North Campus arcade serves as unique scene for gaming community

Nikhil Agrawal

Today’s gaming industry is dominated by easy-access consoles and PC video games. This modernized entertainment landscape leaves the arcade an antiquated memory in the minds of most gamers —  a nearly extinct relic of a past generation.

However, in the face of this contemporary attack, Arcade UFO, located on the corner of East 31st Street and Speedway, remains a thriving spot in Austin for gamers to enjoy an analog, in-person gaming experience.

While they first opened their doors to gamers in 2008, Arcade UFO’s atmosphere has shifted since computer science alumnus Matt Laux, who graduated in 2016 took over in 2017. Laux said a large part of their success comes from exclusive, imported Japanese and Korean game cabinets they rigorously maintain.

“We have 29 machines on the floor right now, and before we bought it, there were only 15 working ones,” Laux said. “The most popular games are fighting games such as Street Fighter and Tekken, as well as the rhythm games like Beatmania and Pump It Up.”

First time visitors to the arcade can feel the undeniable experience that Arcade UFO brings to its clients.

“The first time I walked in when I was in college, I was overwhelmed with all the flashing lights and loud music,” Laux said. “It felt really futuristic. It was like I was in a different place altogether.”

Laux attributes the continued success of the arcade to the strong arcade culture in Austin paired with the aforementioned exclusive nature of the consoles that Arcade UFO hosts.

“People definitely come here for the community, the people,” Laux said. “It’s like how some people go play basketball. It’s a place to hang out that isn’t work, school or home.”

George Flores, an employee at Arcade UFO for over a year, said the regular clientele are passionate people who have gotten to know each other through years of gathering there.

“Both the regulars and students who occasionally pop by love the games we have,” Flores said. “They give people a reason to come and socialize over something they are so passionate about. It’s not really something that you can replicate online.”

A favorite of the Austin fighting game community, Arcade UFO also hosts weekly tournaments that can last beyond the official 2 a.m. closing time. Electrical engineering junior Daniel Chen recalled a matchup involving a team from Houston competing against a group of local Austinites.

“This place was open at four or five in the morning, way past closing time,” Chen said. “There was a 10 versus 10 Street Fighter tournament that went down to the last two players. It was so intense, everyone was yelling their heads off.”

Chen said this intense community culture around fighting games is a major factor as to why the arcade still exists.

“Let’s be honest, this place defies logic by being here,” Chen said. “The fighting and dance games they have here, they are the only physical games still around that people actually want to come in person to play with each other.”