Ten years ago, now shuttered developer Krome Studios released the Game Room service on the Xbox 360 which showcased older arcade video games with an arcade simulator-lite aspect to it. I fell in love immediately as many people did. Although the selection of games and the roll-out of them left much to be desired, the idea behind it was sound and could have become something incredibly special. Instead, the service was inevitably forgotten by Microsoft with little-to-no game releases coming out shortly after it was available and sadly, from what I understand, the servers were shut down for good at the end of October in 2017.
It may be gone, but as the cliche’ goes, it certainly isn’t forgotten. Much like the beloved 1 vs 100 experiment that Microsoft tried around the same time, Game Room was a service that should have flourished given what it was capable of doing. Seeing as it has been ten years, I wanted to go over the service a bit and discuss what was awesome about it and what it should do assuming it were to return.
After launching the Game Room service, players are whisked away to a virtual arcade that allows for customization options from the player. The arcade itself consisted of three-stories that could incorporate four separate rooms to insert the arcade games into. Different themes and items could be used to decorate the levels and rooms to the players content allowing them to set certain games in specific rooms whether it was formatted by publisher, scenery, or just randomly.
Each room could fit up to 8 arcade cabinets allowing for an extensive array of Konami games for instance, or maybe you just want to have an entire level dedicated to the Atari classic Venetian Blinds. Whatever the player chose, the simulation aspect of designing your own arcade was something I heavily enjoyed and that was made even better by the possible number of games you could insert into the arcade.
However, it could be improved upon. I would love to see the type of arcade format to be changed allowing for more stories, maybe add more shapes for levels instead of just a circular design to each level, more design options for the rooms themselves and more. I would like to take it a step further and make it a PlayStation Home-like experience where it’s one giant setting where players can run around in and experience either by themselves or with each other. While Game Room did have other players walking around, it wasn’t the ACTUAL players, but just their avatars for flavor. It was a method to bring more life to the Game Room, without having an actual life in your game room.
For instance, Game Room worked as a way where players could compete with other players for higher leaderboard scores whether they were your friends or not. It would be pretty fun though if two friends could log-in at the same time, go to the same arcade, and play each other at the same time in the game. This will be discussed later in the game section as it’s dependent on the type of game. One player games could be done concurrently for that immediate satisfaction whereas two-player games could work for co-op or competitive nature. Making Game Room an actual social hub for friends to all gather could make a boring lobby system in a typical game to be a real lobby and a more authentic arcade feel.
Over the course of 12 packs released the same year Game Room launched, the service promised to release close to 1000 games. Unfortunately, it fell far short from that goal. Over those 12 packs, Game Room would see only 188 games being released, with several of them being similar games on different platforms such as Centipede, Asteroids, and a few sports games. Now, whether you like these games or not, this is a far-cry from the 1000 games promised and is a very limited selection of arcade games. Even ignoring the post-80’s popular arcade games, Game Room didn’t even include classics like Pac-Man, Frogger, Space Invaders, and much more. This is one hell of an oversight considering the popularity of said games and what Game Room was trying to accomplish.
Knowing that they were short about 800 games, it makes me wonder what they were shooting to have released in the first place. I understand licensing is probably a nightmare, but there is too much to ignore for post-80’s arcade games. Which leads me to my next point: Game Room would need to have newer games than what it saw.
Just look at that beautiful cabinet. Imagine seeing that placed in your digital arcade. Imagine a friend or two coming into that same arcade and joining up with you at the cabinet and getting a session of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game on a dreary Saturday afternoon. Then imagine moving over and playing the X-Men arcade game and finishing up with The Simpsons. Think about arranging Mortal Kombat tournaments with your friends within your Game Room hubs or having pre-game matches with NFL Blitz 2000.
The bottom line is, there was a plethora of memories that people in the 90’s created with games that mever saw the light of day in Game Room. Even though arcades started to vanish, there are still quite a bit of modern arcade games. New iterations of Pac-Man and Space Invaders exist, the Batmobile-centric Batman game, and I won’t forget about that Enter the Gungeon game they made an arcade cabinet for.
That Enter the Gungeon mention also opens up a whole new area for games. What if a new Game Room had access to your digital library and certain games could be pulled into Game Room? It would require work from either the Game Room developer or assistance from the original game creator, but plenty of games feel like they belong in arcades. Titles like Resogun, Killer Queen, Nidhogg, and more would feel great in an arcade setting. It also allows for an almost endless array of potential cabinets to fill Game Room.
One other option to think about would be pinball. Studios like Zen Studios and Farsight Studios have put in some good work to make pinball worth playing on modern day systems. Having the tables themselves created in a 3-D space and inserted into Game Room would be a great addition as well. This would help solidify the authenticity of an arcade while opening up options for people to purchase more games in an effort to expand their digital arcade.
This shouldn’t take too long to explain. Pricing is a little tricky for Game Room, especially if you factor in games released in the 90’s or later. The games were priced at $3.00 each which, in my opinion, isn’t terrible. This is cheaper than titles you will see on the Arcade Archives collection for instance, and you can price newer games more than that while staying reasonable.
Of course, there’s always options for those customized themes and decorations as well. From what I remember, these were included for free in the game packs, but obviously it’s a prime candidate to help bring in additional revenue to the team as well. I’m not sure what a worthwhile price would be for these items, but they certainly would garber attention by people looking to deck out their arcade in the coolest possible ways.
Another way to go about doing this is bundling items or games together. This is a common practice and often lowers the price of multiple items by buying in a bulk package. So doing something like an Atari package that would bundle four Atari games for $10 or something to that effect would be one example. There are plenty of routes to go whether bundling by publisher, series, decade, or genre, to entice players to buy in.
JUST BRING IT BACK!
Why the hell not? Game Room was a novel idea that was executed poorly. I don’t know if licensing was problematic or companies didn’t think it was worth it, but it became a nothing product within the first year. The game selection certainly didn’t help, but also limiting the customizable options for the arcade itself didn’t do them any favors.
Though it failed once, Game Room is not a failed idea. Plenty of people would still be interested in a service like this, and many have fond memories from their time with it. Letting it be forgotten isn’t what should be done, but instead let that project really cut loose and give it all the attention and support it deserves.
Many of the things I outlined would help it survive in my opinion. Is it doable? I’m not a developer or publisher, so I can’t say for sure. I do know however that the things I mentioned would give it more longevity than it received in the first place. You have to rely on a larger scope of games, find ways to make the whole thing more sociable sith friends or a community, keep the simulation aspect of it engaging, and price it wisely.
Game Room deserves another chance. It’s been ten years. Hopefully someone is willing to give it another shot.