|Posted by Rob Maerz on December 10, 2014 at 12:55 AM|
Game Over: 30 Years After Pac-Man Fever, Arcades Struggle to Stay Alive
Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine
I was fortunate to grow up in the arcades during the classic gaming boom. Those old black and white games like Tank, Pong and Speed Race could be played on cabinets found in bowling alleys and department stores. To play Space Invaders and Death Race in a packed arcade on a Friday night or Pong and Space Fury in the back of a Two Guys department store was nothing short of awesome. Arcade cabinets were everywhere and it was, in fact, history in its infancy.
My local bowling alley started out with a few games in an area against the wall across from the lanes - Robot Bowl and Breakout amongst some pinball machines. After renovations, they moved their games into a dedicated game room where you could play classics like Asteroids, Tron, Jungle Hunt and Sea Wolf. They featured about ten arcade cabinets, two pinball machines and three pool tables in a smoke-filled room where folks would think nothing of resting their cigarette down onto a burn-hole infested control panel while firing away at Asteroids.
In 1981, there was no comparison between arcade and home console graphics. Gamers regarded the home consoles as a “better than nothing” alternative to the arcade. There were many nights where I closed the arcade and the first thing I did when I got home was pop Space Invaders in my Atari 2600. Later on, home console games were becoming (literally) a dime a dozen and a lot of them of poor quality.
This was Coleco's M.O.: bring the arcade experience into the home, which they did in 1982 with the release of the ColecoVision and its pack-in game, Donkey Kong. No other console at that time had anything close to arcade quality audio and video - barring games like Video Olympics (Atari’s port of Pong) and Breakout which were not graphic intensive.
Some will argue, however, how “arcade imperfect” ColecoVision’s port of Donkey Kong is, with missing intermissions, levels etc. But the fact is at the time of its release, the majority of gamers found these shortcomings to be forgiving amidst the awe of finally having graphics of this quality in their own home.
In 1980 Atari released its port of the video game craze catalyst, Space Invaders, for the 2600. It was not even close to arcade perfect, but still an excellent title that was reason alone to buy a 2600 console. Both the arcade and home console releases of Space Invaders were a huge turning point in video game history.
The video game phenomenon picked up steam with the 1979 releases of Asteroids and Galaxian. But it was the 1980 release of Pac-Man that stirred the video game industry into a frenzy and packed the arcades. To a ten year old, video games were larger than life itself.
In retrospect, 1981 was the most prolific year for arcade releases with Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Gorf and Satan's Hollow, to name a few headliners. The games were unique and imaginatively rich. Even the titles that may have been considered Pac-Man clones, like Lady Bug, were original enough in their own right.
Look at the artwork for the arcade cabinet Tron, for example. The Tron experience is what we have lost in the evolution of gaming. You will never be able to duplicate the controls, the audio or visuals of this Bally Midway classic if ported to a home console or even on a desktop computer running MAME. Tron was only one work of art in the arcade exhibit.
It’s a typical Friday night in 1982. From the top step of the escalator in the JC Penney wing of the Park City Mall in Lancaster, PA you see the indoor roller rink straight ahead. As you descend, the sounds of space battles, pinball machines, air hockey and billiards increase in volume from the left as you near the end of the ride.
Exiting in a dash from the escalator, you stand in front of the arcade’s left entrance and take in the scene. The arcade is laid out in a horseshoe with two large entrances at either point. Asyou walk through the left entrance, you pass three billiard andtwo air hockey tables on your left and a row of ten pinballmachines to your right. Making a right hand turn at The Safe, you stop at the arcade operator’s station to your left, which is located dead center of the horseshoe. Wearing a bright yellow polo shirt and donning a change pouch, he exchanges your dollar bill for four quarters.
After waiting for an eternity at the operator’s station, you walk past the next row of pinball machines on your right and the cockpit games Monaco GP and Star Wars in the middle aisle. You proceed towards the cabinet located against the opposite wall sandwiched between Sea Wolf and Carnival. With one hand on the steering wheel and one foot on the gas pedal, your objective is to run over as many people as possible in that game your parents love to hate: Death Race by Exidy.
