ACEN 2013: Cram it!

ANOTHER ACEN DOWN, oh god I'm getting to old for these.

Unlike the last few years, I'm going to get straight to the theme on this one. We crammed 13 games into a 26' Penske truck, then crammed those same games into the edge of a 4100 square foot room that had shit for power drops. I'm not kidding when I say the arcade was a mere 13 games, and they were pretty much packed in.

I didn't bother to take a video of the arcade this time, mostly because I didn't care quite as much. We had a staff table by one of the entrances with Super Turbo and Marvel 2 next to it. Following that wall had TWO GIANT DOORS, TMNT, 19XX, and the classics cabinet leading to the corner. Turn the corner and you got House of the Dead, then another giant door. From the other side of the door, cabinets lead out from the wall starting with Johnny Nero, Virtual On, and the 6p X-Men functioning as the cap of the wall. Swinging around that, you had Fiesta 2, Supernova, and Extreme. All of this was guarded by tables to help prevent people from just waltzing into console.

It was like a penis of games jutting out. The three dance games next to each other (with DDR's hidden) was specifically because we knew people were going to seek them out. Ok, onto the game stuff. This year won't include income, though they are in descending income order.

So yeah, ranting and raving and thinking and bwargle

What's left of the US arcade scene? Hard to say.

I know there's been a half a billion articles out there claiming that the arcade scene in the US is dead, buried, decayed, and anyone even thinking about opening an arcade is either pants-on-head retarded or has lots of money to throw around. It's not that there isn't evidence of this. Chinatown Fair shutting down a while ago, then reopening as a ticket/"family" place (with Henry Cen opening Next Level to cater to the locals). The super recent news that Gemini won't be renewing the lease on their location. A bunch of overseas locations are shutting down. The list goes on and on.

Despite all of that, there are places where arcades thrive. Galloping Ghost is the prime example, but Doc and Gerry very smartly skirt the biggest problem with the arcade business model. Barcades and FEC's work well, but the arcade games are merely there to serve as an attraction instead of the money maker (food/drink pull down the vast majority of revenue). Even in my location the arcades are something to help draw parents in along with their children. While the kids tend to poke around at the Pokemon crap, the adults are wanting to drop a few quarters into the games.

As an aside, this is a complete flip flop of most people's expectations. A sign of the changing times if you will.

So, what's to blame for the decline of the US Arcade. A lot of people want to pin it on console systems. Ok, you can pin it on console systems all you want. For a $100-$500 up front cost, then $60 a game you get to keep the game for as long as you want. Or you can play a one dollar game on your phone, often times it's Pac-Man or Donkey Kong (incidentally games that people keep asking for at my location).

Consoles may have stolen the thunder from arcades in terms of side scrollers (which don't really exist anymore) and fighting games, but arcades still reign supreme for driving, light gun, and other simulation type stuff. Plus Consoles tend to not involve as much social activity.

No, there's more REAL external problems facing the traditional arcade than just console games. I can think of a mishmash of a bunch of reasons, so here they are in no particular order.

I'll lead off with something I know Aaron Azunis (Editor of and owner of The Game Grid Arcade in Utah), Henry Cen, and a few other operators have brought up repeatedly. The costs of running an arcade and customer expectations on price per play are so far out of whack that it's not even funny. People seem to expect every game to cost a quarter per play. I want to stress the word EVERY in that sentence.

Sure a quarter a play works nicely for games that just inhale quarters. I'm referring to games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that ilk. A quarter a play is fine there. Where it doesn't work is if a game is brand new or at least recent. A quick pop over to BMIgaming shows a 42" screen snowmobile game for merely $7875! Wow, so cheap! Pac-Man Battle Royale cost around $4000 per unit. Street Fighter 4 units (in plural because you had to buy two and link them) were insane costing upwards of $10,000. New PIU machines go for around $9-11k (and Pump earns like crap in most US areas).

How in the ever living, unholy fuck is a location going to make those kinds of initial investments back a a quarter? Even the cheapest thing I listed (Pac-Man Battle Royale) would take 12,000 plays at a quarter to make that back. It's also worth noting that the average round of the game lasts around a minute. Games tend to go three or five rounds.

Whee, a dollar on average every four to seven minutes!

Now let's look at that PIU. I'm going to work with $10,000 as the price. That's FORTY THOUSAND PLAYS at a quarter a game with each game taking 5-9 minutes.

