories from his own childhood. However, he didn’t like that his dollars ran out quickly because the games were too expensive for his daily allowance.
So, he created Nickel City with kids in mind, and he wanted all kids to enjoy the same childhood as he did, but at a lower cost.
Nickel City doesn’t only include arcade games, but there’s a popular laser tag arena, as well as a pizzeria for post-gaming meals!
If you’ve been a resident of any of the Northeast states in the 80s, you may be familiar with the red, yellow, and blue logo of Dream Machine. The popular arcade chain first opened in 1973, particularly in Massachusetts.
Later on, its branches expanded to many states, including New York, which had plenty of Dream Machine locations.
Dream Machine was known for its bright, colorful design. All the arcade’s ceilings were mirrored, which was fun for kids because they were able to see themselves playing upside down. Additionally, the centers had cocktail tables available for head-to-head competitions.
All the walls had the same color as the logo, so they were white, blue, red, and yellow.
The arcade’s golden age was between the late 70s and the early 80s, and then its popularity went down the drain as video game makers made more advanced games and home consoles.
However, some locations of Dream Machine still outlived plenty of arcades on this list. One such outpost, located in Old Orchard Beach in Maine, only closed its doors in 2005, and it wasn’t because of losses as much as it was to make room for condos.