Looking for the next fix you notice a crowd gathering around Pac-Man only a few cabinets away. As you stand on your toes to catch a glance, you notice seven quarters lying side-by-side on the monitor glass just above the control panel. But with the run Player 1 is on right now, you know that you will not be playing this game any time soon.
Pushing your way through the meandering throng of thrill seekers, you make your way to the cabinet at the end of the row located at the mouth of the arcade’s right hand entrance. The glowing cabinet marquee reads Eagle. Another machine is fed 25 cents.
A few minutes later, your battle against the bird-like aliens comes to a close. Quickly, you snake your way to the opposite corner of the arcade to play on one of three Galaga cabinets. After a perfect score on the Challenging Stage of level 3, you step back from the cabinet, exhale and take a good look around the room.
The place is packed with young and old. Crowds gather around the Frogger and Donkey Kong cabinets. The sounds of Space Invaders’ missile fire, ghosts gobbled up in Ms. Pac-Man and the thunderous sound of exploding rocks in Asteroids resonate through the arcade lit only by pinball machines, monitors and marquee’s glow.
Ruining the moment is Dad who sneaks up behind you and tells you that it’s time to go. You plea for more time as you still have two ships left but there is no bargaining at this point. You ask the stranger that assumed the visitor’s position at your Galaga cabinet to take over.
A fifteen minute drive through the suburb in the back of a maroon, four-door ’72 Chevy Nova is only like halftime in your gaming extravaganza. As soon as you reach the home base, you dart down the steps into the rec room and fire up Space Invaders on the 2600 for a night cap.
Flash forward to 2009 – almost thirty years after “Pac-Man Fever.” Those images of the arcade in 1982 are now ancient history.
Long gone are the crowds. The days where profit could be turned by simply plugging in an arcade cabinet to a nearby electrical outlet are just a distant memory.
The simple, yet challenging games played within the arcade walls are out in favor of the cinematic graphics and sophisticated controls found in modern home video games.
Arcades that have held the same street address for decades are closing their doors forever.
Joe LeVan, a former college professor, is the owner of the Challenge Arcade at the Berkshire Mall in Reading, PA. A passionate gamer, LeVan has been in the family run business for over seven years. In addition to the mall arcade, LeVan has a smaller location at the Reading Airport, where he really enjoys the staff and providing games for the pilots and guests that frequent it.
Last May, my son and I visited the arcade after attending the Too Many Games Expo in Leesport. There was a fantastic mix of current and classic titles, although we opted for the latter playing Donkey Kong, Mr. Do!, Pac-Man Plus, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. and Pole Position. I marveled at how the arcade was “done right” – the décor, the layout of the cabinets and the game selection. I was shocked to read that the Challenge Arcade was prepared to close its doors for good only two months later.
Two months prior to the Challenge Arcade visit, I made the 90 minute trek from the Pennsylvania state capital to Southampton, PA, home of Todd N. Tuckey’s TNT Amusements, Inc., to purchase my first arcade cabinet. What I found in his warehouse was a classic arcade paradise: Tron, Pac-Man, Tempest, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Galaxian and the cabinet I purchased, Satan’s Hollow to name only a few.
The customer service at TNT Amusements was fabulous. Great care was taken loading Satan’s Hollow in the van and I was invited to stay in the showroom for a while to play the cabinets which were all on free play. The Arkanoid cabinet in the showroom was a museum piece. Everything about the game – controls, audio and video were in pristine condition.
TNT Amusements boasts the largest used game showroom in the world, reselling pinball machines, Skeeball, air hockey, jukeboxes, shuffle alley and of course, video games. Additionally, the showroom can be rented for parties - all the games are set on free play and the kids can venture through the maze constructed of cutouts in the walls.
Todd has been in the business for thirty years. The commercial arcade sales and services which were so prevalent in 1979 now only account for a minority of his business in 2009.
I met with Todd Tuckey and Joe LeVan to discuss the boom, the bust and the challenges currently facing arcade owners.
When you look at the arcade titles released for a given year, which year do you think was the most prolific for new releases of the Golden Age?
LeVan: I think 1980 would have to be the most significant year in the classic video game boom. Groundbreaking games like Pac-Man, Defender, Centipede and Missile Command paved the way for many great titles to come in the early 1980s.
Tuckey: Probably 1980 to ’81 with games like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position, Frogger, Defender, Centipede, Tron, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Jungle King and Crazy Climber.