This also doesn't mention that a quarter now is worth nothing. When was the last time you were able to get anything not out of a candy vending machine for a quarter?

The cost of doing business is insane now too. Henry Cen has stated on video that the vast majority of his arcade income goes right back to rent (he probably doesn't make much profit, if any). The games at my location wouldn't remotely cover the rent. Hell, they barely cover the licensing fees we have to pay for them. I should also mention that Illinois has surprisingly reasonable licensing fees, and Joliet is marginally reasonable. The two licensing fees combined don't even add up to what another local town, or even Chicago used to charge per machine.

All of that is to say whatever town you're in doesn't have an outright ban like Orland Park, Illinois had until they allowed a Dave & Busters. Or if your city some strange rule regarding the number of machines in a location, similar to Brookfield, Illinois' limit of no more than 10-15 coin-operated devices in a single location (this being the impetus for Galloping Ghost running free play with an entry fee). Even Chicago has basically gone to not allowing any location to have an arcade game unless they serve alcohol on site.

When you put all of this together, you get a baseline that looks something along the lines of:
High initial costs, High operation costs, variable municipal rules, unrealistic customer expectations, fat chance of making money.

Honestly, my (really our, I have partners) location works well enough for what it is because all six games there were purchased for cheap, and had either earned all or the vast majority of their money back through conventions. We have the luxury of keeping our games cheap because they're not what makes the money in the store, we have ways of getting them to make a bunch of money in a short period of time, and honestly, what they pull down is already profit.

For reference, the location holds a DDR Supernova at .75 for 3 songs, a single Time Crisis 2 at .50 (this just recently went down), a Six Player X-Men at .25 for 2 lives, a House of the Dead at .50 for 4 lives, a TMNT at .25 for 2 lives, and a Marvel vs. Capcom 2 at .50 per player. A few people have complained that the Supernova price is too high, then said it should be a quarter for three songs. They were promptly told they should leave the mall the store is located in.

Of course you can look at people's expectations and the amount of money they're willing to spend all you want. It doesn't matter in a coin-operated situation when PEOPLE DON'T CARRY ANY DAMNED CASH ANYMORE. And before you try to call me out on this, I'm guilty too. I rarely carry cash at this point for numerous reasons.

This can be alleviated with credit card accepting changers spitting out tokens, or card systems, but those all cost a lot of money that locations may or may not have (again, a point for the Galloping Ghost business model). My group has been able to sidestep this with a mobile credit card reader, but some customers are still skeptical and they have a bad habit of not accepting pre-load cards or specialty gift cards for some reason. All of this doesn't mention that you're going to get dinged for credit card processing costs as well.

It also doesn't help that upkeep on a lot of coin-op machines in the wild tends to be utter ass. I know people that have operated (even in a temporary situation) who utterly refused to perform even the most basic of maintenance unless it was preventing people from dropping money into a game. The guy treated it as if everyone owed him money just for having the games, fuck if you could actually have an active start button so you could play the thing.

There's a few people out there who work at taking care of their games. I try to keep all of the games I'm in charge of in as good of shape as possible (though I admit I'm falling behind because of age and volume of games between my day job and company assets). Aaron Azunis spends a lot of time on Facebook going over his repair work. Doc at GGA has the herculean task of upkeep on 375 games. Game upkeep isn't easy, especially when something can go wrong and it can be weeks before you find out about it. Another problem with customer expectations, but I digress.

So, where the hell am I even going with this? What's the actual problem with the American Arcade as people remember it?

It's pretty simple, really. With inflation, customer expectations, costs of business, upkeep time and costs, people relying on credit/debit, the standard arcade method of coin-operation generally isn't viable as a stand alone business. Add in money from a bar, bowling alley, restaurant and things work. But coin-op in that instance only accounts for a minority of income.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, given I've mentioned this repeatedly, but Galloping Ghost really did sidestep nearly all of the problems with the old school arcade business model by virtue of Brookfield's limit on coin-op. I told Doc when we were in the location trying to get games up and running that I thought the business plan was brilliant and that GGA would essentially be the epicenter of an arcade resurgence. GGA does have other sources of income with food, drinks, snacks, and some trinkets for sale, but the majority of their intake is from admission to their location.

