2016 in Review
A Look Back at a Good Year in the Life of This Mall Arcade Operator
by Adam Pratt, Game Grid Arcade & ArcadeHeroes.com
Just like that, 2016 has come and gone. In some ways (namely, politics), it seems like it would never end while in others, I wonder where the time went.
From a business perspective, it does seem as though our year “starts” with IAAPA as we get to see what new ideas will be integrated into the “arcade culture” to draw customers both old and new. From IAAPA 2015, we saw more video arcade games that deviated from the normal racer/gun genre towards sports or retro remakes. IAAPA 2016 saw some of that, too, although VR and AR were obviously the “big thing” manufacturers are rolling the dice on. Personally, I find the possibilities of AR more intriguing, particularly if we include upcoming holographic display technologies as AR. Everyone has felt that holograms are our future since seeing them in Star Wars or Star Trek. It provides amazement and unique play without the issues of wearable tech. I’m excited to see how the new concepts we saw at IAAPA pan out through 2017.
For my video arcade business, this was a great year by most accounts. We expanded by adding additional games to the floor – usually with one new game soon followed by a classic. The first pair we picked up in the summer was World Tour Foosball by Barron Games, followed by a ’90s title (Taito’s Bubble Bobble 3). Then as fall began, I grabbed a new Galaga Assault by Bandai Namco and a week later picked up a Rampage by Bally/Midway. The changes made this year have me at 55 games in a 2,000-square-foot space. It is rather packed but from my view, it’s great to have variety as I think that appeals to a wider customer base.
The new titles interested me in terms of how they both took something old and made it new – World Tour Foosball with it’s more modern twist on the classic table soccer concept and Galaga Assault in remaking the beloved space bug shooter. For the latter, I’ve long been curious to see how operating a video redemption game as amusement only would work and so far I haven’t been disappointed. Of course, it did help that the “amusement mode” was designed to play like classic Galaga. Not every video redemption concept works as amusement only (some lack the depth that skill games need to have legs).
June 2016 marked my eighth year in business. There are plenty of regulars I see on a daily or weekly basis who don’t need social media marketing to make a visit. They have their single game or game genres that bring them in again and again. Max has Ms. Pac-Man; Manuel has Donkey Kong; Aaron has any pinball machine available and so on. There are a few fathers I see once a week who bring their kids in to play a variety of games, and those certain groups I will see whenever a big name movie hits the theaters. I’m very appreciative of these loyal customers and always hope to make new ones. That’s the challenge we all face when it comes to keeping our businesses afloat.
2016 brought challenges, too. As school started in mid-August, business began to slow considerably (also due in part to the major road reconstruction that’s taking place on the highway next to our mall). A psuedo-competitor opened their doors in October – I say psuedo as it is one of those new “VRcades” which feature a couple of bays and a selection of VR games running on the HTC Vive hardware. It is out-of-home entertainment, but I haven’t really seen any effect on sales so far, for better or for worse.
The primary operational challenge this year has been game maintenance. For whatever reason, I’ve experienced more machine failures than any other time in business. This has ranged from your typical CRT failures to pinball flipper problems to CPU board issues –– the kind of stuff that can keep your games down a bit longer than a coin jam or bad button. For the most part, I’ve been able to return games to operational condition without too much of a wait with one exception. We picked up a Dance Dance Revolution from an auction last year and as soon as we had it set up and running, I had a nagging feeling it used to be someone else’s headache. That rang true when January hit and a burning electrical smell wafted through the air. I’ve been unsuccessful at figuring out what went wrong, but fingers crossed that I’ll have figured it out by the time you read this.
So that is 2016 for me. I hope it’s been great for you and that 2017 will be even better!
Adam Pratt is the owner and operator of the Game Grid arcade near Salt Lake City, Utah. He also publishes the Arcade Heroes blog site and serves as an advisor for the web-based game supplier BMI Worldwide. He can be reached at [email protected].