Welcome to something of an annual tradition here at Arcade Heroes, albeit something sort of rare on my part – a Top 10 list. I’m not big on such lists since most of them on the internet are arbitrary opinions, but here I can base my list off of hard data. Before we get to that, however, let’s review the year that has passed.
It’s a no-brainer to say that 2021 was better than 2020 for the arcade biz, although it still hasn’t been without its bumps, scrapes, bruises, and falls. The year started off with news about Golden Tee PGA Tour, the first new take on the popular franchise since 2007 (as far as I am aware though, the game still hasn’t shipped yet, due to the production & shipping issues that plagued most of the year), but it ended on a sour note with the news that GameWorks as a franchise chain was finished. Big changes have become somewhat normal in the industry, and as the GameWorks story has demonstrated, the prospect of bad news is still a constant probability. As you’ll see at the bottom, the top 2 most popular stories on the site have involved location closures.
That said, ‘like a phoenix rising from the ashes,’ not all location news has been bad. It’s just the bad that tends to draw the most attention in this regard. I’ve run eight Location Watch stories this year that highlight new arcades opening up all over the planet. None of them even got close to cracking the top 10, so let’s give them another signal boost:
Location Watch June #1 – There were so many new locations opening in the Summer that I had to split this into two parts!
This also doesn’t cover the many locations that survived and re-opened their doors, or those who were able to survive and never had to close. It’s also important to keep some perspective in place – GameWorks only had six locations left, while Chuck E. Cheeses maintains over 650 sites (down from around 1,000 after their bankruptcy, but still a sizable number), Dave & Busters over 130 sites, Round1USA has around 45 with more opening soon, and so on. Tracking independent arcades is a little bit of a challenge but suffice it to say, there are still a lot of open arcades out there and just like it was pre-pandemic, sometimes places don’t make it for one reason or another. While things are tough right now, you can make it work. But when it comes to online views, it seems that there’s more interest in what’s closing than what’s staying open.
Where there are locations, there are games, and like in 2020, we did have various new games launch this year. We were also fortunate in that none of the major manufacturers closed up shop permanently, although there have been some big changes behind the scenes and a lot of scaling back. There hasn’t been a lot to discuss when it comes to indie games this year, at least compared to 2019 where indies were making big waves.
Unfortunately due to the aforementioned production & supply chain difficulties, many games have been pushed back indefinitely or severely limited on quantity. Huge jumps in shipping container costs plus increased inflation have also been driving up prices of both new and used games (This has been happening across industries; This past week I had to go shopping for a car and I was absolutely shocked how brand new and used car prices are sometimes on par with each other. In many cases I found, buying brand new makes more sense than used!). That all said, a few titles got out of the gate, helping supply surviving – and new – arcades with content if their budgets could support it. Here’s 2020’s game roster; I’ll make a video like this out for 2021 once I can confirm with certainty what launched this year and what didn’t (if you are with a manufacturer and are reading this, please let me know if anything on this list is inaccurate!)
It’s worth noting that the 2021 Arcade Releases page was the most visited page on the site this year after the home page; The Unreleased games page was right after it.
Pre-pandemic, the trend on arcade game design was to go big and bold, producing elaborate, large and pricey games that were primarily appealing to the growing Family Entertainment Center (FEC) market. While there were a few game releases that still fit with this trend, such as King Kong of Skull Island and Mission: Impossible Arcade SDX, we saw some scaling back in that regard, as Standard or smaller versions of certain games popped up at tradeshows like IAAPA. We also saw the official launch of exA-Arcadia in the States at Amusement Expo 2021, offering a multi-game platform and game types that the industry had all but forgotten about here in the West.
Speaking of tradeshows, Amusement Expo 2020 was the last major tradeshow to be held not just for our industry, but for the world back in March of that year; IAAPA 2020 and many other events ended up being canceled. This year the tradeshows returned, although they were a bit smaller and less attended than we all had grown accustomed to seeing. It was nice to see people in person again and to get some hands-on time with things one had only read about online. Finding flights with reasonable schedules was a pain though, at least in my situation. If it’s like that again for Amusement Expo next year, I may just drive.