Which game of the classic era do you feel was the most groundbreaking?
LeVan: This question could be argued in a number of different ways. One could argue that Computer Space, Pong, or even Space Invaders paved the way for the classic era of video gaming.
Tuckey: Space Invaders - I really think it got everyone hooked, although mostly men. The Invaders were orderly in their descent and anyone could develop their own techniques for killing them off. Pac-Man was the game that hooked both men and women equally.
LeVan: I would have to say Pac-Man was the most ground breaking due to its overwhelming popularity in sparking interest towards the arcades at the beginning of the Golden Age of video gaming.
Are there any titles of that era that come to mind that you feel are underrated or considered “hidden gems?”
LeVan: I think several classic sequels were underrated for their quality of game play. Games like Q*bert's Qubes, Donkey Kong 3 and Discs of Tron.
Tuckey: Sega's Astro Blaster comes to mind. This was the first game that featured "secret bonus features" and even numbered them so you could attempt to find them all. For instance, if you dodged all the meteorites moving left and right without firing at them, that was one secret bonus. If you were able to hit all the enemies that flew from one side to the left without any of them making the other side, another bonus was awarded. Great voice and sound effects too.
What are some recollections you have of an arcade on a Friday night in 1981?
LeVan: I remember going to the arcade back in 1981 to a huge and very full arcade in a local mall. It seemed like back-in-the-day people were more focused on their public gaming experience than today.
Tuckey: Dark hallways just the glow from the marquees, two to four people crowded around each and every game, lots of mixed sounds and rows of quarters lined up on each game.
LeVan: As a young teen I was rarely bothered by the older kids and businessmen that frequented the arcades of that time. The only time I had problems is when I tried to shove my way in to play a new release at the arcade. I was often shoved to the back of the line because I was quite often the youngest and the last to play the new titles.
I also have fond memories of the difficulty of most of the classic games. They were very frustrating for an adult let alone a young kid. Thankfully, I came from a generation that was willing to learn the strategies of the game and hang in until our skills improved at many arcade games.
What cannot be duplicated with Compact Disc or digital download is the charm of the album artwork found with the 12-inch vinyl record. The same can be said when comparing the home console to the arcade cabinet. What is your favorite arcade cabinet in regard to the design, lighting and artwork?
LeVan: This question is easy for me. My favorite game – Discs of Tron. This game provides an experience you will never be able to duplicate with MAME or by other means. You have to play the original to get the full experience of the controls, lighting and sound.
What experience does the arcade offer that a home console cannot?
Tuckey: Full sized controls and being close to the screen.
LeVan: There are many things that the arcade experience can offer that the home console cannot. Original, commercial grade arcade controls and showing them off in front of the general public are still some of the best reasons to come to an arcade. There are several games that cannot either be played or properly experienced in the home setting.
Todd, tell us why you won’t sell The Safe?
Tuckey: Sadly, The Safe is sold. I was offered $1000 for it and out it went. I originally had it because I made a hole in the wall below it and the kids could crawl under during parties here. I now turned a pinball machine sideways so the hole is still used.
When and what were the first indicatorsthat the business of video gaming wasgoing to be huge?
LeVan: The first indicator to me was the long lines of people that were gathering at the arcades to play the new releases back in the early 1980s. I had no doubt that video gaming was here to stay at that point.
Tuckey: Perhaps when arcade games started springing up anywhere there was an electric outlet. Games were placed in roadside stands, any spare space in stores or restaurants and even in the waiting area for pickup of packages at Sears - all in 1979-1981. Crappy, little stores would somehow squeeze in at least one game to try to make their cut of the quarters.
Nolan Bushnell envisioned the arcade as a complement to selling a product which he realized with Chuck E Cheese pizza restaurant. During the boom, were the games good enough that they themselves could act as the sole source of arcade income? Was it as simple as finding a location and having the capital to fill the space with the most lucrative arcade titles?
Tuckey: In the right places, yes you could survive just as a neighborhood arcade. However, all the arcades I tried to operate all failed because you get the same local kids all the time. They started to get bored quickly with the games.
