I received an article from Anthony Cocking, former employee of the Galactic Circus in Melbourne, Australia. Recently, the “largest indoor interactive theme park” in Australia that has been open since 1999. They were recently purchased and are undergoing renovations to completely change up the theme. With the coming changes, not everyone is happy about it, something that Anthony gets into. Here is his article that I have only edited in adding emphasis for one line on earnings (which in my view is more important to point out as I think that shows evidence that the death of the arcade is exaggerated since many locations out there right now are earning well) and throwing in a few pictures. We thank him for providing this perspective on the situation:
The death of Melbourne’s arcade industry
“And so, we enter end game.”
By and large, arcades are a relic from our collective youth; a simpler time before the rise of home consoles and online gaming, where kids would gather in droves; coins stacked on the cabinet, lines stretching across the floor, all to see who could dethrone that unemployed twenty-something guy with the twelve game winning streak on Street Fighter II.
We would whack those crocodiles with aplomb, roll those skee balls up the lanes without a care in the world. The tickets would come spewing from machines, our tiny little hands struggling to clutch them all. When at long last we were ready to trade those precious yellow tickets in for our prizes, we would often feel underwhelmed. Though 97 tickets seemed like a lot at the time, it yielded little more than plastic doodads that broke within the first thirty minutes of use. But we loved it all the same: that feeling that, when we walked through the doors, we had entered a whole new world, filled with wild colours and sounds, and more games than we could ever hope to play all in one night.
Today, the arcade industry has morphed into a similar, yet undeniably weary beast. Though the power of arcade games once trumped the aforementioned home console experience, that gap has since been closed. The indecipherable pixelated protagonists of the Atari (ranging from cryptic blob to ambiguously naked yellow man) are long gone, replaced by models so intricately rendered, you could, at a glance, mistake it for reality. The social aspect of arcades has become obsolete, as well. Once upon a time, the people you bumped into at an arcade were your few opportunities to expand your gaming horizons. Now, the online experience is king: a realm where anyone in the world is available at the single press of a button, and pants are no longer required.
At the heart of it, the arcade still maintains its core elements. Movement games like DDR and Para Para are still at their best in the arcade, and the elation on a child’s face when they hit a jackpot warms the heart. I should know this, in particular, because I have worked in an arcade for eight and a half years now. How this happened, exactly, is a mystery even to me. It’s not like I ever intended to stay that long – you just kind of fall into a habit, and when your career ambitions don’t pan out quite as you had planned, you simply fall back onto the reliable income of a casual job like this. If you’re from Melbourne, you might be familiar with the arcade in question – Galactic Circus, self-purportedly ‘Australia’s largest indoor interactive theme park’.
There’s some marketing spin for you: I’ve never considered it a theme park. For one thing, there’s not really a theme, per se. Clowns were banished years ago due to too many phobias, and all semblances of a carnival aspect remain to be seen. Time after time, bemused parents would approach the counter asking ‘where is the circus?’ and one of the most liked Facebook reviews simply states ‘there was no animals’. Thanks for your feedback, Jeremy.
But somehow, despite it all, the place still makes a profit. It’s incredible how much money people are willing to spend on these machines, and how many different demographics you’ll see. Parents with young children who spend $60 for their kids to have a good time, and are rewarded with shrieks and wails when they don’t have enough tickets for the Wii U. Young couples who immediately resurface whenever new plush stock arrive, almost as though they received a notification on their phone. Degenerates wearing Monster energy drink caps and racing jackets, draining hundreds of your tax dollars on such frivolity. And the Maximum Tune community – bless their dreadful hearts – who are so obsessed with that stupid game, they will actually fly to Sydney to take advantage of discounted games when they are available. This is not hyperbole, unfortunately.
For perspective, in the first week of the 2015 midyear school holidays, we broke the all-time record for revenue. A venue that first opened in 1999, when arcades still held a viable place in the gaming canon, had its most lucrative week in winter of 2015. And you know what happened next? We went on to break that record in week two.
Does this sound like a formula that needs fixing to you? Improvements, sure. Put more money into the product to get more money, and you will reap the rewards. But you most certainly wouldn’t completely tear down the whole thing and start in a different direction, would you?
Except that’s exactly what they’re doing.
As of last week, Galactic Circus was closed for renovations. This should surely be an exciting time for us, where the niggling issues will be solved, systems will be updated and streamlined, and things will be ramped up to eleven (Spinal Tap reference). Instead, and I quote the company line that is being touted, ‘we are changing to a five-star, world-class venue. We will be an arcade and bowling venue last. Our main focus will be on our new restaurant’.
Hooray! We’re scaling back on the arcade machines in favour of a brand spanking new restaurant! Because after a long, rousing session of Tekken 7, you know what really hits the spot? An overpriced steak, right?? And it works in reverse, too: nothing makes the elegant dining experience feel complete like the wonderful sound of people playing basketball in the background. If you’re lucky, maybe one of those balls will even fly across the room, landing in your soup and spreading your potato and leek enjoyment with the world.
After all, it’s an open floor plan. Which ought to be a fun experiment on the liquor licensing front, shouldn’t it? Wouldn’t you love for your children to be rubbing elbows with rowdy drunks on the Battlegear machine? When your child cuts their hand on the broken glass of a Corona bottle, you’ll be ecstatic! Why, it’ll be a five-star injury.
And the workforce who have dedicated so many years to lining the corporate coffers with gold? Some of them will be sent to other venues across Victoria, complete with rostering issues from the sudden influx of labour. Others will be wished the best on their future endeavours, because they are as good as fired. Anyone who is left on the roster is expected to come back, tails wagging, when the venue reopens in four months. There are exciting new back office roles available, all being awarded to outside hires without any arcade experience whatsoever. Because when the first online complaint pops up about an error 4 on Stacker, they’ll know how to handle it – their degree in business surely covered that.
If I’m coming across as bitter, it’s quite simply because I am. And I should be. People who I have worked with for almost a decade are losing their livelihoods; the people who made that business so lucrative in the first place. Galactic Circus was built on the blood, sweat and tears of their floor staff, to the point where the renovation somehow garnered millions of dollars from investors. It’s a little bit like if you made a toy; let’s call it an ultimate pogo stick. One day, someone comes up to you, and says that your ultimate pogo stick is so popular that they’re going to receive a whole bunch of cash to make it better. But it’s their pogo stick now. And it’s not actually even a pogo stick anymore: It’s a fax machine. And it’s five-star.
I write this not so much to vent, but to inform. To give a voice to a workforce left speechless. To spread the word, as vociferously as I can, that what they are doing is not just misguided and ill informed, it’s downright wicked. They are singlehandedly killing Melbourne’s biggest (and one of the last) dedicated arcade venue, leaving a trail of jobs in their wake. Consider it a warning, that, should you choose to venture into the new venue, you’re merely rewarding the greed of foolish vagabonds. The heart and soul have been ripped from its very core: remember those values I alluded to about how the arcade industry is still alive in its own, unique way? That’ll be gone – replaced instead with a new direction, new branding, and a new identity.
So long, Galactic Circus. I sure did love you, even if you weren’t quite five-star.