I do not know what sales numbers are like for the different games that launched this year, as it’s rare for manufacturers to reveal such data, although we did find out that Raw Thrills’ Cruis’n Blast has sold 10,000 units over it’s lifetime. Judging by interest on my YouTube channel, Minecraft Dungeons Arcade, also by Raw Thrills, has been dominant among releases this year, which isn’t much of a surprise given the name. I did get the game in the summer and it’s done mostly well, although it’s been odd in that one week it does 400-ish coins, then the next it can do 800. Looking at all of the numbers across both locations, Cruis’n Blast (combining the pair of units as one) was my #1 game at the original location (followed by Jurassic Park Arcade and Maximum Tune 5) while House of the Dead Scarlet Dawn was #1 at the location I’d open at the end of 2020 (followed by Luigi’s Mansion Arcade and StepManiaX). My worst performer was Armed Police Batrider by Raizing.
The phrase “mixed bag” seems to apply to how locations are doing in general, but apart from my own places, I can only go off of anecdotes. I’ve heard of a couple of places that are “doing better than ever,” but when you hear of closures, that means it’s not going that great for many places out there. I could see a few FECs doing really well in areas where there’s little competition for amusement, or perhaps they had competitors close down.
At my own locations, the original spot has been doing all right, but not breaking any records. December is generally the best month of the year and it looks to be about 28% below where we were in the past of our best December. Throughout the year, the earnings were like a roller coaster, way down on some days, then on par with what I would expect on others. I am competing with a giant FEC just down the hall, however, which opened back in November 2019.
For my second location that opened up back at the end of 2020, things were well below expectations, to the point where I seriously considered not renewing the lease and closing up shop there. The foot traffic in that mall is much higher than the first location, yet that hasn’t translated into sales. After mulling it over though, I figured that I had invested far too much to throw in the towel already, so I went ahead and am set to be there for another year.
That location, and managing two sites have come with their own challenges, from much higher expenses to employee issues to dealing with teenagers damaging machines more frequently than we’ve ever seen before, etc. I’m working 11-12 hour shifts 6 days of the week as I can’t afford to hire more than I already have, and that is just physically & mentally exhausting too (especially with the uptick of rowdy or angry customers that we’ve had to deal with over the past six months or so). But, we’re still open, so that’s a plus. But if I sound a little down about things, that would be why.
One problem in my situation, since both of my arcades are inside a mall with a movie theater, is that historically my best days have always been tied to big theatrical releases. While there have been a few theater-only launches this year, most have had to compete with at-home streaming releases, plus the fact that some consumers simply won’t go out to the movies anymore. Whether or not that is something that will ever return to “normal” depends on Hollywood – it’s nice that some studios have been flirting with the 45-day theatrical window, but at the same time I think many consumers just figure “eh, I can wait that long.” It seems unlikely that we’ll go back to 90+ days of theater-only films, but that just means I have to adapt like any arcade without the benefit of a nearby theater.
The site here did celebrate 15 years in existence, although we did encounter several slowdown and error issues this year, which meant it was time to upgrade the back-end (again). Everything seems to be running better, so it should handle any growth.
What will 2022 hold? It’s anyone’s guess, and I’m not terribly good at making predictions. Round1USA has already teased a bunch of Japanese arcade games on their way, so that’s a plus, and we recently discussed some games seen on test. The 2022 games page also shows a lot of interesting titles in store, although I’m only tempered in my excitement by the possibility of delays or cancellations. What do you think is in store for this next year?
And since I’m asking questions – I would love to hear feedback on the site. What kind of stories and/or videos would you like to see more of? Anything that I can do better? What was your favorite game of 2020 or 2021 (if you’ve had the chance to play any of them)?
TOP 10 POSTS
Along those lines, let’s take a look at the stories which you were most interested in this year. We’ll start with number 10 and work our way up, although I am not counting the 2021 New Releases nor the Unreleased Games page. These both technically beat out any news story in terms of views, but they are constantly updated throughout the year. Stay tuned tomorrow for the launch of the 2022 New Games page.
10 – Arcooda Launches New Line of Arcade Ready Monitors – You were somewhat interested in the 4:3 LCDs that Australian company Arcooda announced. I wonder how many have sold into the US so far?
9 – RIP GameWorks – For a story that broke the day before Christmas Eve, it sure drew a lot of attention to already land this high on the list. If you are interested in the history of the company, then I would suggest reading Kevin Williams’ post on that; I am also hoping to have a video interview with former GameWorks President & COO Cory Haynes sometime in the new year.