The fact the model has been copied numerous times in the two years they've been open proves I'm right. GGA opened at the perfect time to re-ignite the general populace's interest in arcades, and did it without the feeling of being nickel and dimed at a coin-op location.

Were I to open a location or consult on a location opening, I likely wouldn't even consider coin-operation as an option. When Gemini Arcade reopens in a new location, I would honestly recommend to Juli that they just use an all encompassing admission/free play setup. Or at least give it a shot as a special. I'd do it, but it's worthless with six games.

Ok, enough ranting.

Wizard World Chicago 2012: Dean Stockwell's...Wife!?!?!???

Well, this was an experience. I can't say it was a good or bad one, but it's an experience.

I'm honestly disappointed in the arcade cash take, but at the same time it's better than it could have been. Long story short, gaming got put in the upstairs section of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Arcade was supposed to be in the super far back rooms (as in you'd never find it even if you were looking for it). THE guy in charge of the convention looked at what we had and the room we were supposed to be in and asked if moving out to the hallway.

Honestly, the move to the hallway is the only reason we even REMOTELY did well. As I said, arcade didn't do so hot, but the Vendor table we set up in conjunction with Dwyer Studios kicked some ass. But I have very little to do with that, and I generally give no fucks about it as long as it's making money and not consuming all the credit card space. It did help greatly to have the table near the arcade though.

That said let's look at the arcade performance: clicky clickyCollapse )
This convention's theme came from the fact we were visited NUMEROUS times by a woman of about 23 who's apparently Dean Stockwell's third wife. She was extremely nice and happy to hang around with us and play games. Seemed to have taking a liking to Kasey Zhong too. It's just a super surreal experience to meet a celebrities' wife and find out that she's like 40 years younger than him. Lucky bastard, hahaha.

I was initially going to make the theme for this one "Spike Your Shorts." Mostly becuase every night we crashed in the Aloft I announced I was going to sleep by literally spiking my shorts to the ground and saying something non-sensical

Anime World Chicago 2012: Boot Your Leg

Forgive me, as I didn't have time to even think about writing this update between the end of the convention this report is for and the one that's going to follow. Also, this isn't exactly going to be the longest report due to being a free play convention.

In complete and utter contrast to AW Indy, Chicago was a dream. Everything about it was better. Better hotel, better attendance, better competition, better guests, better people. Name it, it was better.

Arcade wise, we only had two changes between Indy and Chicago. The first was swapping out Neo-Geo for Star Wars Trilogy. The second was bringing the Classics cabinet because we could. Very few problems to report. Speaking of that, here's the report.

Atomiswave (Super Turbo): I had installed Sanwa sticks to the control panel and needed to wire them up at the start of the convention. Turns out one of the sticks I had spare had a bad switch PCB. Luckily I brought the Happ sticks that were in it beforehand.

DDR: Had reports of some phantom hits or sticking on one of the arrows. I was never able to replicate any of the problems.

Star Wars Trilogy: Had to wire a button out the door for people to press to add credits.

I honestly can't remember if there's anything more. I do know I was tweaking volumes every so often between the music games, but nothing more. Mostly because I was in console the vast majority of the time. And I mean vast.

That said, console went over really well this time around. People were generally going nuts over some of the games, and Jeff modded my SNES to play japanese games (surprisingly simple). Tournaments went fairly smoothly with the exception of a miscommunication between Jeff and Alex about some Brawl settings.

We did have some equipment walk again, to the tune of Tetris and Super Mario Bros. 3 for NES. Yes, two of the most common NES cartridges got taken. It's going to cost less than $20 to get them replaced, so whatever.

Vendor table wasn't in the best spot, but it made more money again. Whee.

Once again, this convention had a Magic draft and I got in to defend my title. Suffice it to say, I defended my title through a 10 man double elimination bracket (why it was double elim I have no clue) playing six matches and not being knocked into losers until grand finals because my White/Black Exalted deck literally took a shit on me two games in a row. I pulled a $15 card out of a prize pack.

Load in/out on both ends was pretty standard fare except for being stuck waiting for the sword guys to get the hell out of the way for exiting the hyatt.

Now, for this convention theme. This came up because Jeff and Nina were discussing bootleg items and the sale of them. I can't specifically remember who, but one of us ended up letting out the phrase, "I'll boot your leg!" in response to something and it just stuck.


