Despite Challenges, Pratt Believes People Still Want Some Arcade Fun
by Adam Pratt, Arcade Galactic & ArcadeHeroes.com
It goes without saying that we’re living in bizarre times, which bring about their own stresses. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find a way to survive the mess –– so far –– so let me relate what I’ve done to keep my location going.
We were first shut down by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that shook the Salt Lake City, Utah, area on March 18. The mall where my arcade is located was closed for a week because of that, but by the time it would have been able to reopen, Salt Lake County issued their own public health order, commanding a variety of businesses to close their doors until further notice. Arcades were specifically mentioned in the “restricted” list, so there wasn’t much I could do.
Utah was not hit terribly hard by the virus compared to other regions of the country and world. Factors that seem to contribute to the spread, such as high population density, aren’t a problem in a state that is fairly large and pretty rural. Of course, my arcade is located in the main population center of the state, which is what triggered the aforementioned shut down, but it has also meant that our recovery started a little sooner than other places. I was able to reopen my business on May 1.
In March, as soon as I heard of the possibility that businesses could be forced to close, I immediately reached out to my lenders to talk about payment deferrals. They were quick to come up with a plan. I was able to get most of my payments paused for March and April. I also talked with my landlord, although they have proven to be pretty terrible when it comes to communicating things. I am still working with them on a plan, as well as re-negotiating my lease, which will hopefully take place by the time next month’s column due date comes around.
Reopening has been tough, to say the least. Year-on-year, we were already suffering a slight drop in business thanks to the multi-million-dollar FEC that opened on the south end of my mall in November. They are still closed as I write this (they may open by the end of June or mid-July), so that’s an advantage for me, but the main draw of foot traffic to the mall –– the IMAX movie theater –– is still closed and that’s hurt things. Many other tenants have also been closed or doing “whatever I feel like” hours and mall security has been locking the doors at random times, so it has made fulfilling consistent expectations a bit more difficult.
That said, we’ve made it work and did have some business through May. It was down 71% compared to May 2019, but that was still better than zero. Prior to closing, I had already ramped up sanitizing controls and set out hand sanitizer, although the latter was impossible to find for a while. We just had to use what was on hand and hope it would last. I also added some stickers produced by the AMOA to highlight how frequently we wipe the machines down.
For reopening, I reworked the game layout as best I could. It wasn’t a drastic change, but I was able to get a little more space between machines without having to sell or remove anything. As it turns out, with as slow as things were, I didn’t need to worry about that so much since groups were rare. I didn’t make an effort to limit how many people would come into the store (by roping things off), nor shut down paired machines because again, foot traffic was light. There were some days that were almost too slow to open for.
I also brought in a good air filter made for large rooms, equipped with a germ- and virus-killing UV-C light, had gloves on hand, and masks ready in case they were needed. I decided not to restrict people coming into the store based upon their choice of face wear, since scientific data on masks has mainly not supported it for healthy people. Granted, some of the data throughout this whole crisis has been all over the place and sometimes contradictory, which is a bit frustrating. Our customers seem to be 50/50 about using a face cover. The state does say workers should wear one, although one issue I’ve encountered is that people cannot really hear you speak in a noisy arcade when your mouth is covered. It has also caused some mild problems with my asthma if I have to wear one for a while. So, I only put mine on when someone comes to the desk.
One nice thing that’s happened is that I was able to celebrate the 12th anniversary of my business on June 8. The backdrop of the pandemic plus the name change made it weird, but as things worked out, I did receive two new games that same day.
One of them is for a platform that has been mentioned in the magazine previously, and I think that it is something that smaller operators really need to take a look at if they haven’t already: the Exa-Arcadia. Designed to work like a modern Neo Geo MVS, the main plus of this platform is that I have been able to add three brand-new games to my arcade this year, and all for less than the cost of a single, new dedicated machine. Now, I don’t have any problem with dedicated simulator machines, but right now we need affordable content solutions and the Exa is the only thing bringing that to the table. I don’t know how many “new” games you add to your facility a year, but usually I’m lucky to do one or two, then a variety of used, older ones.
I will admit that the Exa platform does need more games that appeal to a broad audience –– stuff with big names and not just oddball indie titles –– but it will get there. So far, it’s been performing moderately well, and I look forward to other games coming for it throughout the year. (Seven are shipping now as I write this; 23 games have been announced with more to come).
I also need to tip my hat to Stern for their Stranger Things pinball. The day before the earthquake shook the valley, I received a Premium model at my shop. It had to sit there un-played for a month and a half, but during May, it was one of my top draws, bringing people back to the arcade. It did so well that one week, it outperformed my Cruis’n Blast (the #1 game in my place for most weeks of the year. It’s always great to have a draw to your arcade, particularly with dedicated pinball wizards willing to explore a new game.
The question I keep seeing from fellow operators though is: Do people still want to come in and play, or do they have a new “arcadephobia?”
By what I’m seeing from this week, the answer lands on the former. Yes, there is still a way to go to return to what we called “normal,” but what I was banking on is that people still need some occasional escapism. This is driven by all of the events of 2020 and not just the pandemic.
Arcades really do provide a nice place to get away from all of the contention and stresses that are outside of your control. We have enough interesting and unique experiences to offer to people, and I think that as long as we tout that angle, while showing that we are taking measures to keep things clean, things will work out and return to sanity.
Best of luck out there to those just getting back into it (or who are still waiting).
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].