I hope everyone is having a great weekend. Just a couple of brief news items and then a long rant.
First off, news about a former host of the arcade-centric TV game show Starcade. Geoff Edwards, who hosted quite a few episodes of this 80s show, passed away early this week due to complications with pneumonia. He was 83. You can watch full episodes of Starcade online for free here and glory in the 80s goodness/cheese. Although I think it would fun to have Starcade: The Next Generation, although any modern games may have to be modified for a specific event scoring system Here’s one full episode that is on Youtube. Via The Hollywood Reporter.
In case you missed it, the city of Glendale, CA has some classic arcade machines up on the auction block. Via LATimes.com
Where I have been in the arcade industry for a little while now there are some “inside baseball” things that creep up as annoyances. I haven’t usually got into them since I try to keep subjects on the blog geared more towards the end players but here is a rant that will probably not interest you unless you are working in the industry. I have whittled it down though, after hitting about 1300 words. I’ll end the post with this long piece, hence the other items above.
Rant #1: Manufacturers could do every one a favor by consistently reporting to their distributors when a game is no longer in production. I do not just mean video arcade makers but every company in the coin-op industry, whether they make redemption pieces or vending machines or whatever machine takes a coin. There are some who are good about this and will send out an email telling their distributors that such-and-such is out-of-stock or no longer in production. But it’s not always consistent, it seems to be some privilege reserved just for top selling games. Imagine you are an operator who goes to buy a game that has been out for a while, it shows up on the manufacturer website and the distributor website as in-stock but you pay for it then a short time later, maybe a week or two – Sorry! We no longer make that game or anything like it. There are a few places to place blame within the chain of manufacturer to distributor but really it should be the professional responsibility of the manufacturer to have one of their marketing or sales reps take five minutes to put together a simple email blast to their network of distributors so that everyone is on the same page that a game is deader . It takes no more effort than putting together a Facebook post on your wall. Those inside the industry have probably come across this frustration before, which reeks of laziness. Even the courtesy of saying “We have 10 left and are not making anymore” would be nice. It doesn’t have to be a flowery press release with quotations about how great the game was. Just keep your customers informed.
Rant #2: Better info is needed on flyers and manuals. I was looking at some flyers as I like to collect them to use as art in my arcade. But I then realized that I had many examples that were only useful in that regard – which shouldn’t be the point of a sales flyer. Its supposed to inform people wanting to buy a machine for their location about useful information on the product so they are more willing to buy it.
Or they are used to inform a distributor about the product so their sales people can sell it. But put yourself into the shoes of a salesperson and ask how many detailed technical questions could you answer if this piece of paper was the only info you had on a game? How about this flyer, from the wealth of information here could you sell me on what makes the game stand out from the dozens and dozens of racing games on the market? Should I join Robin Hood’s merry band of of outlaws when I won’t even have a clue of what the cabinet dimensions are? Or this one which relied solely on the power of old rock stars? I really don’t know what the point of flyers like these are. If a game has several options: ticket dispensers, free play options, special event modes, restockable items like cards, linkable options, 220V operation, foreign currency options, certificates like UL or CE, multi-language options or how many amps it pulls (this last option is quite important to operators to properly design their electrical layout but it is so often such a protected secret that I doubt the NSA even knows what the amps on an arcade game are – some manuals don’t even bother to list this info, you can only get it AFTER you bought the game and looking on a little sticker on the back!) – why not list them? Not all flyers are created equal and there are plenty which have done a much better job at informing machine buyers what is so great about a machine.
In regards to manuals, distributors will not always receive the manual to the games they sell to provide more data, especially where more and more they are becoming non-stock operations that have product ship from the factory direct; and they certainly aren’t trained on every product that is launched. But that becomes more of a moot point as some manuals are trimming out information to the point where they don’t bother to mention what all of the options actually do in the operator screens (Batman, I’m looking at you). I’m singling out this manual because I’ve had some recent trouble and was poking around the operator screens. Some things are self-explanatory but not everything is. The manual is mostly a collection of screenshots showing me what I’m already looking at. Yeah, that’s a load of help. I know there are always going to be some undocumented features but we don’t need our manuals to become as worthless as some flyers. I know you have Arcade Heroes just a click away for some extra info but I hope the parent company didn’t spend a big production budget on some of these flyers/manuals because they got screwed over if they did. Is it paranoia about the game being copied? If that is going to happen, the ambitious bootlegger is going to make it happen and at lower quality anyways. Even if the flyers are only intended for distributors to use, knowing ALL available options about the machine would help seal the deal. For the examples above, waiting to attend a trade show once or twice a year doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to share information.
Rant #3: If you are looking to open up an arcade, don’t expect to find someone to provide you a practically risk-free operation of 50+ games to rent. I am happy to offer advice to newcomers in the industry and have done so many times for free over the years. One thing I have mentioned over and over though that occasionally causes sorrow is pointing out that renting arcade games as a way to run your whole business is probably not going to happen. This is also known as revenue or profit sharing deals. For starters, I don’t know of any operation that can provide games on a sharing basis anywhere in the country (much less anywhere in the world). Route operators are generally limited to a small geographic area that they are comfortable to travel in. There is no directory I know of to find operators, many don’t spend any money on marketing but just go to locations they think their games will work at. This makes them challenging to track down but it is easier to do such a thing now than it was in the days of the phone book.
But I have spoke with a few people out there that seem to want to have someone else come in and handle EVERYTHING and not just used games but have everything brand spanking new. I’m not trying to sound rude in my answer about this but honestly, that is just not a realistic expectation of working in this business. It is much better for you to have level expectations than those as seen through rose-colored glasses; I speak from experience on that. Put yourself into the route operator’s shoes – you have all the product and you are going to take care of maintenance being in an on-call situation. The only thing that the aspiring entrepreneur is providing is a location. That’s a pretty lopsided relationship and if I owned all of equipment already, why would I not just open the location myself? Granted there are a lot of different situations out there. I know of movie theaters and restaurants and bars that have a handful of games all provided by a local operator. But if all you are wanting to do is open up a large arcade or an FEC and want zero risk out of it, that’s not happening. If you want a location to be profitable and successful, you can build it to the point where you have people handle things but if you aren’t willing to put in the effort and assume some risk, then it will fail. Arcades are not a get-rich-quick scheme, like most businesses you have to spend a lot of time, money and effort to make them profitable. It’s not going to be a Hollywood fantasy where all you need to do is believe in yourself and the best possible result will consistently fall into your lap.
If anything, you can work with an operator to provide a few games in your facility while you own the rest. That is something I have done and it has worked out fine so far. But I own 95% of the equipment here. Yes that means I’m responsible for the maintenance but that is the nature of the beast.
*Whew, so that is off my chest, now comes the hate mail 😛 Really I just point these things out as they come up in private conversations or experiences all the time but they don’t seem to be addressed publicly. So here’s hoping we can get some better communication on the inside, better flyers and manuals and better prepared entrepreneurs to jump into the game.