While people are commonly told that Japan is a cash-based economy, this isn’t always true. In various spots around the country, IC cards are utilized for their convenience and value, such as taking the train to get places without needing to buy a ticket for the trip. The case is no different in Japan’s arcades, where IC card systems have been developed for various games since the early 2000s. These various card systems not only let you pay to play games using e-money currency for other sources such as transit passes, but also give players a wide range of progression and customization in games. These IC cards are helping modernize arcade gaming in Japan by assigning profiles and further ways to identify players, just as you would see when playing on your console at home.
IC cards have largely been adopted for specific genres of games that benefit from repeat play. In Japanese arcades you’ll most commonly find IC games in use for games like Street Fighter IV, Jubeat, and Wonderland Wars. In the rumbling cockpit of mecha shooter Starwing Paradox, players can use their IC cards during event periods to receive exclusive goods. A central component of IC cards in games is that using IC cards to play will usually allow players access to things card-less players can’t have. For example, in the aforementioned Street Fighter IV, using an IC card to play gives you access to customizing your favorite character with extra costumes and color options, but players playing without an IC card will be limited to the default appearance. While some games are standalone titles built with their own casing, others have utilized IC cards as a method to use one profile across multiple games. NESiCA and Aime are two of the largest IC card systems in arcades, giving players access to multiple games on one cabinet that they can use their IC cards for.
The primary feature of IC cards is they let you customize your experience in games and build a campaign over time. In the past, most arcades lacked any kind of save system which prevented certain kinds of games from being viably released in the arcade. With the development of IC cards, more kinds of games can be enjoyed at arcades, attracting different players. The most common use for IC cards with arcade games is to create a player profile through which they can record their accomplishments in various genres like music rhythm games and fighting games. Players can craft a “profile” for themselves which can include various information like custom avatars, messages, and win/loss records. In a space like arcades where people line up behind others to watch them play, the features of IC cards can serve as ways to broadcast yourself as a player outside of the game.
IC arcade cards are easy to locate within arcades, there is usually a distributor located near one of the many coin machines you’ll find in arcades. These cards are usually quite cheap, costing only about 300 yen to get. While these cards are often easy to locate and purchase at arcades, being able to use them is a bit more complicated process. You need to initiate the signup process by using the card for a game. This will result in you being given a default user account and being prompted to complete your account online. Some Japanese language knowledge can help you finish the process, but there are some guides available online for english speakers. Here’s a helpful step-by-step guide if you’re interested in trying out a Nesica card. Signing up can include inputting information like your favorite arcade and residence location. Once you’re finished signing up, you can go to account sites for specific games to customize your player appearance there. Once you’ve completed the signup process, your card is ready to be used at whichever game you want for its respective system.
What do you think of this IC card system? Does it help retain arcades slow decline by promoting the community aspect of gaming there, or is it an unnecessary barrier to entry for new players? If you’re going to Japan and plan to spend some time at arcades, it may be a memorable experience for you to try and participate in Japanese arcade culture through gaming.