Even 35 years later, Space Invaders epitomizes video games. Like the titular creatures who march inexorably down the screen at the player-controlled missile base, when the arcade game was released by Taito in 1978 it marched video games out of the dodgy doldrums of bars, bowling alleys and pool halls and into mainstream venues like restaurant lobbies and supermarket foyers. Thus, the game helped define the idea of video games in the minds of the public.
Taito engineer Tomohiro Nishikado drew his inspiration for the game from classic SF movies such as War of the Worlds, and upon release the game caused near the same kind of commotion as Orson Welle’s famous radio adaptation of that story. Space Invaders was so wildly popular in Japan that shop owners cleared their inventory and lined their walls with game cabinets to cash in on the craze. So many 100-yen coins were dropped into the machines that the Bank of Japan had to triple production to keep the money in circulation.
Space Invaders was met with great success in North America as well, under a license to Midway. Arcade operators were confident when they purchased a cabinet, knowing that they would recoup the cost in quarters within a month. When it became the first arcade game licensed for a home video game console, Space Invaders proceeded to save the struggling Atari VCS and put it on the road to complete domination of the home system market for several years.
Market penetration for the game was such that even the New England Journal of Medicine got into the act in 1981, dubbing a pained wrist caused by constant play of the game as Space Invader Wrist. Never had coming down with a new ailment been so much fun.
For more information on the history of Space Invaders, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.