Cocktail table arcade machines, a short history

Cocktail table arcade machines have been a staple of the gaming industry for decades. These machines, which typically feature two sets of controls and a flat surface with a monitor mounted underneath. In the UK, these machines have a rich and interesting history, dating back to the early days of the gaming industry. We'll take a closer look at the history of cocktail table arcade machines, exploring their evolution, popularity, and how they influenced the gaming machines we see today.

The Origins of Cocktail Table Arcade Machines

The origins of cocktail table arcade machines can be traced back to the early days of video gaming in the 1970s. At that time, arcade games were primarily played on upright cabinets, which were bulky and took up a lot of space. However, as the popularity of gaming grew, manufacturers began looking for ways to make their machines more compact and user-friendly.

One of the earliest attempts to create a more user-friendly arcade machine came from Japanese manufacturer Taito, who introduced the first cocktail table arcade machine in 1977. This machine, called the "Tabletop Space Invaders," featured a flat surface with two sets of controls on either side, allowing two players to sit opposite each other and play the game together.

The popularity of the Tabletop Space Invaders led other manufacturers to develop their own table top arcade machines, and soon they were a common sight in arcades, hotels, pubs, youth clubs and even chip shops around the country.

The Rise of Cocktail Table Arcade Machines in the UK

By the early 1980s, cocktail table arcade machines had become a fixture in UK arcades, with manufacturers such as Atari, Williams, and Namco all producing their own versions of the popular machines. These machines were particularly popular in pubs, where they became a common sight.

One of the key reasons for the popularity of cocktail table arcade machines in the UK was their accessibility. Unlike upright cabinets, which required players to stand up and face the machine, cocktail table machines could be played while seated, making them ideal for casual gamers and social gatherings.

In addition to their accessibility, cocktail table arcade machines also offered a unique playing style. With players sitting opposite each other and sharing a single screen, the games felt more like a social experience than a solitary one. This made them ideal for pubs, where they became a key attraction and a way for people to gather and socialize while enjoying a game.

The early games were played with a single player at any one time, which is why, starting with Space Invaders high scores were added to the game to give players a reason to play more (and spend more).

Cocktail Table Arcade Machines in the Modern Era

Although their popularity isn't what it once was in arcades and public places, cocktail table arcade machines remain a beloved part of the gaming industry. The trend for these chunks of nostalgia have simply moved away from public and commercial spaces and into peoples homes instead. 

In addition, there is a thriving community of collectors and enthusiasts who continue to cherish and preserve classic cocktail table arcade machines. These collectors often restore and refurbish old machines, ensuring that they continue to provide hours of entertainment for future generations.

The lasting impact of cocktail table arcade machines can also be seen in the gaming industry as a whole. Many of the design principles and gameplay mechanics that were popularized by these machines continue to influence modern games. From multiplayer games that encourage social interaction to compact, user-friendly designs that prioritize accessibility, the legacy of cocktail table arcade machines can be felt throughout the gaming industry.


Cocktail table arcade machines have had a great impact on the gaming industry as a whole. They still have an incredible amount of nostalgia attached to them, I remember as a child seeing them in the hotels we stayed at in Blackpool and pestering my parents for a few 10p coins to have a go!

That love and nostalgia has meant that a modern version of these table, with multiple games are ever popular. Especially as they can usually fit in with most homes unlike the larger upright cousins. 

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