LeVan: I think this was the case at the time. Rent and mortgages were cheaper as was living expenses and overhead. Games were making more money so it makes sense that, at the time, you could do more with the income. I have often heard of operators having problems with the coin boxes being so full that the games would not credit up (ala Nolan Bushnell’s Pong) – a nice problem to have.
Tuckey: I remember putting the new laser disc, Mach 3, in an arcade we had in North Philadelphia. The first week it grossed $200, second week $100 and then less than $75 per week afterward. "When is the next game coming?"
You did not get any new kids to the arcade as they did not go outside of their neighborhoods. The only place an arcade could get new, fresh people was in a mall or on the boardwalk. We must have tried twenty arcades in all different places - even one in Wildwood, but not on the boardwalk - all were disasters. The Chuck E Cheese and Dave and Busters idea of mixing food with games has proven to be the only reliable way to keep such an arcade open.
What is the best location for an arcade?
LeVan: The only spot that I feel is a good location for an arcade today is a vacation destination. You might have a small chance of catching people away from their full sized consoles.
Tuckey: The only viable locations for arcades are the boardwalk and the mall to attract as many different people as possible. Other locations would be “Artsy Fartsy” towns where a specialty arcade or museum would have a fighting chance.
What were some of the obstacles faced and overcome in starting up an arcade business and what are some of the challenges you may have faced in day to day operations?
Tuckey: Regular arcades are losers - here's what's against you:
Basically, no local towns want an arcade - they always felt they are a den of kids hell bent on selling drugs.
License fees per machine are ridiculous - just try to get an arcade license! Try to get a center that would rent a store to you to open an arcade! Only in a rotten part of town, maybe.
Attracting a changing crowd every week is imperative - locals will not support it. They will get tired of whatever game you have within a few weeks and stop coming.
The rotten, lousy quarter - it was a quarter in 1979 and still is. A Coke at the arcade was a quarter in 1979 and now its $1.50, so why is the game still a rotten quarter?
If someone is good at a game, they will play it for an hour on a quarter. You lose money on that person.
LeVan: In today's world almost everything in the business is an obstacle. You, as an arcade operator, have to face a public with little respect for your equipment, very little patience and/or concentration and little interest in playing coin-operated games due to the power of today's consoles. These reasons alone cause problems with day to day operations. This along with the general headaches of running a business and the growing difficulty in finding parts for games manufactured as late as the 1990s can make for some frustrating days.
Tuckey: Regular arcades are finished - they are closing everywhere. Specialty arcades are the only way to go.
I have seen some mini arcades in video stores - a line of pinball machines for instance, all in nice shape. These machines are usually owned by a collector and pinball enthusiasts come in to play them. The collector is there probably every other night wiping them down, changing bulbs and making endless adjustments as he is reveling in the fact that the pinball players are complementing on how nice the games play and are maintained. But, those players are putting 50 cents in a game and popping many free games. The collector is in fact making $200 a week gross for ten games, splitting it with the owner of the store and spending hours fiddling with them! There is just no way someone can make a profit this way.
Because the home console hardware just simply could not compete with their arcade brethren, there are many that feel that the home console merely augmented the arcade experience. How then could the lackluster quality of home console games, like the often cited E.T., possibly take down the arcade sector while innovative laser disc games like Dragon’s Lair were just coming to market?
LeVan: In this era of gaming, I don't think that consoles could have taken down the arcade titles of the time. The home gaming technology just didn't measure up.
Tuckey: By playing the inferior game at home, the kids were getting their game fix and settling for less quality, but they didn’t have to beg for quarters. Parents were cracking down on the money spent on the games.
In retrospect, were there any early warning signs that you recognized indicating that the video game bubble had burst?
Tuckey: Too many games - oversaturation, plain and simple.
LeVan: Yes, very obvious signs. For the inverse of the reason I mentioned as a sign for the classicvideo game boom. I noticed somewhere starting in the late 80's early to early 90's that people were not coming to the arcades like they were in the early 1980s. I didn't have as much trouble playing the new releases. I thought games like Mortal Kombat were going to revive the industry. For a time they did - but it turned out to be short lived in the overall timeline of video gaming.
Tuckey: The games would be strong for two weeks and then die - and fast. Super Pac-Man was supposed to be huge and it was terrible. The first week it made $75, while Ms Pac-Man was still making $100.
