Game Center Chronicles Part 4

Game Center Chronicles: Half a Century of Arcade Games as Seen by the Owner of Mikado

  • ゲーセン戦記 ミカド店長が見たアーケードゲームの半世紀
  • Written by Minoru Ikeda
  • Released 06/08/2023
  • Published by Kadokawa
  • Purchase on

This is not meant to be a full translation of this work, but rather a book report style summary. I encourage anyone reading this to buy the book at the link above to support Mikado!

Stage 3: Era of Change 2006-2010

I Opened an Arcade

Here’s where Ikeda circles back around to the story that he told in the intro about a friend pointing out that a building that used to be an arcade was for sale in the Kabukicho district of Shibuya. It was called the Mikado building and began its commercial life in the ’70s as a cafe, though it had been an arcade in some form ever since. Taito operated there in the ’80s and ’90s, and Sega in 2003 and 2004. An independent company had run the arcade there afterward, and the person who told Ikeda about this building was from that same company. It wasn’t easy, but he was able to scrape together the money to buy the property. Filling it with cabinets was not going to be a problem, since Ikeda had been collecting them for years and housing them in a cheap storage unit, with a dream of one day putting them in his own arcade. He had many of the rare and desirable machines that can be found in Mikado currently: A sit-down OutRun, a three screen Darius, and Metal Hawk. With this selection of titles, he was building his own retro game museum.

But there was still one very important part left: People to staff the arcade. Passionate and charismatic employees have been a critical component to running an arcade since the ’80s, and that hasn’t changed. Luckily, Ikeda had already been working with such people in his business of creating game strategy DVDs and soundtracks. So when he brought in those people, created a homepage to generate a small amount of progress, and opened Shinjuku Game Center Mikado, a huge number of people flocked to it immediately.

Mistakes Made After Opening

One month after opening, revenue was looking good, and it seemed like the business was going to stay above water. But that’s when Ikeda took a big risk: He decided to mix-in some newer games as well, to draw in additional customers. But bringing in Mahjong Fight Club 5, Gundam SEED Destiny Rengou vs. Z.A.F.T. II and Virtua Fighter 5 ended up putting him in the red. Every other arcade had the same titles, and Mikado didn’t have the resources to compete with popular chains like Round One, Sega, or Taito. Those chains got them in far sooner than Mikado ever could, so arcade-goers were already playing them elsewhere.

Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown tournament

Not to mention that with Virtua Fighter 5, the arcade was charged 30 yen for every coin inserted into the machine as a network fee. This gets into the major downsides of network play coming into arcades that Ikeda previously alluded to. All the major arcade game companies had their own cards and networks, and each had a set of fees associated with them. There were no high-speed fiber-optic Internet connections at the time, which meant an arcade had multiple ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network, think a slightly higher speed and dedicated phone-line based Internet connection) lines running into it. Ikeda couldn’t help but feel that these companies just weren’t considering things from the arcade operator perspective at all.

Developers thought that they were saving arcades from having to buy and maintain expensive boards by making all of the software downloadable through network infrastructure, but this wasn’t how things actually panned out. Operators had to pay so many usage fees for these modern games that it was just out of control. So Ikeda decided that Mikado would double down on retro games. Super Street Fighter II Turbo was the biggest money maker of them all, but that could have been because regular tournaments for it were held at Mikado. It gave Ikeda heart that such communities still existed around these older titles. He spent the day working in his office on the DVD and soundtrack business, and then headed over to the arcade in the evenings. It was like a dream, at least for a little while.

Second Year Crisis

The Myojo 56 building fire happened in Kabukicho in September 2001, and was responsible for many deaths. It also changed the course of Mikado’s history. But why would a fire that happened in 2001 still be impacting businesses in 2008? It threw things into such a disarray that no one could tell who owned what buildings even so many years later. This led to many contract disputes. Whole areas of Kabukicho were being subject to on-the-spot inspections by the police and fire departments around this time, so building ownership was being made clear for the first time in many years.

As a result of this situation, Ikeda found himself with an eviction notice. He was frustrated by the situation, but where wasn’t anything he could do from a legal standpoint, and he didn’t want to cause trouble. But he also didn’t have the capital to just buy a new building. Since arcades had never been extremely profitable businesses, they’d long operated under a joint tenant/owner partnership, as opposed to the arcade operator owning the building themselves. Ikeda managed to find a suitable location in the Oasis Plaza Building in the Takadanobaba district of Tokyo, where Mikado’s flagship location still stands as of this writing. And in the autumn of 2008, he got the opportunity to present his plan to the owner of that building.

The Eleventh-Hour Presentation

Though presenting these sorts of things made him feel like a frog being eyed by a snake, Ikeda presented his business plan for Mikado’s relocation: Running an arcade that placed no emphasis on needing new machines, increasing repeat customers through regular events, and featuring a line-up that will draw in retro game fans. He even had documentation for projected revenue after the first year, and an income and expenditures table. And though it was a hard-fought battle with many back-and-forths over several meetings, he finally got the building owner to agree to a partnership. The owner even asked him if he was interested in running another arcade near Ikebukuro station under the same conditions, but at the time Ikeda felt like he didn’t have enough machines to fill two whole arcades, and so he politely declined.

From Kabukicho to Takadanobaba

April 2009 was when the new Mikado location finally opened in Takadanobaba. It was bigger than the previous one, so Ikeda once again took a chance on bringing in some newer titles. This time it paid off: Rhythm game fans were happy to see titles such as Beatmania IIDX, and fighting game players flocked to titles such as Arcana Heart, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core, Melty Blood Actress Again, and Street Fighter IV. The first three months were booming, but business settled down quite a bit afterward.

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core tournament

Ikeda also decided to get more hands on and bring back Mikado’s previous weekend events, focusing initially on shmup-themed gatherings. But even that didn’t prove to be enough. After paying all the business expenses at the end of the month, Ikeda’s back account was frequently sitting at zero. Six months later, some things needed to change.

The Power of Streaming

Ikeda extended Mikado’s events to weekdays as well, focusing them on particularly niche titles. He also began holding many more fighting game tournaments, drawing players in with favorites such as Gundam EX Revue, Fatal Fury 2, and Samurai Shodown 2. And he streamed them all. At first, they only had entrants and viewers in the single digits, but they grew organically. Ikeda admits that their quality of them didn’t start at that great, but with experience and some external help, they began drawing more attention to Mikado. Ikeda was unsure about doing free streams at first since he tends to think about things in a bit of an old-fashioned way. But he quickly came around to seeing the benefits as they brought in more customers. And this was and continues to be due in no small part to the personalities of the players that appear on these streams. Guilty Gear especially bolstered Mikado’s business during this period.

Mikado still regularly holds Gundam EX Revenue tournaments