In the 1980's, an "arcade" game was one that you played by feeding quarters into it in a public place. Businesses known as "arcades" built up collections of these coin-operated games and made them available to the public to come in and play. This definition of an "arcade" game specifically excluded games that were played at home on a game console or a more general purpose home computer. Genre, content, or play style had nothing to do with it. Many games that become very popular on consoles, such as Donkey Kong, Pole Position, and Street Fighter, got their start as arcade games that were later ported. The difference was simple. The bulky, stand-alone version that accepted coins was the "arcade" version, and the console version was the "console" or "home" version. Life was easy to understand.
In more recent years, I've seen various references to "arcade" or "arcade-style" games appearing on consoles. For example, in the article The Video Game Critic Presents the 3DO, the author states "There were precious few arcade-style titles [on the 3DO] like those enjoying popularity on the 16-bit systems.". Similarly, in a video TOP 10 Arcade Racing Games on Nintendo Switch, the author lists console games that they feel are "arcade" without defining the term. This is, of course, despite the fact that none of the games listed are found in public arcades and none of them can be fed physical coins.
In modern-day console gaming, what defines an "arcade" game or title from one which is not "arcade"?
- Are there specific elements of game play or content that need to be present for a game to be considered "arcade"? For example, perhaps "twitch" style gaming with precisely timed moves defines the arcade genre while games that rely on less twitchy, more strategic or turn-based approaches do not qualify.
- Is it based on an overall feeling of nostalgia hearkening back to dank 1980's shopping mall arcades? In other words, modern-day "arcade" titles feel like they would have fit into those antiquated venues had they actually been around then. This does not reference any specific elements of content, but overall look and feel. If my child-self had encountered a time-traveling 2022 game in a 1988 arcade and thought, "Yes, this belongs here, and wow", it is "arcade". If I would have thought, "WTF is this doing here? It looks really advanced but it clearly doesn't fit in here", then it's not an "arcade" title.
- Is it based on heritage, i.e. an "arcade" game is any game based on or a sequel to a game that was an actual physical arcade game? This would mean, for example, that a hypothetical future Pac-Man MMORPG would be automatically considered an "arcade" title because the original Pac-Man game was an arcade game. This would also mean that any and all Donkey Kong games, regardless of play style or content, are inherently arcade games (since the original Donkey Kong was a physical arcade cabinet), while there cannot possibly be a Doom "arcade" game on a console by definition since the original game started as a PC title.