'Space Invaders' Was So Popular, A 12-Year-Old Held Up A Bank For Coins

The history of Space Invaders provides a compelling glimpse into the entire video game industry. As one of the first genuinely global titles, Space Invaders was insanely popular after its 1978 release. It proved to be a huge financial success for its creator, Taito, and for arcade businesses who bought the machines. The game swallowed quarters unlike any other, with people often spending hours in line to get a chance to play. No wonder it's often considered one of the best arcade games of all time.

Much like Tetris and other successful titles, Space Invaders was a deceptively simple game. The gameplay was easy to grasp, but the challenge soon increased so that only the best players could beat the high score. And it introduced multiple never-before-seen features and essentially revitalized the video game industry following the crash of 1977.

Millions have played Space Invaders, but there's still tons about the game that you might not know.

  • Children Committed Crimes For 'Space Invaders' Money
    Photo: Taito Corporation/Arcade Museum / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    Children Committed Crimes For 'Space Invaders' Money

    The Space Invaders craze was so powerful that, according to popular lore, multiple children broke the law in attempts to get money to play the game. One notable example in Japan involved a 12-year-old boy entering a bank with a shotgun.

    The child demanded to be paid out in coins, which he later revealed to police was so he could use them in arcades to play the recently released Space Invaders.

  • Some People Tried To Get It Banned

    The immense popularity of the game caused some issues. Parent-teacher associations in Japan tried to have the game banned shortly after its release, on the grounds that it was encouraging students to play hooky from school.

    In 1981, an MP in the United Kingdom named George Foulkes tried to introduce a law in Parliament that would see the title classified as an addictive property. This would mean the game would have to be licensed and could be restricted by the government. His fellow MPs defeated the introduction of the bill, however, meaning it was never put to a full vote in the House of Commons.

  • It Pioneered A Series Of New Features

    Space Invaders proved to be one of the most influential titles in the history of the gaming industry. It not only helped make gaming mainstream, but effectively pulled the game industry out of a slump.

    The title was also responsible for introducing a series of new features that soon became commonplace. Space Invaders was the first game to have a high score system. It also had a steady difficulty curve that helped change the game significantly as it progressed.

  • The Difficulty Curve Was An Accident
    Video: YouTube

    The Difficulty Curve Was An Accident

    Tomohiro Nishikado, the creator of Space Invaders, spent over a year trying to get the software to run correctly on hardware. The sheer number of enemies onscreen, in addition to the impressive graphics, meant that it put a considerable amount of strain on the processors. When he tested the game on the hardware, he found the enemies did not run at the steady speed he had programmed. Instead, they moved much slower at the start but sped up as fewer enemies remained onscreen.

    Although this was a glitch that only came about because the processor was able to render the enemies more quickly when there were less of them, Nishikado decided to keep it in the final product. He felt that it provided a fun way to increase the difficulty without fundamentally altering the gameplay experience.

  • It Inspired Several Of The Most Prominent Developers Of All Time

    Many of the most prominent modern designers and programmers, like Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima and Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto, have said Space Invaders is the primary reason they became interested in making games in the first place.

    Kojima also credits the game for essentially inventing cover mechanics and stealth gameplay by allowing players to hide and sneak between protective structures.

  • It Was An Unprecedented Financial Success

    The immediate success of Space Invaders was apparent to everyone. By the end of its first year of release, Taito had sold more than 100,000 machines across Japan. The next year saw that number almost triple and international markets soon began to catch up, with the United States accounting for a further 60,000 cabinets by 1979.

    The game proved to be incredibly profitable for Taito, with the company  bringing in profits of around  $500 million.