Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Will Movie Theaters Go the Way of the Video Game Arcade?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 26, 2013

Once upon a time, arcades were a fixture in my life. This was so deeply ingrained that even to this day, on those (relatively rare) occasions I find myself inside a shopping mall, I still find myself looking for one. It was something of a surprise in the late 80s when I’d go to a mall and discover that there was not a “game room” of some kind. That was a rarity.

Now… well, not only are arcades rare, but shopping malls aren’t exactly commonplace either – nor are the bustling hubs they once were. Things change, and the stuff that was once a fixture of modern often does disappear with time. Not entirely, but mostly. I remember pull-tabs from soda cans littering the sides of convenience store parking lots – a common sight when I was little which had almost entirely disappeared by the time it was used as a plot point in the movie WarGames. And pay phones! Again, those aren’t gone entirely in this country, but they have become a rarity. What was unthinkable thirty years ago is just the way of things today.

So – next up: Movie Theaters?

New Republic: Hollywood Is in Trouble, and We’re All Going to Pay

Movie theaters have been an institution for longer than arcades (but only about as long as pay phones). But I see the same kind of forces at work here.

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Hollywood. To be honest, it sounds to me like the whole industry has been screwed up from the beginning, and while things have improved for workers in the business over time (thankfully!), it has come at the cost of … well, cost. It’s extremely difficult to make things efficiently – partly because of a backlash from the excesses taken in the “golden era” by Hollywood moguls where “efficient” meant, “screwing over the workers so badly they bled from every orifice.”

But again, that’s just perception from a guy with a casual interest. As far as the current problems for me, as a consumer and “outsider” who just loves (good) movies, here’s what I think:

* There are too many bad, bad movies out there – many with huge budgets that attempt to be the next blockbuster. So – unless it’s a sequel to a movie I already love, I’m going to wait for the reviews before seeing it.

* In the case of sequels – it’s a case of “fool me once…” I’ll be part of that awesome opening weekend crowd (or maybe within the first two weeks, depending on scheduling) for a sequel to a movie I already love, without needing to see the reviews. Movie makers can laugh themselves all the way to the bank on my hard-earned money. But for the NEXT sequel after a crap-fest, I’m going to be a little more cautious, and wait for the reviews again. I expect the big Hollywood business types don’t understand that behavior. They see a lukewarm opening weekend for movie #3 and they say, “Oh, hey, audiences don’t like this movie!” That may be it in part, but part of it is because the audiences still have the bad taste in their mouth from the LAST movie.

* Crappy movies limit my willingness to take risks on movies in the theater. Which is partly due to the next point:

* Expense. Especially with the 3D surcharge that Hollywood until recently seemed to be trying to make mandatory (and to be honest, I don’t really like wearing 3D glasses during a film – the best use so far has been to make modiocre-to-bad movies a little more watchable, once), going to the movies is not an insignificant expense. You know how we complain about $60 video games? At my local megaplex, it’s $9.25, reserved seating… which means if you don’t want to drive to the theater hours before the show to reserve your seats, or take your chances at showtime, you’ll need to pay another $1 Internet surcharge to order your tickets, so that’s $10.25 per seat. So that’s $41 without buying popcorn or sodas for a film at the theater. While I’m okay with doing that occasionally for a pretty awesome film, we’re talking once-every-couple-of-months here, not every-weekend.

* Marketing: The TV networks are struggling, too. Newspapers are nearly dead. The days where you could advertise a movie on the “big three” networks and the major papers and connect with 90% of your target audience are long gone. I didn’t even know about RED 2 until I saw it in the “coming soon” list at Rotten Tomatoes – and I was immediately interested because (surprise!) I’d loved the original. I had to hunt down the trailer. Yes, I’m seeking advertising. Or at least seeking information, and good advertising is supposed to educate (IMO). I also heard that it was good by word-of-mouth. How does a movie studio reach me with advertising these days, so I can know a movie I’d be interested in is coming out?

