Where am I supposed to play Virtual On now?
The modern era has not been kind to the arcade industry. Here in the States, arcades are a dying breed, if they’re not dead entirely (though the introduction of the barcade model has helped). It seems most people would rather just play games at home than plunk quarters into a cabinet at the mall. Over in Japan, though, arcades are still hanging on, providing a fun gathering place for kids and teens, and even still garnering specialized releases. Or at least it was before this whole pandemic thing started. Now that the Japanese arcade business is in the toilet, many major investors are bailing out, and one of them is a familiar face.
Sega Sammy Holdings, parent company of the Sega game brand we know and love, announced recently that they will be selling off approximately 85% of Sega Entertainment, its specialized arcade division, come early December. Sega Entertainment handles the management of Sega’s numerous branded arcade locations, from the upkeep of the storefronts themselves to the games that go in them. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sega Entertainment has experienced monumental losses, since their usual audience aren’t especially enthused by the prospect of standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a humid arcade.
The assets from Sega Entertainment will be sold to GENDA Co., a Japanese company that specializes in amusement machines. According to Sega, GENDA has a good track record of adapting with changing times and lowering overheads, which is exactly what they need for an industry in as dire straits as arcades. GENDA will be working to ensure that Japan’s various Sega Centers will remain open, and will even leave the Sega branding on them. Sega will still be developing arcade games as well, though at an understandably reduced capacity.
It’s a bittersweet time for such a development, as Sega Sammy just recently celebrated their 60th anniversary. Sega Centers themselves are a staple of the urban Japanese landscape, even appearing in several Sega-licensed/developed games like Yakuza and Persona 5. Considering, however, that Sega was forced to close their most popular Center in Akihabara back in August, it’s anyone’s guess how well the rest of the industry will fare.