The UK’s love for horse-racing has always been strong. This traditional, and beloved, national sport is still bringing in flocks of spectators to its stands and millions of pounds through its betting booths each year. Indeed, with the announcement of the 2015 Cheltenham festival dates, excitement surrounding the sport is once again building as the year draws to a close. Yet despite the durability and success of horse-racing, video-game simulations of this popular sport have never been successful within the UK. Whilst popular sport-simulation series such as Fifa, Top Spin and Grand Turismo have all logged major sales – off the back of the popularity of football, tennis and F1 respectively – none of the few horse-racing games released have had near the level of success of these titles. Therefore, initially, it is quite surprising to discover that Japan, which has no horse-racing events even held within the country, is by a long way the biggest market for horse-racing video-games in the world today.
However, Japan’s love for horse-racing games becomes much more understandable when one considers the countries century-long banning of all money gambling activities. Whilst the continuation of the ban is presently being debated within the Japanese government, as of today the 23rd chapter of Japan’s Penal code still prohibits any person from partaking in any form of gambling. This ban has led to loopholed almost-gambling activities, particularly within the video-gaming sector, to become incredibly popular with Japan’s starved gambling consumers. Pachinko, an electronic hybrid of the lottery and bingo, is immensely popular due to the tokens it rewards being allowed to be exchanged for various items. Therefore it understandable why horse-racing simulators in arcades, which allow players to place bets and be rewarded with similar tokens, have become so popular, as they are as close to the authentic gambling experience as you can get in Japan.
It was Japanese video-game giant Sega who was quick to monopolise this emerging market in Japan with its Derby Owners Club series. This extensive horse-racing simulator has, apart from a singular entry in North America in 2001, been exclusively released in Japan since its inception. The game, which is played exclusively in arcades, features a huge interface which is spread-out over several terminals – where players can continually adapt and change their bets – as the action plays out on a huge screen suspended above.
Any gaming fanatic will know that Japanese arcades simply cannot be beaten, and are a completely different beast from their western counterparts. Whilst in America and the UK, arcades are often the domain of children alone and rarely seen as a hub neither for committed gamers nor socialising adults. However, in Japan, these flashy temples are visited by adults and children alike and are accepted places to socialise and even date. Therefore, it is unsurprising, that a horse-racing simulation would prove so popular within these venues. You will often find wrinkled elders and smoking risk-takers deep in concentration at Derby Owners Club’s terminals. If anything, the way that Sega has laid out the game’s machine, gives it the impression of a high-tech betting-shop rather then an arcade game.
Due to the lack of a real-life equivalent, Sega’s game is ridiculously immersive and realistic. The graphics, whilst retaining the slight cartoonish quality and garish colours of traditional arcade games, are both detailed and fluid. Moreover, the game is brimming with neat touches and subtle embellishments. Commentators excitedly jabber over proceedings whilst a variety of real-life incidents occur, from jockeys falling off their horses to competitors being disqualified for rule-breaking. There is range of betting options available too, that can be decided based upon a startling range of statistics from breeding pedigree to trainer prestige. It perhaps wouldn’t be to extreme to say, given the game’s quality, that if it were released in the Uk, it could possibly attract the audience that other games of its kind have been unable to reach.