Beloved Standard with a Twist
Barron’s New Takes on Air Hockey & Foosball Are a Coin-Op Shot in the Arm
By Kate Miller, RePlay Contributor
Greg Bacorn was playing four-way paper football with his business partners around a dining room table when the idea for Barron Games’ flagship QuadAir Hockey table was hatched. It was nearly five years ago when he began to reinvent a standard air hockey table for four player competition.
The initial response to the idea was one of confusion and that it would be difficult to understand how to play.
“Everyone said, ‘No way, you can’t do it,’ ” remembers Greg, who founded Barron Games eight years ago with his now-wife Anna. “People said ‘players just won’t understand.’ ”
But, if anyone can teach players how to learn air hockey with a twist, it’s Greg. A former middle school history teacher, he certainly has a knack for communicating big ideas with passionate enthusiasm. “My experience in education came in handy to educate the public, distributors, and operators on the unique operation of our QuadAir tables,” Greg points out, whose love for history shines in Barron’s WWII-era fantasy Allied Tank Attack video motion simulator game.
Today, Greg’s own voice comes through the speakers of their QuadAir to guide and cheer players through the innovative four-player air hockey experience at FECs around the world – including, he says, “every Dave & Buster’s nationwide.
“At the end of the day, the cashbox spoke for itself and it still speaks today,” says Greg. “We can’t even keep the QuadAir in stock. It flies off the shelves.” It’s the inviting group-play dynamic that makes this hockey table, like a kitchen table: a natural place to gather with friends and family, while also welcoming fun and friendly competition.
By drawing on these real-world experiences and relationships, Barron machines lend a certain warmth to the industry. Greg and Anna’s 3-year-old daughter, Nadya, inspired the new exclusive Bathtime Duckie Carousel kiddie ride with her own rubber duckie at bath time (a savvy shot in the arm to the anemic toddler kiddie category). As the husband-and-wife team ponder decorating their little girl’s room with a Hello Kitty theme, they are considering complementing the decor with one of the Hello Kitty air hockey tables they partnered with Sega Amusements to produce. (The table is helping tap into the elusive young female demographic, they report. Barron Games has also worked with Sega to build a Sonic the Hedgehog-themed air hockey table and kiddie ride.) These are ready for shipment in their warehouse.
This accessible warmth extends past what you see on the catalog pages – which include photos of Nadya and their nephew Blake (left) modeling with Barron’s machines. Their brochure features an FEC-heavy lineup that ranges from QuadAir to foosball to kiddie rides –– and to the customers themselves. A whopping 50 percent of Barron’s business comes from custom jobs for both businesses and the home market.
“What makes us different is being able to customize our games,” says Anna. “What we’re able to do is add value to our pieces, be it foosball or air hockey, to the end-user with their own custom designs. If we make a table designed with the logo of an FEC or street operator, when a guest enters, they see that piece as belonging to that location and will be more likely to remember to return. That is brand recognition that adds value – it’s not just an air hockey table, it’s a Dave & Buster’s air hockey table,” adds Greg.
Barron customization goes beyond the logo to artfully tailored music, graphics and paint colors. For example, if an FEC has a nautical theme, they might put fish on the foosball playing field. Custom options can help street operators push their own brand recognition or offer special features to their locations, such as an ad for a bar special or simple color-coordination to make the piece feel like it was made for the room (after all, it was!).
Greg says, “Those are the things we specialize in. Not just pumping out hundreds of the same, but tailoring each unit to the unique needs of a customer. We make special and different pieces each time. That’s what we like to do.”
That fastidious attention to detail means Barron’s catalog offers only a total of thirty or so machines – and just a dozen of those are heavy hitters that are consistently kept in stock. But, doing a few things well has launched this small business into international coin-op waters, including some choice prestige clients. These are waters that Anna, who speaks four languages, was born to navigate.