* Audience fatigue / experience / education: I was actually excited about The Lone Ranger, even after hearing Johnny Depp was going to play Tonto. Then I saw the trailer. Everyone I know who watched the trailer expressed the same concern: It looked stupid. Lots of stunts, lots of explosions, zero brains. I held out hope that it wouldn’t suck, but the reviews quickly convinced me that my impression from the trailer was correct. I still haven’t seen it, and don’t have much desire to do so, even when it comes out on DVD.

* Alternatives. That $41 can buy me 5 months of Netflix streaming movies – or two and a half months of DVDs / BLU-Ray + streaming. And I’ve got a nice wide-screen HD TV now, with a decent sound system, so it’s not like I’m missing too much out of the “big screen” experience, particularly if I’m not a huge fan of 3D (We’ll see if the 3D TVs catch on…) So if I’m willing to wait six months for a film, what do I lose? This wasn’t the case in the golden and silver ages of Hollywood, where at best a show might come out on TV in a few years, with lots of edits and commercials.

If anything, I’d say this latter factor might be the biggest.

Let’s talk about the death of arcades for a minute. Why did the arcades go away?

Well, games of competitive quality could no longer be profitable at a quarter per play, so the expense went up. Audiences became fatigued with the same ol’ game styles (‘cuz, you know, those were the only ones that made money).  And the big killer was when home gaming systems caught up with the capabilities of the arcade machines. Again –  alternatives. You could rent a game for the weekend and get an almost identical experience as the arcade (sans fighting over the machine with other players – which in some cases was part of the fun) for a fraction of the cost. So what was the draw to the arcades?

Sure there were reasons, and people still came… in smaller numbers. Machines went idle a lot. Which meant they had to charge even more money to make them worthwhile, which meant even fewer people bothered. It was a vicious cycle, culminating with most arcade operators no longer able to sustain a business, and calling it quits.

I’m seeing a lot of parallels here with theaters. The theater screens have gotten smaller, home screens have gotten bigger. There are fewer “draws” to the theater experience. Assuming this is the case, the question then is – if the movies can’t make the kind of money they have grown to rely upon from box office returns, can they keep making the big-budget “blockbusters” anymore? Or is there something more that Hollywood and the theaters can do to stave off the grim reaper?

Filed Under: Geek Life, Movies - Comments: 14 Comments to Read

  • OttoMoBiehl said,

    Great post!

    One of the big arguments for going to the movie was the social experience. Experiencing a “fun” movie with a group of people enhanced the movie going experience. In a way it’s true…or at least it was. I remember when I was younger people really got into the films. I remember cheering in Star Wars when Luke blew up the Death Star or even when Han Solo swooped in and blew up Vader’s wing-man. I remember the cheering when Superman finally showed up and asked General Zod to step outside. I remember people on the edge of their seats during the fight against the big German in Raiders of the Lost Ark or when Marion was being harassed by the German spy who wore black. (I forget his name.)

    The problem with movie theaters today is that they are expensive, it seems like you are being advertised at a lot more and, when you actually start watching the film, people are ruder. People who check messages, answer cell phones, talk during the movie and more. I really don’t like going to movies in that kind of atmosphere. Plus, if I want the social interaction like the old days all I have to do is plan a movie night, rent some of the new movies that came out and invite a bunch of friends over. You can even hit pause if you need a bathroom break.

    Honestly though I’m pretty burnt out on the over CGI’d blockbusters that are coming out any more. It seems like they are designed to look pretty and try to manipulate your emotions with big, roller-coaster style sequences. I’d love to see somebody dig back into the art of film making and try to make a fun movie that doesn’t rely on gimmick and playing with emotional responses.

    As far as arcades go I was really sad to see them go. Again, the social aspect of arcades were pretty interesting. There always seemed to be the local “hero” who was good at games and who could dominate the current hot game. I guess I should consider myself lucky that I was able to experience that era of video games. These days when I’m out and about and I stumble across an arcade game I do usually put the fifty cents in and play for a bit to kind of relive the magic of playing these games. The primitive graphics and sound effects do make me smile almost every time.

  • McTeddy said,

    God, I miss arcades.

    But I’m surprised movie theaters have lasted as long as they did. I’ve always despise them because of the things otto mentioned, hour of previews and rude crowds.

