Life After Closing Arcade #2 and New Games at Amusement Expo
by Adam Pratt, Arcade Galactic & ArcadeHeroes.com
The last time I wrote, I went into detail about closing my second location. That process took up a lot of time, especially in January when I had to either sell or move that location’s games. That process was about as “fun” as I expected it to be. We trucked bout 20 games to the original location and sold several others.
You might be wondering if that influx of “new” games helped my remaining arcade’s business, and the answer is yes. They offered more for customers to do with their money as well as a better chance that they’d find a game that really appealed to them. Those games have been such a boon that from when all the equipment arrived (around the last week of January) to the beginning of April, our weekends saw an improvement of 20 to 30% in gross sales.
Unfortunately, April brought a bit of a decline. It’s usually a slower month but I was still a little disappointed given how explosive The Super Mario Bros. Movie has been. Usually, any successful, family-friendly Hollywood production tends to bleed over into our business, and more so when the movie has something to do with video games and arcades. Even the generally lambasted Pixels caused my Centipede to make twice as much as its norm for a few weeks. The last Mortal Kombat movie had a similar effect on my Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.
But, despite having a Luigi’s Mansion Arcade (Sega) and a Donkey Kong (Nintendo) on-site, I didn’t see that same kind of boost, and Super Mario Bros. Movie is a billion-dollar money-maker! My games are doing fine but they just aren’t pulling in three to four times as much like I expected. Did it play out differently for those of you who have any Mario Kart Arcade GP DX units?
Out and About
In addition to running the arcade, I’ve had a few trade shows to enjoy, which gave me a chance to run into a few of you while rushing around. Amusement Expo 2023 was the most recent but, unfortunately, I was only there for a bit over a day. When time is short, it doesn’t bother me too much that a lot of games are repeats from IAAPA since that saves me some time and helps keep the focus on what might be brand new.
There were three new games from the pinball side of things with Stern Pinball launching Foo Fighters, American Pinball releasing Galactic Tank Force and Chicago Gaming and Play Mechanix unveiling Pulp Fiction. (I was disappointed not to see Jersey Jack Pinball at Expo with their latest, The Godfather.) I regret to say that I was unable to try Pulp Fiction. Every time I wandered by their booth, people were playing the game with others waiting in line. I was able to film it and everyone I talked to said they liked what they played. I did get a little time with both Foo Fighters and Galactic Tank Force. As usual, my first play was incredible, then it went downhill from there. I need to take the advice given to Roger Sharpe as portrayed in the excellent film Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game: pick a target and focus on that. (Go watch the movie if you haven’t already!)
Pinball inhabits a strange place in our sector as the interest from the collector market has never been higher. Obviously, if that’s where the sales are, then that’s where the focus will go. As I have laid out on my YouTube channel, I’m sad to see how dismal pinball’s ROI has been for me, perhaps the worst out of any product in the biz. That doesn’t mean that pinball sucks. It just means, in my view, that people visiting an arcade to play for a short time would rather save up and buy the games for their mancaves or garages. The casual noobs who wander through tend to play once (or even just one ball) because the theme interests them, but they don’t get “hooked.” Instead, they move on to something else that doesn’t require any study to figure out.
I haven’t given up on pinball, but it’s no longer a priority for me to expel so much effort and cash on it when it’s not giving me a sensible return outside of reselling a machine.
Back to the Expo… The major video players – Bandai Namco, Raw Thrills and Sega Amusements – had booths of product similar to what they had at IAAPA. This gave me a brief chance to play some of the games that I wanted a little more time with, such as Fast & Furious Arcade, Dead Heat Unleashed and Storm Rider 2. I also wanted to give the QBIX mixed reality gaming room by Inowize a spin, but like Pulp Fiction, my time ran out to see how it plays firsthand.
I also was able to play a couple of things I missed at IAAPA, such as VRsenal’s Zombieland: Headshot Fever and VR 360 Action’s OMG Simulator. I hadn’t touched any VR at IAAPA because I was feeling under the weather and didn’t want to spread whatever it was to other attendees (though it turned out to only be a sinus infection). Feeling fine this time, I gave a few pieces a go.
As much as I appreciate the innovative idea of melding a VR headset into a gun – available on a few games out there (Zombieland, VR Agent and VR X-Spy) – in practice, it’s not my favorite approach. I find myself constantly fighting to keep the display in that “sweet spot” for best clarity. That said, I’m happy these games are bringing one of my favorite PC game genres back to the arcade: the first-person shooter.
For new-new stuff at Amusement Expo, Adrenaline Amusements had the Motion Deluxe version of their NFS Heat Takedown game, exA-Arcadia had several new titles that they were kind enough to let me play (including an as-yet-unannounced fighter), and a newcomer from my neck of the woods called Alan-1 unveiled their Joust-meets-Killer Queen title, Avian Knights. I’ll give you a quick rundown of each.
