My Thoughts on Arcade Pricing
It’s been quite a while since I’ve written an article, hasn’t it? I always told myself that never would a Monday go by where I didn’t post an article. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite pan out. Not to make excuses or anything, but my recent lack of Wilcox Arcade posts can be attributed to the following circumstances:
School: I had finals and an AP European History exam that took priority over my sweaty nerd blog.
Projects: I’ve had other projects that I’ve been working on lately. Let’s hope those even get finished. However, since I made this blog a reality, I believe that other projects will one day see that light of day…someday. I just said “day” three times.
Arcade news: In general, arcade news had been PAINFULLY slow. This is why, in my opinion, other developers should enter the arcade scene and fill these giant vacuums between releases. Raw Thrills, Sega, and Namco can’t do it all by themselves! But that’s a tangent for another day.
Arcade-wise, I haven’t done too terribly much during my hiatus. I’ve mostly been watching the first three Ben 10 series and playing Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (fantastic game, by the way), neither of which are, you know, arcade games. (I’m well-rounded, people.) However, on Friday, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and after the movie, my brother and I played $3 worth of Big Buck Hunter Pro. I’m not gonna lie—I really like Big Buck Hunter. I mean, it’s not one of my all-time favorite games, but it sure is fun to put in 50 cents and play a trek whenever I come across it. It’s just simple, skill-based fun. Also, the bonus games are the funniest thing in the universe. I just hope I get to play Big Buck HD someday.
Now of course, none of this has to do with the title of my article today, so let me cut to the proverbial chase. After my month-long hiatus (and due to the general lack of compelling arcade news), I figured I’d try another one of my signature over-analytical TL;DR articles. Pricing for both operators and players has been something I’ve wanted to address for a while, so I figured, “Why not?” So, without further ado, let’s get on with it.
Are the games becoming overpriced?
I figured this question was a good way to start off, because I say 100 percent yes. Arcade cabinets are becoming insanely overpriced, and as such are making credits overpriced for players.
The way I see it, the arcade industry is a constant tug-of-war between operators and player. Of course, I’m not an operator, but I’m a player who owns a 60-in-1 Multicade. Either way, I’ve still noticed this “tug-of-war.” If the game is too pricy, the players will have to pay more, and some may not want to do that. However, if the operator lowers the price per credits too much, they may not make back their investment.
This is where I noticed a problem for players in the modern industry. Arcade games are now aiming themselves squarely at the “Dave and Buster’s market” that I typically refer to. Games at Dave and Buster’s are large, flashy attraction pieces just as much as they are games. And sure, I have absolutely no problem with that at Dave and Buster’s. But for local operators? It flat-out cripples them. When it’s been two years and we still don’t have a standard upright version of Jurassic Park Arcade, you know there’s a problem. I mean, come on, people—Terminator Salvation got FOUR different cabinet variations. I think Jurassic Park can get one standard version. I’d also say that many operators aren’t looking to make regular $12,000-15,000 purchases, and I know from personal experience that players don’t really like paying a dollar per credit.
Let’s look at a perfect example of how expensive cabinets lessen the experience for player: Star Wars Battle Pod. And yes, I know that sounds super controversial to say that. After all, Star Wars Battle Pod is the most technologically advance arcade game we’ve seen in years. Shouldn’t the high price tag be what makes it so great? And I say…no. Though I love the experience of Battle Pod, I really don’t like the payment system. Because the game is so gosh darn expensive for operators, you not only have to pay to continue each time you die, but you also pay to start the next level, even if you didn’t die! Paying per level is not how arcade game monetization should be—at all. Keep in mind, this is at $2.00 or so per credit as well, so at the end of the day, you’re paying way too much as a player. It unfortunately makes a fun game a bit less fun to actually play.
But I certainly can’t throw all of this criticism at the industry without providing a solution, now can I?
How can we fix pricing?
As someone planning to one day start an arcade, this is something I’ve put a great deal of thought into. How can pricing be fair for both the operator and the player? And in my opinion, I think I have a pretty good solution.
First of all, let’s address the problem at the source: developers. Large, flashy games like Jurassic Park Arcade and The Walking Dead should always received a standard upright version to slash a few thousand dollars off for the small local operator. In my opinion, it shouldn't be too hard, as they can repurpose the cabinet designs from Terminator Salvation and Aliens Armageddon. Even games like Time Crisis 5 could use a cabinet with a smaller monitor at least. Those 50-inch screens are beautiful and all, but price- and space-wise they just aren’t great for anyone who isn’t Dave and Buster’s.
