When I was a kid, I loved going to the neighborhood arcade. It was dark, seedy and had all of these fascinating games that I had never seen before. My problem, was that I was never really any good at playing the games. Even today with unlimited free play, I’m still pretty bad at the games. Some people can master certain games for hours and I remember watching kids do just that, but my games were always over quickly, so I would take my time when it came to choosing where I’d spend the money.
As I walked around the arcade, I’d be clutching a fistful of quarters in one hand, shuffling them like I was at some kind of a poker tournament. Feeling the quarters roll across the palm of my hand and the anticipation I would get when I would drop one in the slot is something that I will never forget. It’s part of the classic arcade experience and is a huge reason why these games are so special.
Even 30 years later, there are still operators who only charge a single quarter to play an arcade game and while there may be less and less games in public locations, a simple change proposed by the Federal Reserve could mean the extinction of the 25 cent arcade game.
Now I know what you’re asking yourself, what the heck does the Fed have to do with video games? Aren’t they the ones who control interest rates? The answer has to do with how money is made. The Federal Reserve is responsible for the actual printing of currency. Due in part to increases in the cost of metals, we’ve quickly reached a point where creating currency outweighs the value of it.
In 1983, they changed the composition of the penny, so that it would use less copper. According to the website Coinflation, the value of a pre-1984 penny is currently worth .021 cents in copper. The cost to make a quarter runs .045 cents just for the metal. Immediately, losing 20% of the value from a quarter isn’t very good monetary policy, so the Fed has proposed changing the composition of a quarter to something that is less expensive to produce.
While the intentions are noble, the result for the arcade games could be disastrous. Without the right weight and shape, a newly minted quarter won’t be able to trip the coin mechs that are used to operate an arcade game. As is, arcade operators hear a lot of complaints about a game eating their quarters, but after a few years of circulation, the games won’t be able to play on quarters. This isn’t just a problem for arcade operators. Parking meters, vending machines, and old timey newspaper racks all are sensitive to the weight and size of a quarter. Because the arcade games earn so little on location, it won’t justify upgrading them to accept dollar bills or the new coins. This puts an entire industry at risk, if the proposed changes by the Fed actually go through. Right now, it’s too early to tell what the final decision will be, but the Arcade Amusement lobby has already issued a call to arms and is clearly worried about the impact that this will have on the games. Fortunately, all of our games are set to free play, so that you can play as much as you want, but it would certainly make me sad to see the thrill of dropping in a quarter completely replaced with a free play button.