Today’s article puts to print something I’ve been mulling over for about half a year now. Given how long the worldwide virus has been raging on—and how much it’s hurt coin-op—there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll see relatively long-term changes in how business is conducted.
So here’s my question: How will the monetary constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic affect what games operators purchase for their arcade venues?
The way I see it, there are two possible outcomes. On one hand, operators may feel compelled to experiment with “off-beat” titles to draw in new customers seeking a reprieve from stay-at-home mandates. On the other hand, the overwhelming financial uncertainty most arcade operators are contending with may cause them to lean on proven products.
Let’s dive in deeper, starting with Outcome No. 1.
Faced with dwindling budgets, operators may not be capable of “taking the plunge” on hulking, $30,000 attractions like Halo: Fireteam Raven or Mission: Impossible Arcade, leading them to turn toward smaller, more affordable options—options that may have been inconceivable pre-pandemic.
What are these options, you may ask? Indie games, primarily. Compared to, say, Big Bass Wheel, the cost of something like Retro Raccoons or Abs vs. the Blood Queen is practically peanuts. Even better, these options are incredibly unique stacked next to the countless rail shooters and racers currently flooding the industry.
Particularly positioned to take advantage of operators’ and players’ desire for something different is Exa-Arcadia. In a volatile market, a $3,549 hardware platform loaded with a wide variety of titles (each in the $1,700 range) is certainly more attractive than a single cabinet with price tag rivaling that of a four-dour vehicle.
Beyond Exa, indie games like Killer Queen, Cosmotrons, Skycurser, and the aforementioned Retro Raccoons provide exceptional multiplayer experiences that are difficult recreate at home. Titles like Rashlander and Black Emperor do the same in the single-player realm.
The main problem with Outcome No. 1 is that indie games have historically preformed somewhat poorly in traditional arcade venues based on reports I’ve heard from operators. Honestly, as much as this totally blows, pushing indie games into the mainstream consciousness has always been and probably always will be an uphill battle for fans like myself.
Now, let’s focus on Outcome No. 2.
Observing reduced patronage and requiring income to survive, operators may double-down on the familiar—the comfortable—to lure lucrative demographics out of their homes and into arcades. In other words, there may be no room for any sort of risk whatsoever.
I’d imagine this would most likely take the form of “tried and true” hits like The Fast and the Furious, Terminator Salvation, Jurassic Park Arcade, and lots of ticket redemption. If you, like me, already think that modern game floors are growing increasingly stale, this is admittedly the least ideal scenario.
Most poised to reap success in such a market would be the manufacturers that already reign supreme, such as Raw Thrills, Sega Amusements, Bandai Namco, I.C.E., Adrenaline Amusements, and LAI Games, among many others. These companies actively produce the exact sort of products concerned operators would crave.
The only thing I’m not so certain about is the continued profitability of virtual reality. While such attractions as Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride and Hologate were gaining traction not too long ago, I can’t even begin to predict how an especially germ-conscious public will react to them now.
Outcome No. 2 relies on the potentially false—and perhaps too pessimistic—assumption that the arcade industry won’t bounce back following the pandemic. If the industry heals completely, operators may continue on as normal, deftly balancing risks and staples. I don’t mean to suggest that arcade owners will hide in their respective shells like turtles.
Naturally, as my body of work might suggest, I’m far more in favor of Outcome No. 1, but I recognize the necessity of an alternate timeline. With so many arcades on the brink of closure, this isn’t the time for me to be picky, even if I do have preferences. All I can do is muse on what may come to pass.
Having shared my thoughts, I’m curious what you, the readers, think the near future of arcades will look like. How will the industry adapt and change in the wake of COVID-19? Let me know on Twitter or Discord.
Until next time, I’m out. Arcades forever.