Anime Word Indy 2012: Jizzle Physics

Oops, Freudian slip. Or so Dread said.

That was in response to him seeing Skullgirls for the first time, and noticing Parasoul's jiggle.

I also realize that last year's AWC didn't really have a theme to it, but it should have been Smolder.

The best way to sum up this year's Indy experience is "chickens with heads cut off running around". That's not just because we had two rooms and a vendor table to cover with four people (we brought Kevin Kirwin along for this one), it's because the hotel was a fucking maze and console was on the opposite side of the building from the other two. Actually, nearly all the negative feedback about the convention has to do with the hotel layout and how traffic didn't flow.

Dealer hall was relatively easy to find, but the selection of vendors didn't mesh very well with the convention attendees. Selling live steel to 12-16 year olds isn't happening. When your cheapest item is $70, people are going to balk.

Then again, people weren't even really balking. As a matter of fact they weren't even walking through the room. They were pretty much stopping at our booth and the one across from it to shop then walking back out. It got bad enough that they made the door by us entrance only.

Artist Alley basically had to eat one the whole time. Combine the weird traffic flow on the first floor with the fact nobody was even ending up that way and there were a lot of pissed off artists. And rightly so.

Console and Tabletop were literally at the end of the building, upstairs, and around three bends. There was practically no traffic. Arcade was essentially across the hall from vendor. Fun fact, that was supposed to be table top, but the hotel's freight elevators were all broken.

Since I'm kinda the primary arcade guy, I'll talk about that first. I had one mid to major problem with House of the Dead's gun finally wigging out and a start button dying (not the switch, the button). Jeff had a spare button and I brought spare guns, so we were all good. I had to re-enable the credit buttons on Simpsons and TMNT (and people couldn't find them), and put a board into the Atomiswave cabinet. That one didn't actually end up having sound, but it didn't matter. Neo-Geo's monitor was pitching enough of a fit that it ended up coming back to my house after con and is already out for repair.

I basically set the whole thing up starting from 6:30am on friday until I had the room open and mostly operational by 11am. And people were coming in to play. I also have to thank Tim DeWitt for making the awesome arrow signs pointing to the credit button on pump that says, "Push Button, Receive Bacon Credit". We ended up collecting some Idiot Tax this convention. Didn't even count it, just used it for food and tolls.

I was also totally surprised to catch Jason Dread playing MegaMan. Didn't even think he was coming.

Console ended up set up pretty well, the room was decently sized and we had a fairly good setup. We found out that some of the TV's we had were pure junk, but big surprise there. I think the most played game in the room was Brawl, followed by Meele, followed by Super Mario 3. So Nintendo domination there. Go big N!

Now for the bad part. Sometime between close on Friday and Open on Saturday, a bunch of our games got stolen. Nothing older then PS2 discs. Everything was taken from a binder that was inside a tub inside the room that was locked (or supposed to be locked). I now officially only have ONE disc based PS3 game (UMVC3). Jeff is missing a big chunk of his xbox 360 games.

The funny part about that is whoever did that pretty much ignored the shit out of all of the games out in the open, all the older games scattered about the back of the table, all the spare SYSTEMS behind the table, and the two fight sticks.

I can't really say anything about the Vendor table aside from it made money. I was never at it.

Outside of the work related stuff, I was either playing games in the arcade, eating, sleeping, or in table top enjoying one of the two games I actually got to play that weekend. The convention had its usual Magic draft (triple Avacyn Restored) which I ended up winning.

On Saturday night I wandered in to see what was going on and encountered a group playing a game called Cards Against Humanity. It was hilarious. Essentially the R Rated version of Apples to Apples. Kevin joined in as well and we had some gold stuff like "When I become a billionare, I will erect a 50-foot statue to ______". If I hadn't been the Card Czar for that round I would have answered with a card that stated simply "my genitals."

So yeah, that's the quick and dirty. Load/Unload was your standard fare plus all the vending and console shit (fuck ton of TV's). It was ball sweat hot when we all loaded in (shoutouts to Alex, Joe, Leroy, and Norbert for the assist), and not so bad when we loaded out and unloaded.

Chicago's up next.

ACEN 2012: Stop, Drop, and Cowabunga

Another one down.