In the bustling Mid-Atlantic beach resort of Ocean City, Maryland, out of the two largest boardwalk arcades there was only one classic arcade game present and that was the “Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of ’81” cabinet. The most classic cabinets I could find in any one location was four (Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug and Track and Field) at the Arcade Family Fun Center on 136th street. After notifying the operator that I wore out the fire button on Galaga, I brought up the fact that his arcade (about 1/10th the size of the boardwalk arcades) had more classics than the two largest in the city. His response was “I have ten classic arcade cabinets sitting in storage but nobody plays those games anymore.”
I found many still operational at the Hersheypark arcade [Q*bert's Qubes, Galaga, Pole Position (two cabinets and one cockpit), The Safe, Berzerk, Millipede, Monaco GP and Operation Wolf]. But many games like Dig Dug, Mr. Do!, Joust, both Ms. Pac-Man cabinets and two of my favorite pinball machines, Comet and Cyclone, were all out of service.
On September 2nd, The Coliseum Entertainment Megaplex in Camp Hill, PA was acquired by its main creditor, Members 1st Federal Credit Union, at a sheriff’s sale for $1.
Are there any surprises with these findings?
LeVan: As an operator currently that’s no surprise at all.
Tuckey: No and here's why:
When I do trade shows I will set the classic games on 25 cents to play. Tempest, Stargate and Pac-Man - people will sometimes be thrilled to find one. "I used to play this all the time." They would plunk in a quarter, play and then when the game was over they were done. One game is all they wanted to play - one lousy quarter and they were happy. You cannot open an arcade and get a few quarters per person and expect to operate.
What are some strategies an arcade can deploy to stay in business?
LeVan: I think the best strategy is to have a variety of games from many different eras of gaming.
Tuckey: Specialty angle is the only way to go - a museum for instance. A flat charge to enter -say $10 and everything is free. Most people will get their fill after one hour and leave. At 25 cents a game and an average game at two minutes, you would only make $7.50 or much less if they played continuously. In a resort town or in a quirky village or street, you may pull it off. I always thought of opening my own museum with my cabarets and minis.
LeVan: Also, I would recommend supplementing operating games with another business such as snacks, food or selling other products. It is very difficult to exist today on operating games alone.
I read an article where a Toronto arcade owner stated that years ago they were able to, in a sense, secure profits as video games were exclusive to the arcade for some time before being ported to the home console. If today, a video game developer would either write titles exclusively for the arcade or delay porting titles to the home, would this help arcade owners?
LeVan: This is the key to saving arcades. Arcades need exclusive titles to survive in today's world – period.
When adjusted for inflation, is it cheaper to manufacture a video game in 2009 versus 1979?
Tuckey: Absolutely - a new game in 1979-1980 was $2000 to $3000. It was just a wooden box, monitor, power supply and game board. Nowadays, it’s a wooden box, a monitor, and a $400 Dell computer. The cabinet may have some extra flourishes, but charging $3500 and more is insane.
LeVan: This is a sore subject with me. Yes, but there is a problem.
While inflation has run its course over the years, businesses have adjusted their prices while the amusement and gaming industry has had a tough time with this concept. What other business can you think of that has not adjusted its prices consistent with the rate of inflation since 1980? It is not uncommon for an operator to pay $15,000 to $20,000 for a single video game today. New games are difficult to purchase under $5000 today.
If the manufacturers continue to raise prices with the combination of people complaining about increased prices and playing the games less, the future is grim for arcades.
In a conversation I had with Todd Tuckey earlier this year, he stated that “a quarter is what it was thirty years ago – a lousy quarter” and “arcades are not going to be profitable unless the owner owns the building.” Maybe I’m in a minority but I still feel that 25 cents is the fair pay-to-play price for an arcade game and seldom will I pay more than 50 cents per play. With all that has been discussed, how can the arcade business model of 1979 possibly make any sense in year 2009? Furthermore, what would drive anyone to venture into an arcade business today?
Tuckey: What drives them in? Insanity!
LeVan: I agree with Todd as far as the idea of owning your own building. Rent and overhead will drive you out of business with an arcade in today's world. But, a quarter is worth much less than it was in 1980. By having the mindset of not wanting to spend more than 50 cents on a video game, you will contribute to the eventual downfall of the arcades for the reasons stated in the question about manufacturing.