    Why the heck would I pay 12 bucks to go there when I can wait a year… rent the movie and watch it in peace. Heck, I can even pause it if I need to use the restroom.

    When I need that social experience, I invite people I like. Whether it’s in person or over skype I get the social experience with people I get along with. It’s the best of both worlds.

    – – –

    Btw, I agree on The Long Ranger. I heard about it and was excited until I saw the preview.

    This whole abusing IPs thing infuriates me both in Games and movies. If it doesn’t resemble the original in any way… just make it a new IP.

  • Greg Squire said,

    Yeah, I’ve always felt that movie theaters will someday decline and go away. I don’t see movies in the theaters much either for all the reasons mentioned above. I have seen an increase in alternatives. People have larger and better home theater systems now. Many have created rooms in their homes just for movie watching. I personally enjoy watching a movie at home more than going to a theater.

    Also I think the only thing keeping theaters alive now, is that they have a time exclusive on new films. They are the only place to go to see new movies (legally that is). One day I could see movies coming straight to our homes, for some sort of flat viewing/rental fee. Maybe even some sort of Kinect like system that can count people in the audience and charge on a per viewer basis. I don’t ever see “movies” going away, just “movie theaters”. I believe Hollywood would adapt, but I don’t know. Maybe they’ll have to implode first before being reborn from the ashes.

  • Maklak said,

    In my country they invested in some new cinemas maybe 10 years ago. Now they are depressingly empty and generate losses. Some people still like to go there, but the younger generations prefer to just download the movie and watch it at home.

  • McTeddy said,

    There actually a few alternatives these days. We have a “Movies On Demand” feature on our television that allow us to pay to watch movies that are in theaters. My parents tend to use that instead because you don’t need to buy individual tickets.

    It’s still a new feature, but I look forward to the future when these things are more common. There is something very convenient about never having to leave the house to buy games or see movies.

  • GhanBuriGhan said,

    I don’t know. Movie theatres have been declared dead ever since the TV came along, but have refused to die, and instead I have seen new Megaplexes built. I guess there is something about a visit to the movies, the social aspect, the large screen, the “premiere” aspect that keeps it interesting.

  • Xenovore said,

    I agree with GhanBuriGhan: In spite of increased capabilities to view movies at home or while traveling, in spite of increased theater prices; every time I go to the local Cineplex it’s packed to the rafters, people everywhere. I don’t see theaters dying any time soon.

  • Xenovore said,

    Hmm, dunno where “Cineplex” came from; I meant “Cinemark”.

  • Rick C said,

    I’d like to know why our host has to pre-buy tickets? Short of the biggest blockbusters near opening day, I’ve never had a problem getting tickets. I usually get there a little early so I don’t have to rush through the concession stand, and if I know the theater’s got a ticket machine I’ll buy tickets right there, skipping the lines. The last time I got there earlier than about 15-20 minutes before the posted start time (which is actually when the trailers start) was for Pirates of the Caribbean 4, and I don’t remember before that. (Generally for big movies I try to catch the early Saturday matinee, because even with big movies you can usually get a decent seat without a huge wait.)

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    At that particular theater (the closest – but not the one we most frequently visit), it’s assigned seating. So if you don’t get your seat early and and want the whole family to sit together, you COULD be stuck off in one corner or close to the screen. If it’s the first week or two of a big movie, the good seats will be taken by noon the day of the show.

  • Rick C said,

    Ah, that makes a lot of sense. I’m used to the regular chains like Cinemark or AMC that don’t have assigned seating (unless you pay extra.)

  • Cuthalion said,

    I’ve almost never had movie theatre concessions. It’s expensive enough! And when I was growing up, not so long ago, tickets were $6-8, not $8-14. But with a family of 7, you don’t blow $50 for an hour and a half that half might enjoy, when you could get something a few years old from the library for free.

  • BarryB said,

    Theater screens have been tiny for a long time, now, and prices exorbitant. But theaters live on, and they’re not going anywhere until somebody can prevent people from wanting to spend too much money on new films, rather than wait for their DVD release.

  • Test said,

    In your whole entire analysis, you forget something very simple: “Dinner and a movie will never die.”