NFS Heat Takedown is a fun, solid racing experience that has one of the best sound mixes I’ve heard in a while. If we handed out category awards for anything, NFS would take the cake for sound design. The motion on the DX is pretty good too, although it did seem to diminish the “rump thump” sound effects you experience on the SD. Perhaps that was just my brain playing tricks on me.
As always, exA-Arcadia had a bunch of new titles, some I had played early versions of and a couple I hadn’t played before. These included: Batsugun Exa Label (shoot ’em up), Axel City 2 (fighter), Dynamite Bomb (fighter), Jamjam ’n Jelly Exalente (shoot ’em up) and Donut Dodo Do! (retro platformer).
So far, it seems my customers aren’t into the shoot ’em ups, but I sure am. So, I’ll enjoy playing these when I come across them but I won’t consider buying unless there’s something very different about them. (I am still thinking about P-47 Aces Mk. II, made for exA’s 4-player cabinets.) The two fighters mentioned above could be good though. That’s the genre that’s done best on my exA cabinets so far and both of them are wholly exclusive to arcades, with no console versions to compete with.
Donut Dodo Do! was the most fun of the bunch, enough so that I pre-ordered the game shortly after the show. This game is like three arcade classics wrapped into one – Popeye, Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong – and it’s a ton of fun, especially in 2-player mode. While I haven’t much success with “new retro” games (new games that look and play like they were made in the 1980s), this one is so much fun that I’m hopeful it will break the trend.
Last but not least is Avian Knights. Designed by the owner of an arcade in northern Utah by the name of Flynn’s Retrocade under a new company name, Alan-1, this plays like a modern version of Midway’s Joust with a few extra enhancements, such as the ability to grab and upgrade weapons. It’s also a very colorful game with vibrant colors both on-screen and on the cabinet. Also, all of the outdoor scenes for the backgrounds come from sites within Utah, so that’s a nice little nod to us Utah natives.
The most interesting thing to me about the game was the cabinet. While not in final-final form, I was impressed by how many features they crammed into it – dynamic RGB LED lighting, a rumble feature, a pinball knocker and an air blower. All of that, combined with the artwork which covers every inch of the cabinet, makes for one of the most impressive presentations I’ve ever seen for an indie arcade cabinet. The game also has an esports feature with online accounts, so it should be fascinating to see how this does when it launches to the market later this year.
Of course, after a show, I’m always asked, “What do you plan on getting for your arcade?” Unfortunately, it isn’t much. If I were in a better financial spot, I’d possibly be looking at NFS Heat Takedown since I already have the single-screen version of Fast & Furious Arcade in Cruis’n Blast and the beefed-up version of Dead Heat Unleashed in Maximum Tune 5DX+. Storm Rider 2 would also be on my radar, given how good my Nirin does despite its age. I would also get with the times and grab a card system to eliminate my token hassles.
Right now, my main focus is paying down debt. I’m spending far too much every month on payments and I need to bring that down to something reasonable (ideally, no payments at all, but that never seems to last for long). I’m making extra payments where I can, so I can hopefully knock some of these out within the year. It is a bit daunting given the debt I took on post-lockdown and when trying to have that second location. I may consider selling a few more pieces to help in that regard.
Even so, I have made a couple of purchases this year. The pre-ordered Donut Dodo Do! was kind of a no-brainer since the game kit is only about $850, which is drastically less expensive than any of the games I mentioned above. I also unexpectedly sold my Dance Dance Revolution Extreme for a very good amount, paying off some debts and also allowing me to pre-order another indie game (not at the show) called Enter The Gungeon: House of the Gundead by Griffin Aerotech and Devolver Digital.
Enter The Gungeon came out for consoles several years ago and has become so popular that it’s considered to be something of a “mainstream indie” game. Millions of players know the name, and the arcade version is wholly unique – it’s a light-gun shooter, whereas the console version is a top-down, twin-stick shooter. On top of that, it was something I could buy out-of-pocket, whereas anything from the mainstream arcade developers would require setting up another multi-year payment plan. You devs know I love you, but I just can’t afford the $20k+ stuff right now.
So now you know how my year’s gone so far. I’m still concerned about where the economy is going. I mentioned our April slowdown, which seems to be affected by rising gas and electricity prices (again), accelerated layoffs across every sector and the new banking crises.
Still, I keep finding ways to market the arcade, getting the word out that it’s a great place to escape the current concerns. One recent idea is to play up our name a little bit. Since it’s called Arcade Galactic, I’m looking at affordable – if not free – ways to maximize the space/astronomy angle.
So far, that’s just involved creating “space facts” that play as a part of our slideshow on the TV behind the front desk. I’m going to work on that idea, placing those and arcade facts around the store, playing up our theme. By the end of the year, I hope to have something of a hybrid arcade and planetarium at work.
Adam Pratt is the owner and operator of Arcade Galactic near Salt Lake City, Utah, and also publishes the Arcade Heroes blog site. He can be reached at [email protected].