But beyond that, I’ve devised a pricing model that could work great for both players and operators: If at all possible, keep it at 25 cents.
Now, don’t leave yet, because I can explain myself. I know you’re probably saying, “But Dustin, this is 2017! Arcade games simply cannot sustain themselves at 25 cents a pop like they used to.” But from a player’s perspective, I honestly think they can.
In my personal experience with arcade games, the games I’ve pumped the most money into are the cheaper ones. Demolish Fist at Lake Barkley State Resort Park was 25 cents per credit, and I ended up spending $6.00. Terminator Salvation at Chuck-E-Cheese’s was 25 cents per credit, and I spent $5.00 before running out of money on the last mission. I would have spent more if I had brought more money. The point of all of this is to say that if the price per credit is cheaper, players are more likely to pump money into the machine. The exception to this general rule is casual players, who probably won’t bother to beat the game anyway. That makes it somewhat problematic for them to only spend 25 cents and then move on to the next game.
However, my 25 cents rule only works if said machine was cost-effective for the operator the purchase in the first place. Would I recommend pricing Star Wars Battle Pod deluxe at 25 cents per credits? Heck no! And that’s why I have a more advanced pricing model in mind.
If the game is considered a “classic” (usually 80’s and early 90’s), it should be priced at 25 cents per credit. Most people who don’t follow the arcade industry probably think that new games are still priced at 25 cents and see this as the standard price no matter how the machine cost the operator. This pricing for classics simply prevents anyone from ditching the game because they see it as overpriced. However, I also believe that, as a general rule of thumb, any game in the $1,000-$6,000 price range should generally be priced at 25 cents per credits. I know this seems kind of iffy, but believe me—players will pay more.
Of course, this won’t work for everyone, and I’ve never been an operator, so I haven’t seen it in practice. That’s why I also recommend pricing games from the $3,000-$7,000 range as 50 cents to start and 25 cents to continue. That way, if a casual player ditches a game after one credit, the operator still makes 50 cents.
Next up, I believe that games priced in the $7,000-$10,000 range should be (or rather, could be) priced at 75 cents to start and 25 cents to continue. Let’s face it: $10,000 is a lot of money. Operators simply cannot price them at 25 cents to start, because there are far too many casual players that will make it impossible to make back the investment. And at this price, hardcore player who try to beat the entire game won’t feel like the game is stealing their money. They’ll just pay their dues at the beginning and put in a single quarter for each continue.
At the $7,000-$10,000 price range, I also recommend 50 cents per credit—each credit, not just the first one. As a player, I don’t really prefer this method, but I understand that operators have different needs.
And finally, we have the $10,000 and above price range. This is where things get very iffy for players, and it’s why I believe there should be a standard version of every arcade game released. But since these games exist, I’ve devised a pricing model: $1.00 to start and either 25 or 50 cents to continue. Sure, I hate seeing that dollar price tag as a player, but I know it’s necessary. And some people are willing to pay that much for each credit. I spent $13.00 on Jurassic Park Arcade in a mall once at a $1.00 per credit, so I’m living proof! However, I don’t recommend making each credit any higher than $1.00, except for maybe on Star Wars Battle Pod. But of course, that’s why there’s the flatscreen cabinet.
Here’s a chart in case absolutely none of that made sense:
As much as I’d like to say that my pricing model is great, I’ve never been an operator. I have nothing beyond my personal experience to know if this works. But as a player myself, I staunchly believe that this is the best way to make things fair for the operator and the player. I mean, think about it: Would a mom or dad let their kids play the arcade game they saw in the mall if they had to pay a dollar? Probably not. But 25 or 50 cents? They might entertain that. In fact, they might let their kids play twice.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just some 16-year-old who got lucky and played Demolish Fist and Terminator Salvation for under $10.00.
Well, that’s my thoughts on how we can get prices down for both operators and players. This probably isn’t my most well thought out article, but I think it’s a fitting return after my month-long hiatus. Next week, I’m hoping to have an article about how I think the quality of arcade games can be improved in general. (Sure, I like them just fine as they are, but everything in this world can be improved, no matter how good it may be.) That article should hopefully be considerably better.
I guess I’ll be seeing ya. Keep it real, ya sweaty nerds.