As a native Russian, Anna grew up handling the books for her family’s amusement-distribution business. So when the Bacorns say “Barron is a family company,” that statement is underlined with a second-generation coin-op pedigree. Anna also brings her experience to the AAMA Board of Directors and to the Amusement Expo show committee.
At 30-years-old, both Bacorns are relatively young to swing such clout. But, fresh blood with fresh ideas may be just what the industry needs.
“All of the products we have are either those we’ve invented, co-invented, designed, or had a hand in designing,” Greg told RePlay. “We don’t just pick up a product and resell it. Our Barron-designed flagship products are one of the most important parts of our company.” Greg even refers to the QuadAir hockey table as his second child.
Barron’s passionate spirit of inventiveness hit the floor of the Bowl Expo during the summer with their latest baby, an electronic coin-op foosball table targeted to FECs that began shipping in September.
The flashiest bits of World Tour Foosball are the loads of electronics on the playing field, the music and the cheering from the crowd when the player makes a goal.
“We’ve taken a standard foosball table a step further, making it a little different and exciting, giving it a twist,” says Anna.
Another beloved standard with a twist? “That’s a theme,” Greg explains. “That’s exactly what we did with the air hockey table. We took a standard and jazzed it up to enhance player excitement: LED lights on the playing field, sound effects, ticket redemption.” He adds, “It enhances the player’s enjoyment because it feels like they’re enmeshed in a soccer team with lights and music and crowd cheering, like you’re part of the World Cup.”
The familiar game in fresh trappings may tap an intergenerational demographic, too. “When we debuted it, children, middle-aged people and older people who were familiar with foosball were able to play something a little bit different. It engaged the whole family.”
The less flashy bit, though, is what makes this foosball table viable for coin-op: the ball can’t go missing.
“The most unique feature of this foosball table is the automatic ball release,” says Greg, describing the pneumatic plunger that brings the ball to the glass-topped playing field so that players never touch the ball itself. Which means not having to replace the ball or worry about it flying up and hitting bystanders, as happens in a vigorous foosball match – which, in turn, means being able to place it in a more central location.
What will Barron’s business model of sweating the small stuff – paying fastidious attention to the needs of both the real families who play their games and the real FECs and operators who run their machines – bring to the future?
New on the scene is the company’s Dolphin Star ride, which they debuted at the AAMA Gala in August. Dolphin Star is a kiddie “edutainment” piece which provides the fun of a kiddie ride with an interactive video play experience. Designed for children ages 2 to 10, the player guides the on-screen dolphin to collect points, build vocabulary words and win tickets The dolphin’s flashing and colorful LED lighting help attract the youngsters.
But bigger than that, she says, is what coin-op can continue to offer families outside the home. “Sportsmanship. Competitiveness. Kindness. Not video games. Instead of families going with an app, we are offering the alternative of playing interactive sports games. That’s the strength of an FEC that you can’t get on an iPad.”
What makes Barron’s QuadAir hockey table such a hot seller?
The first part is simple math: four players, Greg points out, means four times the amount of a traditional single-mech air hockey table. “Now you have four coin mechs on the machine, and each person must credit. If you do 50 cents a side, technically it’s $2 to play, but each customer is only 50 cents.” Smooth move.
The second part is more touchy-feely: the group psychology of a four-player, last-man-standing game dynamic.
“If you have four people playing and one person is out – which is to say, they’ve been scored upon five times and their gate goes down – nine times out of ten, they aren’t going to walk away while the rest of their friends and family has fun. They can credit or coin in that side again to continue playing. All four people can do that at the same time, and the game can last as long as the people continue to play.”
Adds Greg, “Most people won’t walk away while other people are having fun. They’ll credit back in. At the end of the day, the cashbox is full.”
About the author: One of our favorite writers of all time, Kate began her career at RePlay when she was still a journalism major at Cal State Northridge, joining the team as an intern. We snapped her up in a heartbeat when she graduated and she remained full-time with us until married life and children called her away. An occasional contributor for now, Kate brings a fresh look and sparkling writing to every assignment that comes her way.