8 – Dave & Busters Debuts Minecraft Dungeons Arcade At All Locations – The soft launch of Minecraft Dungeons Arcade through D&B drew a good bit of attention. D&B did get a slightly different cabinet that came with a larger screen, but otherwise it was the same. I didn’t get footage of the game at D&B, but I did get my hands on one and unboxed it, which received more views than this post above (or any of these stories) did:
7 – Good News (Cactus Canyon Remake) & Bad News (RAZA) For Pinball – I imagine that most of the interest here was from the collapse of ‘deeproot’ Pinball, which last I heard has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, with a creditor hearing coming up on January 28th. I haven’t heard anything else in regards to the SEC legal stuff, but imagine that will happen sometime next year.
6 – Wahlap Unveils New Arcade Titles At AAA 2021 Including Asphalt 9 Legends Arcade – While this post showcased a lot of new games that were shown off in China, the one that grabbed the most attention was certainly Asphalt Legends 9 Arcade. This is currently available in North America through LAI Games. Here’s the motion version as seen at IAAPA 2021:
5 – exA-Arcadia Makes Their Official US Debut At Amusement Expo 2021 – I’ve been talking exA a lot over the past few years and this year they made their official debut here in the States, showing off a bunch of their titles along with their dedicated cabinet solutions. I actually grabbed a 4-player version of the cabinet seen at the show very recently, which is nicer than the 2p one I had custom made back in 2019. Anyways, they showed off more new games than anyone else at the show, and previewed several others to boot. 2022 promises to have a lot of exA releases make their way to the market and additional partner announcements so stay tuned.
4 – Incredible Technologies Unveils More Info On Golden Tee PGA Tour – I have to admit – I’m a bit shocked at this one’s placement on the list, only because historically, my posts on Golden Tee generally don’t stir up a lot of interest. This version of the game promises a major shake-up for the IP though, so that’s probably why it garnered so much attention this time around. I guess?
3 – IAAPA 2021: Bandai Namco Amusements To Release Maximum Tune 5DX+ Updates To North America – Here’s no surprise though – every time there’s a story about Maximum Tune, there’s interest. I have MT5 at my arcade and plan on grabbing 5DX+ (January 12th, 2022), as no other game has built up such a loyal fanbase of players. I am surprised that the story that came out about the same time about Pac-Man Battle Royale Chompionship didn’t show up higher, but either way, it was still great to see Bandai Namco bringing out some new stuff this past IAAPA.
2 – The Museum of Pinball To Auction Off Their Machines This September. Sadly, both of our top stories involved the closure of some big, well-known arcade locations. This one was the Museum of Pinball out in California, which held a massive auction of their equipment. After the auction prices were published, it caused prices for pretty much all used games to go through the roof. For the silver lining though, at least the massive collection was preserved and the games are (hopefully) all in good hands out there.
1- The Future Amusement Landscape of London Is Changing As Iconic FEC Will Close. – The story you were most interested in this year involved the future of the arcade business in London, which was not all bad. Penned by Kevin Williams, this article was a bit of “where one door closes, another opens” as both London and other parts of the UK have seen a lot of new places open their doors. That still doesn’t remove the sting of iconic locations closing up shop, but it still stands as a testament that despite the challenges, arcades live on.
Video Channel Growth
This year the Arcade Heroes video network has grown quite a bit, surpassing 10,000 subscribers on YouTube. No, it’s nowhere near being a big channel, but I’m still grateful to everyone that is following. The primary driver for this was the direct capture videos I did of Minecraft Dungeons Arcade. I captured all of the levels, but it was this one that drew in the most interest. It will certainly become the number 1 video on the channel by next year. More direct capture videos can be enjoyed here.
I still maintain video channels on alternative sites like BitChute and Odysee, but I haven’t really been promoting those. BitChute also has a limit of 2GB on uploads which prevents me from uploading a bunch of videos, since most everything I do is in 4K and tends to be large.
Anyways, that’s 2021 in a post. I still need to get back to Brian about the trivia game I was working on – hopefully, I’ll find that time in the next week or so, and this next year I can get that out into your hands. Thank you for reading the site or watching the channel and we’ll see you in 2022!