Ready Player One
The game room may be one of the oldest staples at family entertainment centers (FECs), but decades of history alone won’t get guests to keep dropping those tokens and swiping their cards.
For the arcade to succeed, owners and operators need to routinely fine-tune their game selection, room layout, redemption area, and more. A pair of game room experts dish seven tips to nail that high score.
- (Virtual) Reality of the Situation
Perhaps not surprisingly, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) attractions materialize near the top of the list for the latest game trends, says Patrick Kelly, regional arcade manager for Stars and Strikes, with 13 locations (and four more on the way) in the southeastern United States.
“If you’ve never done it before, start off with a game that doesn’t require an attendant,” he says, noting built-in labor savings. “It’s a good way to get your foot in the door.”
- Strength in Numbers
In a trend that lands at the opposite side of the arcade universe from VR, Kelly’s customers also flock to their monster crane games that drop out massive bundles of tickets as the prize. Guests can snag up to 5,000 tickets at a time, prompting some customers to buy $20 game cards just to try the 8-by-8-foot machine.
“We’re pretty aggressive with our payouts, so people are willing to put in a little bit more,” he notes.
With Stars and Strikes running off a card system, staff can easily transfer the jackpot found in a hula hoop-sized ticket ring to the winning guest’s card for future use.
“We have a line at that game as soon as someone wins,” Kelly says. “Winners breed excitement. It’s the No. 1 game in the room at all of our arcades.”
- Stray From the Pack
Look at a handful of FECs and the same arcade titles will likely appear at each location, says Adam Pratt, owner and operator of Game Grid Arcade in West Valley City, Utah, and publisher of the ArcadeHeroes.com blog.
“If they’re cookie-cutter, there’s no point for a guest to go to this FEC over that one,” he says. “I think there’s a problem of being too generic.”
While Pratt understands facilities want to own all the top earners (which most venues probably have), they also should strive for those unique games to separate themselves from the competition. For example, he points to machines made by independent developers to possibly add to their collection.
- Layouts that Look and Feel Like Winners
The room layout and ambiance can be as important as the machines themselves in drawing a crowd. First off, FECs should place the biggest and flashiest games near the entrance to grab people’s attention, and group together similar styles of pieces (racing, midway, etc.) in islands as much as possible, Pratt says. “When everything is up against the wall, it all just blurs together.”
He also suggests skipping the floodlighting because it causes glare on the games, and splash the walls with vibrant paint colors.
Keep wide walkways to avoid cramped spaces, and spread out the top 10 to 15 earners, Kelly recommends.
“If a popular game is next to something else everyone is looking for, then you create unwanted jams,” he says. “Instead of being logjammed, you can pull people to different areas and keep the arcade flow moving.”
- Boosting Underperformers
Games sometimes fall below expectations. In these cases, FECs should evaluate the placement in the room, Kelly says. Is it buried behind that large crane, making the underperformer hard to see?
“You might have to move it a few feet,” Pratt adds, “or maybe it’s just at a bad angle.”
If the game still looks like a stinker despite the tweaks, it can be shuffled between locations if feasible.
“Different areas, different guests,” Kelly says. “I had a ‘Tomb Raider’ game in Dallas that didn’t perform well. I moved it to another spot, and it’s blowing up there.”
Hosting tournaments can be another way to awaken sleepy games. Pratt reached out to an area pinball fan group and invited them to play at his facility. When they visited for a tournament, it doubled his usual Saturday attendance.
- Ramp Up Redemption
Roughly 80% of Stars and Strikes’ games fall under redemption—and the fast-growing arcade soon will account for 40% of the company’s overall revenue, so Kelly knows he needs to stay in sync with the trends. Foam squishy toys and rubber ducks with a twist (think ducks with mohawks and wearing leather jackets) have remained popular, and candy and action items like Nerf guns and swords always will move. Kelly stays far away from slime because it can easily get mashed into the FEC’s carpeting. He orders merchandise weekly, so in case a trend suffers a quick death, he won’t be stuck with thousands of unwanted fidget spinners.
Also, most Stars and Strikes locations opt for a redemption store versus the standard counter model, Kelly says. The barrier-free walkable space with a touch-and-feel presentation wows guests, and it allows him to stock more products in the “bread-and-butter range” of 100 to 1,000 tickets—attainable prizes with a $20 or $25 game card.
- Perception Is Reality
Many FEC owners and operators wrongly believe the arcade can run itself with minimal supervision, says Kelly, who averages 70 to 80 games at his locations. However, after a few shifts of neglect, numerous machines likely will be down or covered in sticky grime, and the redemption area can appear messy and picked over.
“If you want the arcade to be successful, you have to commit to it,” he urges. “Presentation will have a huge effect on how long your guests spend there and how much playtime they want to put in.”
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected].
Curious about VR and AR?
The FEC education track at IAAPA Expo in Orlando this November will offer two VR education sessions and a guided trade show floor tour of AR and VR suppliers for attendees to see the latest products and services. Visit www.IAAPA.org/IAAPAExpo for more information.