Tuckey: Every week, someone calls me up and knows where there is an empty store and wants me to fill it with games and we will "split" the money. Wow! A game grossing $20 a week nowadays would be amazing. So, thirty games each grossing $20 brings in a big $600 and I will get $300. And then my service guy will be there three hours every week, regardless of how little money it made, unclogging coin mechs from paper wrappers and sticks, changing a monitor chassis, replacing a ripped off joystick and etc.
Then the owner would demand different games because "the kids say they played x game down the street or at the shore and they said that it was a great game" and "the kids say these aren’t good games - that's why we aren't making any money etc. I heard those lines for thirty years now!
LeVan: With inflation, 50 cents was a reasonable price to pay to play a game in the late 1980s. Namco was charging $1.00 per play for some of its games in the early ‘90s. It is like going into a retail store and saying “I am not going to pay $20.00 for that shirt because I didn't pay $20.00 for a shirt in 1980” - and still expect the store to give it to you for less just because you don't like the price. I went into the business because I have a passion for gaming. If someone wants to get rich, they need look elsewhere for business opportunities.
Tuckey: Remember, I got in this business in 1979. I have operated longer than most people that are still out there. When I got in this business, the Yellow Pages had three pages of vendors with four columns per page. Three years ago, we had barely half of one column! Nowadays, of course, the Yellow Pages are history. But, we still get calls from folks who "want to open an arcade".
Another blow to the arcade industry is that, in fact, there are maybe a handful of new games made just for the arcade each year. I am not counting the endless ticket redemption games where you put a token or quarter in, the game play is 20 seconds at best and you play to win tickets to redeem at a counter.
Even pinball machines are limited to, at best, two new titles a year of which there are 3000 of each made. At its height, there were five pinball manufacturers in 1980 making six to twelve different games each year and making 2000 to 20,000 of each!
The biggest game this year was Guitar Hero which featured the exact same music as the home version. The manufacturers have abandoned the arcades for good - it’s more profitable to design games for the home when you can sell ten million copies. A best seller in the arcade industry nowadays is 2000 units while Pac-Man sold 100,000 units for the arcade.
New games are not selling because there are fewer places each month to put them since more vendors close up or merge. A local ice skating rink near us had their vendor pull out because he wasn't making money and he had trouble finding anyone to put games in. Three games would, at best, gross $90 a week. Split that 50/50 and what's left?
If I go charge up a swipe card I wouldn't think twice of putting $25 on it to start off with. Points seem to blur the actual cost per play and when I see e.g. "4.5 points per play" I don't bother to compute the cash value. Do you think card readers are a viable solution to assure that the arcade owner gets their fair share and can they be retrofitted into the classic cabinets? Is calling a quarter a "fair price" to pay per play more to do with what we were "trained to do" in 1979 versus rationalizing that a quarter is obviously worth less in 2009?
LeVan: You bring up a good point about the people that were part of the arcade boom being "trained" to put a quarter in an arcade game. I think most people expect to put a quarter in an arcade game. It relates to putting hard currency in a machine versus charging up a card in a reader. That is a good way for operators to make money.
The problem with the transition to card readers is that you have to convert every machine in the arcade to that technology. This is expensive for any arcade and can affect the resale value of the machine depending on how the reader is installed.
You mentioned lower machine costs and the prices you mentioned are mind-boggling. Have you calculated how long it takes to break even on a $15,000 machine? How do the manufacturers justify these costs and is there anything that they can do to reduce these costs?
LeVan: Most people don't realize how much a new arcade game costs. I think if they did, they would complain less about the price to play them.
Yes, we have calculated how long it would take to earn $15,000. As an example, you would be looking at 30 weeks at $1.00 a play at 500 plays per week. There are several issues with this math.
First, you have to assume that your location will support 500 plays per week on the game you buy. Second, keep in mind that you are just paying for the game. In theory, that machine is not paying the bills and overhead until it is paid off. Third, and probably most important, unless you move the machine around to other locations, you have to expect a decline in earnings over time with any arcade game.
So instead of 30 weeks, you are most likely to be looking at more than a couple of years to pay a $15,000 piece off. What many operators are doing today is selling a new piece off after only a few months of operation. This makes much more sense financially.
