Springing Into Summer
A Look at the Games of Expo & Current Operating Challenges
by Adam Pratt, Arcade Galactic & ArcadeHeroes.com
As I was writing this month’s column, a customer came in and we chatted about how business has been lately. He asked me when I thought “this would all be over,” referring to the news of every day from the pandemic to inflation to war. I could only answer that if I knew then I should be in Vegas playing the odds! I’ve given up on guessing but will be elated when these things do turn around. Until then, I’m weathering the storm as best I can.
Performance-wise, my weekdays have been fairly terrible since gas shot up to $4/gallon, although we were seeing some slowdown even before that. Other operators may not have poor numbers, but I am for the most part. I’m still in business though, so that’s a good thing!
As for why my revenues are down, I suspect people are waiting until the weekend rolls around to spend on fun. Collections have been normal on the weekends so far. It’s helpful to my business that more movies are now launching to cinemas only. Strangely, I’ve heard some consultants say “movie theaters need to die.” I can tell you plainly that if the movie theater business goes down, it will take an awful lot of small businesses who rely on their foot traffic with them – not just arcades.
On a more positive note, it was great to see each other in Vegas at Amusement Expo 2022. The show often helps us gauge how business is going for others, be it manufacturers, distributors or other operators. I kept busy while I was there though there weren’t a ton of games I hadn’t seen before to check out and film. With all that’s going on, I get it. But even in this climate, some manufacturers are coming up with innovative ways to keep new product coming.
One of the most popular Expo games I came across was one I’d seen in unfinished form at IAAPA, a remake of Taito’s Ice Cold Beer by Retro Arcade. They’ve licensed the electro-mechanical game from Taito and should have theirs in production by the time you read this. From my observations visiting the booth, the game seems to have turned a lot of heads. Of interest in collector circles, I heard many at AEI talking about how much they loved the original saying they were very interested in grabbing it for one or more of their locations. By the way, Retro Arcade says it has plans for more electro-mechanical games down the road and at a price point of under $5,000. It’s an enticing prospect.
I was also very surprised to see a video game (with video redemption features) at the Jennison booth where the focus is usually on redemption games and kiddie rides. They showed a new, light-gun shooting gallery called Quick Shot. Recently launched in the U.K. through distributor Electrocoin, the game was developed as an alternative to UNIS’ OnPoint. That game was neat and innovative, but the idea of firing real pellets out of a gun was unsettling for many operators. Jennison’s Quick Shot maintains the realistic, heavy feel of airsoft pistols like the UNIS game but without the pellets, making it more attractive for some. As for me, I already picked up a shooting gallery game last year, LAI Games’ Outnumbered which has been doing very well. So, while I don’t need something to compete with it, it is nice to have options.
The other surprise I came across was UNIS’ Wicked Tuna, a simplified, multiplayer game similar to SEGA’s Bass Fishing. This one has great potential. The controller uses a fishing reel and rod that is attached to some kind of internal force feedback/pulling device. When you catch a big fish, it really pulls you and you have to manage that resistance to wear the fish down. While I’m not familiar with the NatGeo TV show it’s based on, the action of the controller was a nice touch and the graphics were quite solid, too. It’s going to be available in 2- and 4-player models.
One game I’d read about but hadn’t seen before was SEGA’s Jumanji, a piece I think will do very well in FECs. Securing the Jumanji license (of the more recent films rather than the Robin Williams original), it’s an interesting mash-up of mini-games that you play to save Jumanji and win tickets. It also comes with a unique spinner/button controller that was easy to use and adapted to the games in a fun way.
Incredible Technologies was bringing out Arcade Collection, packing in three of their popular games into one cabinet: Target Toss Pro, Silver Strike Bowling and Powerputt Golf. (On the factory website, they mention it’s available as a kit.) I can’t imagine that any arcade bar would pass this up. While I haven’t had much demand for certain sports games in the past, I might even grab one down the road when I’m back in a buying mood. I.T. also had Golden Tee PGA TOUR and Retro Raccoons on hand, the latter also sporting new software that allowed for single-player fun.
