Eye on the Prize
Walk onto the arcade floor of any family entertainment center (FEC) and you’ll find blinking lights, colorful, media-filled screens, kinetic action, and sounds all vying for attention. Take a closer look and find guests fully engaged in game play. Or are they?
Sure, some guests appear to be laser focused on the task at hand: scoring bazillions of points and tickets or otherwise showing the game who’s boss. But the multitasking players’ thoughts are never far from the redemption counter tucked into the corner of the arcade. While folks love playing games for the sake of the games, they also have their eyes on the prizes.
The Next Generation of Prize
“I figured out early on that what drives the sales at arcades is not the games,” says Eddie Hamann, managing member of Andretti Indoor Karting and Games. “It’s the prizes.”
People are competitive by nature, enjoy overcoming challenges and achieving mastery, and love winning things—especially things they want and value. Since guests visit the Andretti locations to race karts and indulge in food and beverages, why not turn those in-house experiences into redemption prizes for the games and other items under the same roof? That’s the thought behind a new program the company kicked off last year.
For example, guests can score the most popular dessert offered at the FEC chain, the Hot Skillet Cookie Sundae. Featuring made-from-scratch dough and three scoops of ice cream, the alluring treat stirs the senses. It retails for $15, but Andretti’s customers can also redeem 1,800 points for the cookie sundae.
Hamann says staff members are trained to tell guests that if they like the dessert, they could get it by racking up points in the arcade. That encourages them to buy a game card for $20. Andretti’s employees are “our number-one marketing tool” for pitching the program, he notes.
Customers can be goodwill ambassadors as well. “We have seen people posting a picture of the cookie sundae on social media and saying, ‘I won this for free by playing the games,’” Hamann adds.
Other prizes visitors can vie for include laser tag, the “7D Experience” interactive simulator attraction, and certificates redeemable for the FEC’s signature electric go-karts. The program offers compelling incentives for the arcades, which, Andretti shared with Funworld, account for 32% of their total sales. As a bonus, because the program features experiences and tastes already available at each location, Andretti has reduced the cost of its redemption inventory.
In January, Andretti began testing another innovation at its flagship Orlando location: service techs who also perform guest service. Among their responsibilities, the techs—who have tablets connected to the company’s redemption program—proactively engage guests waiting in line at the prize counter. The techs help visitors identify what prizes appeal to them. When they reach the front of the line, the guests are ready to quickly complete their transactions. Andretti believes customers appreciate the attention, and the gesture helps to keep the line moving. Hamann says the new program is especially effective on weekends, when the location gets busy and wait times increase.
“The longer people are on that line, the less time they have to spend money in the facility,” he adds. “But more than that, it diminishes the level of their experience. The future, the past, and the present are always about service.” Once Andretti refines the program using game techs in a dual role, the FEC plans to roll it out to all of its locations.
What prize items are FECs and their customers seeking these days? “Anything sensory-related is hot right now,” according to Sean Silvia, salesperson for redemption vendor Rhode Island Novelty. It’s a trend that began a few years ago with fidget spinners. Today, squishable, stretchy animals, such as dogs and teddy bears, are in demand. Wiggly sensory caterpillars that move in users’ hands are flying off the company’s shelves, he says.
As is the case across nearly all industries, supply chain issues continue to play havoc with some redemption sales. Silvia says that it can be difficult to source plush prizes, for instance. Rubber ducks have been especially tough to get. “We get a shipment in, and they sell out within an hour,” he notes.
Promoting Play In Your Palm
It seems like we use our phones for just about everything these days. Why not also utilize them as game cards? Embed, which offers integrated, cashless, business management systems and solutions to FECs and attractions, introduced its Mobile Wallet in 2019. The virtual game card—which users access via their mobile phones—remains one of the only Google- and Apple-certified products of its kind in the industry. Since the mobile product is tied to the existing wallets that come bundled with all Android- and iOS- enabled phones, Mobile Wallet does not require a dedicated app. To activate games, customers using Mobile Wallet can simply tap their phones on readers.
“It enables consumers to top off game cards anytime, anywhere. Then they’re off and running to play games,” says Sara Paz, chief marketing officer at Embed. “It’s the first non-finance, non-banking, non-loyalty card solution.”
She adds that it’s great for people visiting FECs. Yet Mobile Wallet can also be a great business and marketing resource for operators. In addition to making it simple for their guests to conduct transactions and play games, Mobile Wallet can provide valuable consumer data, such as what customers purchased and at what time during the customer journey they were motivated to spend.
More recently, Embed introduced Kiosk+, a more traditional, but decidedly sleek self-service system. FECs place a premium on their floor space and carefully consider revenue per square foot. The low-profile units, which allow FECs to include more games in their arcades, can therefore be attractive.
“Kiosk+ has a massive screen, but a small footprint,” Paz says. “It’s super lean.”
The unobtrusive kiosks can sit in the middle of FECs or be mounted on a wall or column. Because they are modular, the devices can accommodate additional game card dispensers or other add-ons as needed over time.
Among the items that Kiosk+ can dispense are Embed’s Breakaway Cards. They look like standard game cards, but are scored so that users can break off wearable wristbands. Kids especially enjoy donning the radio frequency (RF) bracelets. According to Paz, personalized, wearable RF media in the form of rings, charms, and wristbands is an emerging industry trend.
“Whether you’re a single-site FEC or a juggernaut chain, you’ve got to embrace technology,” says Paz. She notes that Embed’s contactless products have been resonating throughout the pandemic. Because they are self-service, they also appeal to FECs that are struggling to fill positions. “Operators want higher profit and revenue at a lower—or no—manpower cost,” Paz adds. “It’s more manpower without the man. Technology future-proofs your business.”