I really don't know how manufacturers justify these high costs. Many arcade games today are PC-based and often employ Linux or slimmed-down versions of Windows as their operating systems. One would think this would greatly reduce the cost of games. I have spoken with at least one distributor that has been after some of the arcade game manufacturers to lower prices. I guess time will tell if the manufacturers get the hint.
Joe, you were prepared to close the doors of Challenge Arcade on July 31 but Stride Gum stepped in with a $10,000 cash infusion. Did Stride Gum indicate why they have such an interest in saving the arcades?
LeVan: The last few years have been a rough financial period for many businesses and we have been no exception. August 2009 was the end of our very long five year contract with the Berkshire Mall. We were planning on closing the arcade due to financial struggles and other personal issues.
Around July, we were on the verge of entering Stride's Save the Arcades contest which we had been preparing for over a month. Stride knew of our financial struggles and stepped up to the plate with $10,000 in exchange for using our arcade as a media location for their event. People at Stride are serious about gaming and are huge fans of arcades. They are obviously serious about saving the arcades.
What is trendy or “hip” in arcade gaming today?
LeVan: I would have to say that the dancing and music games are popular in the arcade setting today as well as in the home. I think some of the dancing games that were released in the 90's are more popular today than when they were new.
Tuckey: Food and liquor seems to sell at Dave and Busters. The card swiping also makes for more convenience, although, you are spending a lot more than you normally would if you were putting quarters in. It’s not hip to carry around pockets of quarters and try to impress a new girlfriend.
What is the significance of restoring and reselling arcade cabinets or running an arcade that mixes a hefty amount of classics with the latest titles? In other words, why do you do what you do?
LeVan: The reason I "do what I do" essentially is two-fold. First it involves being part of a business that I have intense fond memories of as a youngster. The other part of the equation is being able to pass along a small piece of the arcade atmosphere that I experienced when I was young. I can't bring back the 80s for people but if I can put smiles on people's faces, I have done a successful job in the amusement/entertainment business.
Tuckey: I got into the vending business in 1979 and started exclusive home sales in 1984. I have been doing this longer than anyone else in the USA with over 14,500 machines sold mostly into the home market. It was all business for me.
However, when I started a family, I decided to have a large game room at my home. My wife let me convert the two car detached garage into just a game room. I filled it with games but then discovered I could fit more in if I put in mini or cabaret size games - thus started my collecting of the dedicated small versions of their full size counterparts.
So, my collecting started in 1996 and continues to this day. Now I have more dedicated cabaret or mini arcade video games than anyone in the world and many are one of a kind. I have set up over 40 in my game room at home for my kids and friends to play. And I am going to will these machines to any museum that will display and keep the collection complete. So, you see that I have become a collector also.
You are the expert on the front lines. What changes are necessary for an arcade business to succeed?
LeVan: In order for the arcade business to thrive several things will have to fall into place. The cost of the arcade equipment will have to be reduced. Game pricing will have to be on par with inflation and cover the arcade owner's costs while still being reasonable enough for people to pay per play.
One of the biggest things that need to happen is that arcades need exclusive releases to get people back to the arcades. Manufacturers need to keep pace with technology. Joysticks and steering wheels have been around since well before the arcade boom. Manufacturers need to be progressive and creative for the games to earn - thus selling more games. Motion sensing, body feedback, and holographic/full immersion technology needs to be pursued to get console gamers to the arcades.
I purchased a new house a little over a year ago that finally provided the space I needed to restore arcade cabinets. It wasn’t difficult to decide - if I can’t play the classics in a local arcade then I will bring the classic arcade to my own home.
For me it is about nostalgia and preserving a piece of that historic era of video gaming. It is something that my 5 and 7 year olds can experience for themselves in my best attempt to recreate that environment augmented by the "Retrocade" parties that I host several times a year.
The key point is that it was always more than just about the games themselves. Arcades were social havens, rendezvous points and arenas of competition. The arcade gaming experience is something that cannot be duplicated on an Xbox or Wii - all for that "lousy, rotten quarter" for a few minutes at a time.
Dating as far back as Pong, there has always been the desire to have arcade quality gaming in the home. Ironically, the demise of the arcade is in part a result of the gamers’ endless desire to bring that arcade experience home.