Regarding pinball, the only brand-new piece was Stern’s Rush. It seems like a great piece but music-themed games are not my cup of tea and my customers aren’t asking for it. Local collectors sure have seemed to pounce on it for their homes though. The only music pin I’ve personally had any interest in lately is the new Weird Al’s Museum of Natural Hilarity from Multimorphic, though that company isn’t known for visiting our tradeshows.
On the video redemption front, I could see a few of the games I saw at Expo doing well on location. Remember, I don’t run tickets, so these games aren’t for me unless they have an amusement or non-ticket mode. I’ve done well with a few that do offer the option (like Bandai Namco’s Galaga Assault and TouchMagix’s SpaceWarp 66) but games like these need a specific kind of play in order to work well without tickets.
As for the other games on the floor, I had pretty much seen everything else at IAAPA. This is often the case. Perhaps I’m the only one who would prefer IAAPA wasn’t the week before Thanksgiving. Maybe if it was in mid-October, then AEI would have the time to show more “new-new” games (either that or push AEI back some?).
What’s nice about the Amusement Expo is that you get to see the latest versions of the games that you saw at IAAPA. Sometimes they’re a little too rough when they’re debuted at the fall show, so they’re more polished by the time AEI rolls around. That was certainly the case for Bandai Namco’s Pac-Man Battle Royale Chompionship which had it’s mobile-controlled version working at AEI (though I’d still prefer to play it with a real joystick even though I see the creative potential that version has). Also, Raw Thrills had the latest King Kong of Skull Island software featuring Chapter 3, and LAI Games the latest version of Asphalt 9 Legends Arcade.
What About VR?
I suppose I have a reputation for being a skeptic when it comes to VR and while nothing at Expo changed my mind, there were some interesting pieces. (I see VR as attractions for FECs and don’t see how it makes sense for a small operation like mine. I just don’t get the economics of it.)
I sincerely wish great success to those tackling the technology, but wonder if there is more untapped potential in Mixed Reality (the use of projection mapping and kiosks/cabinets or rooms). There was a cool example of this at the show: Mini-Golf.io at the Funovation booth. Maybe it could be classified as Augmented Reality –– sometimes these distinctions aren’t clear to me –– but having a small dynamic mini-golf platform that can change its configuration on every hole was one of the coolest things I saw at either this expo or IAAPA ’21. No wearables were required and it didn’t take up a ton of space – no more than a standard racing machine these days. Of course, I’m curious how the maintenance is on the product, but it was still more interesting to me than another 4-player VR arena. (Sorry – don’t stone me! I’m just laying it out as I’ve come to see it for my mall arcade operations.)
Even though VR isn’t my thing, there were some interesting pieces at AEI, including SEGA’s VR Agent and Entreideas’ AT-360. The former is an interesting adaptation of the VR shooter game by melding the headset into the game (it’s a little cumbersome at times but nothing insurmountable). The AT-360 is kind of a resurrection of SEGA’s legendary R360 but using a VR headset. It looked like quite a ride, although players seemed to have trouble keeping the headset on their faces. Being flipped upside down and every other direction can do that to you!
VR ride/machines continue to duke it out – King Kong of Skull Island, Virtual Rabbids and Storm VR. There was also the Rilix Coaster VR piece which could compete with those on price. While some might think I’m just being cheap, I like to think that I’m being prudent, and as such, I still think the price is quite high.
To be fair, there are enormous increases in pricing for almost everything, not just VR. The steep hike in costs is one major reason why I have little desire to buy at the moment. Arcade games used to be $7,500 on average and now, many titles are pushing past the $10K mark. On top of that, you’re going to get soaked on shipping. I do hope that we see prices come back down, but it’s anyone’s guess when or if that will happen.
As things are now, the number of new pieces I’m going to be grabbing will not be the same as it was in the past. I hate that. I know I’m helping the industry with every purchase I make. But, it wouldn’t do my business and employees any good if I roll the dice on something I can’t afford and end up having to close.
I hope your business, whether you’re a manufacturer, distributor or operator, is doing well. I might have come off a bit negative this month, so I’ll leave you with an encouraging thought: “Hard times make for strong men.” It can feel very grinding with today’s insane political climate and shaky markets, but there’s always room for us to adapt, create and innovate, coming out of this better than before. It might take us longer to reach that other side than we’d like, but there’s always an opportunity to grow and make something good. Maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and start developing some of these kinds of things myself.
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].