Space Invaders is a two-dimensional fixed shooter game in which the player controls a laser cannon by moving it horizontally across the bottom of the screen and firing at descending aliens. The aim is to defeat five rows of eleven aliens—some versions feature different numbers—that move horizontally back and forth across the screen as they advance towards the bottom of the screen. The player defeats an alien, and earns points, by shooting it with the laser cannon. As more aliens are defeated, the aliens’ movement and the game’s music both speed up. Defeating the aliens brings another wave that is more difficult, a loop which can continue without end.
The aliens attempt to destroy the cannon by firing at it while they approach the bottom of the screen. If they reach the bottom, the alien invasion is successful and the game ends. A special “mystery ship” will occasionally move across the top of the screen and award bonus points if destroyed. The laser cannon is partially protected by several stationary defense bunkers—the number varies by version—that are gradually destroyed by a numerous amount of blasts from the aliens or player.
After the first few months following its release in Japan, the game became very popular. Specialty arcades opened with nothing but Space Invaderscabinets, and by the end of 1978, Taito had installed over 100,000 machines and grossed over $600 million in Japan alone. Within two years by 1980, Taito had sold over 300,000 Space Invaders arcade machines in Japan, in addition to 60,000 machines in the United States, where prices ranged from $2000 to $3000 for each machine, within one year. The arcade cabinets have since become collector’s items with the cocktail and cabaret versions being the rarest. By mid-1981, more than four billion quarters, or $1 billion, had been grossed from Space Invaders machines, and it would continue to gross an average of $600 million a year through to 1982, by which time it had grossed $2 billion in quarters (equivalent to $7.23 billion in 2015), with a net profit of $450 million (equivalent to $1.63 billion in 2015). This made it the best-selling video game and highest-grossing entertainment product of its time, with comparisons made to the then highest-grossing film Star Wars, which had grossed $486 million in movie tickets (costing $2.25 each on average) with a net profit of $175 million. Space Invaders had earned Taito profits of over $500 million. The 1980 Atari 2600 version was the first official licensing of an arcade game and became the first “killer app” for video game consoles by quadrupling the system’s sales. It sold over two million units in its first year on sale as a home console game, making it the first title to sell a million cartridges. Other official ports of the game were made for the Atari 8-bit computer line and Atari 5200 console. Taito released it for the NES in 1985 (Japan only). Numerous unofficial clones were made as well, such as the popular computer games Super Invader (1979) and TI Invaders (1981).
An oft-quoted urban legend states that there was a shortage of 100-yen coins—and subsequent production increase—in Japan attributed to the game, although in actuality, 100-yen coin production was lower in 1978 and 1979 than in previous or subsequent years. The claim also doesn’t hold up to logical scrutiny; arcade operators would have emptied out their machines and taken the money to the bank, thus keeping the coins in circulation. Reports from those living in Japan at the time indicate “nothing out of the ordinary … during the height of the Space Invaders invasion.”
Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto considered Space Invaders a game that revolutionized the video game industry; he was never interested in video games before seeing it. Hideo Kojima also described it as the first video game that impressed him and got him interested in video games. Several publications ascribed the expansion of the video game industry from a novelty into a global industry to the success of the game. Edge magazine attributed the shift of video games from bars and arcades to more mainstream locations like restaurants and department stores to Space Invaders. Its popularity was such that it was the first game where an arcade machine’s owner could make up for the cost of the machine in under one month, or in some places within one week.
Technology journalist Jason Whittaker credited the game’s success to ending the video game crash of 1977, which had earlier been caused by Pong clones flooding the market, and beginning the golden age of video arcade games. According to The Observer, the home console versions were popular and encouraged users to learn programming; many who later became industry leaders. 1UP.com stated that Space Invaders showed that video games could compete against the major entertainment media at the time: movies, music, and television. IGN attributed the launch of the arcade phenomenon in North America in part to Space Invaders. Electronic Games credited the game’s success as the impetus behind video gaming becoming a rapidly growing hobby and as “the single most popular coin-operated attraction of all time.” Game Informer considered it, along with Pac-Man, one of the most popular arcade games that tapped into popular culture and generated excitement during the golden age of arcades. IGN listed it as one of the “Top 10 Most Influential Games” in 2007, citing the source of inspiration to video game designers and the impact it had on the shooting genre. 1UP ranked it at No. 3 in its list of “The 60 Most Influential Games of All Time,” stating that, in contrast to earlier arcade games which “were attempts to simulate already-existing things,” Space Invaders was “the first video game as a video game, instead of merely a playable electronic representation of something else.” In 2008, Guinness World Records listed it as the top-rated arcade game in technical, creative, and cultural impact.
As one of the earliest shooting games, it set precedents and helped pave the way for future titles and for the shooting genre. Space Invaders popularized a more interactive style of gameplay with the enemies responding to the player controlled cannon’s movement, and was the first video game to popularize the concept of achieving a high score, being the first to save the player’s score.While earlier shooting games allowed the player to shoot at targets, Space Invaders was the first in which targets could fire back at the player. It was also the first game where players were given multiple lives, had to repel hordes of enemies, could take cover from enemy fire, and use destructible barriers, in addition to being the first game to use a continuous background soundtrack, with four simple diatonic descending bass notes repeating in a loop, which was dynamic and changed pace during stages, like a heartbeat sound that increases pace as enemies approached.
It also moved the gaming industry away from Pong-inspired sports games grounded in real-world situations towards action games involving fantastical situations. Whittaker commented that Space Invaders helped action games become the most dominant genre on both arcades and consoles, through to contemporary times. Guinness World Records considered Space Invaders one of the most successful arcade shooting games by 2008. In describing it as a “seminal arcade classic”, IGN listed it as the number eight “classic shoot ’em up”. Space Invaders set the template for the shoot ’em up genre. Its worldwide success created a demand for a wide variety of science fiction games, inspiring the development of arcade games, such as Atari’s Asteroids, Williams Electronics’ Defender, and Namco’s Galaxian and Galaga, which were modeled after Space Invaders?’?s gameplay and design. This influence extends to most shooting games released to the present day, including first-person shooters such as Wolfenstein, Doom, Halo and Call of Duty. Space Invaders also had an influence on early computer dungeon crawl games such as Dungeons of Daggorath, which used similar heartbeat sounds to indicate player health.