Howard McAuliffe’s Now Trending – October 2017


Attractions & Experiences Are Great…

But Cultivating the Social Experience is Essential to Longterm Success


Howard McAuliffe

by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

The speed of information and technology innovation, as well as the options for consuming both, are growing exponentially.
Social media options include Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Gab, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Viber, VK, WeChat, Weibo, WhatsApp, Wikia, and YouTube, all accessible 24 hours a day for anyone with a smart phone. In arcades, there’s a lot of new stuff, too: VR options, games, debit card system features, attractions, and digital options for point of sale, as well as in-store digital signage.

How can we keep up with all of these ever increasing innovations in our industry and the lives of our customers? In short, we can’t!

We need to carefully consider and choose the most relevant options for us. In addition, it’s important to understand that counter trends emerge in opposition to trends such as technology proliferation. Of course, it’s important to have the latest technology and experiences available that a location can afford. However, making sure our FECs have a compelling dining experience, comfortable seating, and space for groups to socialize is just as important. (Note: “groups” can be thought of as smaller numbers of friends and families, as well as larger gatherings for such as birthday parties and corporate events.) For all the rush to consume driven by technology, there is also a counter reaction to relax and rejuvenate.

According to’s 2017 report, there are several trends indicating a desire for respite. These include: “nostalgia, local business as community hubs, and suspended adulthood.” The modern family entertainment center, especially when combined with bowling and a restaurant, is in the unique and beneficial position of being able to address all three of these trends:

1) Nostalgia: We are now three generations into video game entertainment. Baby boomers grew up with pinball and some with video games.

2) Local Business as Community Hub: Successful community-based facilities must be a community hub to thrive. Repeat visitation is essential.

3) Suspended adulthood: What is more obviously “suspended adulthood” than playing games and laser tag, often with multiple generations?

The well-designed and -operated community-based facility will have the ability to both appeal to the need for new high-tech experiences and the balancing need to relax and socialize with a group.

The most advanced VR system I’ve experienced was the Zero Latency VR system, operated by Family Enter­tainment Group at their arcade in the Kalahari Resort in the Poconos. The VR experience is state of the art and intense for those who want this type of play. However, there is plenty of seating across the arcade near the food options, as well as mini-bowling with comfortable seating for groups who want a leisurely social experience. The dichotomy between a high-tech modern experience and a comfortable social atmosphere is a very powerful and profitable contrast to understand and cultivate. As someone who loves roller coasters and high altitude mountaineering, I could not stand to spend hours in VR experiences as intense as this one. I loved it, but was ready to relax a little afterwards.

It’s important to continue to examine and determine where it’s appropriate to invest in the latest and most exciting experiences like virtual reality. However, it’s also important to invest in creating a space that is desirable for groups to congregate. This is true even within the arcade. Games like Skee-Ball, basketball, and linked driving games are great for groups to play together. While these games may not be your top-earners, they’re essential to the customer experience.

Similarly, games like Big Bass Wheel and the DC Superheroes pusher are exciting for the opportunity to earn large amounts of tickets. These games are essential and high earning, but don’t create much opportunity for social interaction.

Blending the social experience in the arcade with the excitement of high-ticket-earning games is one element of cultivating a social experience in addition to a high-excitement digital experience.

The community-based FEC has proven to be a powerful business model to target various demographic groups by times of day or “day parts.” It’s well known that these facilities can target adults at night (and through corporate parties), as well as families and children of various ages during the weekend and school vacations.

Intentional focus and investment in the environment and ensuring that it creates an enjoyable social experience is a major component of success. This isn’t simple or easy to do well, but when executed properly, the result is a great customer experience and highly profitable business.


Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.




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