Video Game Pain Points?
The exA-Arcadia Conversion System Doctor Is In!
by Key Snodgress
Modernizing a page from the industry’s 1990s playbook, exA-Arcadia says they plan to solve three key pain points in today’s market with their new cartridge-based video kit system. They contend: 1) Players are aching for more video games to play (a point often made by RePlay Player’s Perspective columnist Dustin Wilcox). 2) Operators need an inexpensive way to infuse street and arcade locations with fresh games. 3) Game developers are looking for a way to enter the out-of-home industry in a simplified, straightforward way. exA-Arcadia’s team asserts their system is just what the doctor ordered.
Originally debuted in Japan in late 2019, the system has been on test in the States and will make its debut at Amusement Expo. Operators can choose between the dedicated, all-in-one hardware in either a 2-player or 4-player upright model, or a conversion kit to update existing cabinets. This is compatible with JVS (JAMMA 2) standards and, by using already available I/O boards from a variety of manufacturers, and it also works with older JAMMA standards, they say. From a display standpoint, the kit is compatible with flat-panel HD and CRT monitors, supporting displays up to 4K.
The creators assert that their product isn’t meant to simply be a Band-Aid, but a long-lived, economical solution for delivering ever-changing content.
There are 16 titles available now and some 50 more in development, running the genre gamut from fighters to shooters, runs-and-guns to action side-scrollers, beat-’em-ups to sports and more.
“All of these games can be played skillfully or just for fun with the family or co-workers,” said company CEO Eric Chung. “We allow customers to decide how to play, rather than limiting them to dumbed-down experiences, by having customer-selectable difficulty levels allowing both veteran and casual players to enjoy games at their own pace while driving revenue for locations.”
Additionally, operators have control over game options to cater to their customers such as setting the number of lives or items a player gets. With four cartridge slots in the exA-Arcadia system, the operator can have a variety of titles within the single cabinet and can switch them out easily as they go.
Paul Jacobs, the well-known industry veteran who has been tapped to lead North American sales for the company, said, “As with the original Neo-Geo concept, which I helped introduce to the North American market in 1990, various genres and difficulty levels are the key here for high-income longevity.”
Added Chung, “Providing a complete, standalone system that can easily be converted to another game by just adding a cartridge appeals to both street and FEC style locations. From our large upright cabinets to system conversion kits, we have a product for customers of all sizes.”
The Back Story
Chung’s career was once firmly entrenched in the financial services world which eventually took him to Japan in 2005 where he continued to work for Wall Street companies. But, he said, he’s always had a great passion for gaming in general. He later took a post as senior VP at DeNa, one of the largest mobile game companies in Japan, and then on to Vungle where he was Country Manager, dealing with gaming-related services such as ad monetization.Seeing the struggles faced by the location-based entertainment industry on both sides of the ocean motivated Chung and his founding team to come up with the exA-Arcadia system with its game cartridge lineup.
“On the U.S. side,” he said, “operators often complained about the high price point for new titles and the lack of variety outside of gun shooters and racers,” as well as Japanese makers not allowing some of their popular titles to be sold outside of their country.
And in Japan, he noted new titles were even more expensive than in the U.S. The manufacturers there, he said, “are also taking a revenue share up to 65% from all earnings even though the operators have bought the machine. There are also additional monthly network subscription fees and the risk that a manufacturer just shuts down the servers for a given game leaving operators with a rock. This kind of business model is incomprehensible in the U.S. which is why fewer Japanese products are available in the Western marketplace.
“Our mission is to provide engaging low-cost, high-performance content to operators everywhere,” Chung said.
He also feels confident they can keep the content flowing. “After announcing our platform at JAEPO in 2018,” he said, “a number of developers from Japan and the world over contacted us to make titles for exA-Arcadia. Unlike console and smartphones where the games are designed to engage customers for very long periods of time, arcade games are the exact opposite design mentality. Games that engage customers quickly and provide satisfaction in quick bites, but keep a player coming back for more, are perfect.”
Initially, they built out their game portfolio with fighting and shooting games, genres that are also popular in Japan, through efforts with third-party developers as well as out of their own studio. They’ve since expanded to other game types for broader appeal.
Chung believes his system is uniquely built to make it easy for developers to create games for the out-of-home market. “In general, developing an arcade title has a huge barrier to entry as not only do you have to make a good game but there is also the hardware aspect to deal with. At exA-Arcadia, we take care of the hardware side, as well as provide the tools needed for modern developers to create their games for locations. No other manufacturer supports the number of development tools that we do. Developers are able to get their games up and running in a matter of days, if not hours.”
As a result, he said they’ve been working with a wide variety of developers, from one-man indies to large, publicly traded companies. “We have more developer partners than any other arcade platform in history spanning across 10 countries. Moving forward, we are continuing to widen the scope of our games to bring well-known IPs but, more importantly, well-playing games that are high performing for locations.”
The Time is Right
Jacobs is very optimistic about the system’s potential. “We feel that our multi-video game system would have been appropriate at this time even if there had been no pandemic,” he said. “The street operator in particular needs something fresh for his locations in addition to the staples such as jukeboxes, pool and darts. However, due to the pandemic, the need is even greater.
“Our inexpensive system, housed in either a 2-player or 4-player dedicated cabinet, is that ‘something new’ that faithful customers will see when they return in force to their favorite watering holes,” he continued. “With the ability to change or add content with the simple purchase of a new game cartridge, the operator will ensure consistent location play over an extended period of time, while obviating the need for the more expensive option of purchasing an entirely new cabinet each time a fresh new game is desired.”
And so far, so good, says Jacobs, having tested the system in some major FECs across America. “We definitely see the post-pandemic comeback picking up steam every week as states lift restrictions on open hours and capacity limits. My gut tells me that when all is said and done, location income from amusement devices –– and spirits, too! –– will not only equal the pre-pandemic period of 2019 but in many places, significantly exceed those numbers.”
He added, “It appears now that all the major FEC chains have survived and are now primed for growth, and those street operators who were lucky enough to not have a high percentage of their locations permanently close will also be on a healthy road to recovery.”
For more information, visit the company online at www.exa.ac or reach out to North American sales topper Paul Jacobs by calling 561-512-3642 or emailing paul.jacobs @exa.ac. Better yet, visit exA-Arcadia at the Amusement Expo booth #338 and see it in action yourself. Jacobs says to also be on the lookout for new game announcements following the show. He and Chung also look forward to working with other game developers and invite them to contact them with proposals.
Visit the company online at www.exa.ac.
[Editor’s note: Be sure to turn to this month’s Endgame by Adam Pratt, one of the first to operate the exA-Arcadia system in the U.S.]