The mid-March Amusement Expo in Las Vegas was the 53rd consecutive “AMOA” show I’ve attended during my time on Earth. As many know, the national operator association, formerly called “MOA,” co-owns that trade show today along with the manufacturer group AAMA. The odd thing is that I can still remember those early MOA shows as if they were held yesterday. I can also remember the “culture” of the industry during those days, as well as the public “perception” of the products and the people in it. Simply put, it’s all very different today.
Back then, the dominant machine was the jukebox (the “M” for “music” in MOA) not only within, but outside the business where many people thought there was something dark and dangerous about it. Pinball machines, likewise, were considered gambling devices by many older people. These misperceptions kept a lot of otherwise innocent games off location, and gave some operators a sort of inferiority complex in the bargain.
Gratefully, the perception of this industry and its products is vastly different today. People who thought toads gave warts and jukeboxes were run by bad guys are either gone or in a home somewhere. The general public, for a whole bunch of obvious reasons, sees and enjoys our industry’s services quite positively. Historically, industry people like Roger Sharpe, public relations drives like MOA’s years back, and the birth of electronic pins and videos all came together to convince folks who needed convincing that the amusement machine business stood head and shoulders with movies, the music business and all other forms of entertainment.
Digital jukeboxes are all over the place now, bringing a positive posture to a device that can play an enormous selection of songs, along with additional electronic ways to play them. These are not your daddy’s nickelodeons.
And now, the spread of family entertainment centers (FECs) has done a huge service to the industry by creating state-of-the-art fun palaces people actually drive to on purpose rather than fall across by accident. And the game rooms in those places are a far cry from the center city arcades I remember visiting back in the day (although, I gotta tell you we had tons of fun playing with those 35-cent recording booths Williams made, the Seeburg Bear Gun only old timers will remember and those big ball bowlers Chicago Coin produced).
The perception of an FEC can be summed up in one word: excitement! The feeling hits you soon as you park the car, and builds when you walk in the door. The game sounds, the good food smells, the chatter, the décor… it all comes together to create that feeling, and to put people into a spending mood. The word “perception” is a marketing term. In many cases, the product or service only goes so far and the customer’s imagination fills in the rest. So whether you’re in the game center or route side of the business, do your best and the rest will follow.