We all have our own happy memories of time spent in an arcade. When once so prevalent, they’re now confined to seaside towns, motorway service stations and the garages and basements of the congenitally nerdy. They’re a shadow of their former selves; slowly dying away under an ever increasing mound of ‘£2.00 a go’ signs and Dance Central machines. The death knell for the amusement arcade has in no small part been brought about by the rise of the smart phone and the convenience of app based gaming. Why bother going out for steak when you can have a slightly smaller steak at home? So we sit at home, staring at tiny screens and eating Doritio’s whilst House of the Dead and Time Crisis 3 are left with no one to entertain except the occasional northerner who’s stopped off at South Mimms for a poo on his way back from a plumbing convention. It’s sad, it’s not right, and someone needs to do something about it. Due to a lack of funds it’s unlikely to be me, however I will provide someone with the blueprint on how to build a successful amusement arcade and get rich bringing joy to the world.
1- Location – As we all know, the high streets and shopping centres of the country are thriving right now. OH WAIT THAT’S NOT RIGHT! No one is going to take a trip down the A1 to play in an arcade. The only reason people go to a service station is to void there bowels; let’s keep it that way. A successful arcade needs to be somewhere central where there will be a large volume of people to catch passing interest, but easily accessible so that a group of people can arrange to meet up without too much trouble. There are countless empty shops clogging up our city centres, so you could pick up a fairly large location for a decent price or monthly lease.
2- Know your market – If I never see another Dance Central machine in my whole life it’ll be too many. They occupy the corners of bowling alleys and mini arcades like a tooth abscess; attracting only squealing teenage girls, slightly creepy older men and drunk middle aged women who lack the coordination or sobriety to get into a nightclub and are desperate to show that they’re not tripping over their own menopause. Are these the sort of people you want to be associated with? NO. YOU. DON’T. Similarly, do you want it filled with overweight and balding middle aged men wearing football shirts with their own name on the back and more tattoos than IQ points, standing goggle eyed in front of a bank of epilepsy inducing fruit machines? Again, no you don’t. We have somewhere like this already; it’s called Blackpool. You want groups of gamers to put down their controllers, head out into the blinking sunlight, and come to your arcade. They aren’t going to do it if their mum, dad and younger sister are already there.
3- Choose Your Weapons – Now then; the important part. You’ve got your floor space, and you’ve got a queue of gamers ready to play, what are you going to give them? Whilst it might sound controversial, I don’t think you can fill it with high end PC’s and expect any success. Why? Because the serious Warcraft gamer can happily sit and play for 8 hours at a time at home, with a ready supply of snacks, beverages and lavatory facilities without someone stealing his seat or mucking about with his macros. Also, the problem with PC’s is that, from the moment you buy it, it’s obsolete. You’re going to end up having to constantly replacing your hardware, and that’s going to cost money. Consoles it is then. Next question – do you want to set up a big LAN party? I don’t think so as the problem you will have is that rules out the lonely teenager who’s bunked off school to hit the arcades (shut up we all did it), but with no friends to play with he’s wandering around a multiplayer map all by himself. Besides, if you don’t know how to find your friends on an online multiplayer, you’re not a gamer.
4- Make it better than playing at home – If you have an Xbox or PS3 at home, why are you going to go and pay to play it in an arcade? Top quality gaming chairs, high quality dual/triple screens, high end headsets and microphones; you need to be able to give a better gaming experience than your customers will get at home. Similarly, you need to ensure that you have the newest and best games available. Nothing brings people in faster than a quality product. In the unlikely event that you can employ several stunning girls who are into cosplay, waitressing and minimum wage jobs, do that. If not, you’ll need to make sure that refreshments are either readily available if you want your customers to stay at the units and play, or have somewhere for them to go and eat/drink if you want a short turnover time.
5- Remember: It’s an arcade – Let’s face it, everyone loves an arcade machine. Get in as many retro machines as you can and people will play them; games like Street Fighter and Time Crisis never get old. Console gaming is great and everything, but there’s joy to be had in playing something classic. The ideal lay out is going to be arcade machines down the left and right walls, with your consoles filling the space in the middle.
6- Pricing – Tricky one this. Obviously, your arcade machines are going to be a straight forward case of putting money in, but what about the consoles? Do you charge by the game or by the hour? The choice is yours but I’d suggest charging based on the time played, and certainly in advance; if there’s one thing that teenagers do well, it’s running off without paying for something. You also need a gimmick. Back in the day, my local arcade had the wonderful idea of the ‘Sunday Supersaver’, where you basically paid a tenner to get in, you stayed as long as you wanted and all the games were set to play for free. This is how I completed House Of The Dead. You might want to try a Saturday night session, themed nights where all the consoles are set for the same games, even tournaments with some sort of prize to entice people in.
Anyone who has read anything I’ve written before, or heard any of the terrible ideas I have half-baked previously will know that I am not a smart man. This however, is bulletproof. There is literally nothing that could go wrong with this model, and you’ll have people queuing around the corner to get in waiving fistfuls of money at you, and do you know what? When it happens, I’ll be right at the front of the queue.