Good god another one down. My left foot hurts, and it's not from soreness. My brain may possibly be broken too. I can't tell yet. What I can tell is that the thing is over and that means it's time for me to break it down and hope I'm not as broken as I feel.

You will not survive.Collapse )
This years theme is a combination of a couple things. Obviously the TMNT cabinet shouting cowabunga, but it's merged with what we were talking about during the fire alarm evacuation. At one point we were discussing having to kick the guy off of Para Para for the fire alarm and how they didn't even realize it. Marcus managed to blurt out, "Stop, Drop, and Para!"

Of course we got a good laugh out of it. And aside from hearing someone say, "And that's the dangers of having breasts," in the skyway, I felt the listed theme best.

P.S. I may come back and edit this later on. Not that you care.

The Fifth ACEN Update

BC-35M: Continues to be the champion of taking abuse and working like new. Tested awesome over the weekend.

House of the Dead: Turns out that Jeff managed to get the gun plate secured properly at AMKE, but didn't tell me. Beyond that there's a connection done with wire ties that I'd like to actually pin.

DBZ2 Midway Cab: We'll be putting DBZ2 back into it since it looks like we'll be able to run Puzzle Fighter.

Sports Shooting: Being converted to something else. I have to build a control panel. I'll be getting the pre-existing panel to work off of as a template sometime today.

I'm still in a holding pattern on the Puzzle Fighter monitor, and I'm not sure what's up with 19XX still.

The Fourth ACEN update

There hasn't been a whole lot of activity lately on this front. I had plans for last night that got completely blowed up, and no actual work available to do on things so I ended up going to FNM.

As for work that's been done lately, here's the list

TMNT: Got a nice, solid look at the power cord situation. It'll be an easy fix. I just have to pick up a direct wire cord for it. I also got the control panel home and got that switched from being slightly beat up looking and having the Vendetta overlay on it to a generic black with a couple clear coats over it... and the joysticks are in proper TMNT color layout now. I'll still have to double check the wiring hookups when I can, but there's good progress here.

The Backup Plan:

I initially tried hooking this into the puzzle fighter cabinet, but found out what happens when you over-voltage (or under wattage) the converter. That was the impetus for that hack job. I can solve the over voltage issue by either adding more wire or removing some wire from the JAMMA harness and turning the voltage down on the power supply. I should probably remove wire and turn voltage down.

I added a trailer hitch to my car, just need to find a small utility trailer to move stuff back and forth between my house and the storage unit. Shame I had to drop 470 bucks on brakes and whatnot today.

I have to pick my parents up from O'hare tomorrow. Otherwise the only things I have planned are groceries, laundry, and getting at the Canadian changer to make sure it's good.

The Third ACEN Update

Puzzle Fighter: Nearing completion on this one. The new JAMMA harness is in and I've got the monitor chassis out for service. Hopefully that will restore blue and knock out any other problems. If that doesn't take care of the issues, I have a backup plan that I'll go into later.

Beyond that, it needs coin mechs and Puzzle Fighter actually being put back into it.

Dance Freaks: In my idiocy induced insanity I decided that I'd better take care of that damned caster on my own ASAP so I can dig further into the storage unit without killing myself. This actually lead to a bit more work. I found out that the plate the caster we'd been having problems with mounts to is kinda blowed up real good. Got that son of a bitch caster on there as good as I could with only two screws.

While I had the machine tilted, I heard a whole ton of stuff slide towards the side tilted down. I decided to take a look at what was up, but it required getting the 573 out of the way. Holy crap the 573 was dusty as shit. Underneath it was $5.50 in quarters, a nickel, and a bunch of .900 Tilt tokens. I used that money to go buy some more screws/bolts for the thing.

I also took the 573 home and blasted it out with some air compressor action.

Time Crisis 2: Started investigating into the casters on the gun pedal. I can't get exact replacements at Ace, so that part of it is something that can't be done at the storage unit.

19XX: While I haven't gotten at the monitor thing I mentioned earlier, I did get the lock reattached to the door. Still needs mechs too.

Neo-Geo: I appear to have found a proper order in which all the cartridges work. This will have to change for Metal Slug X, but I have an idea of what to do with that.

TMNT: Tested the board (power test) at GGA today. Worked.

The backup plan I spoke of: I've acquired a CGA to VGA converter and have built the proper wiring connections to power and get CGA input to the board from a good majority of the cabinets we have to work with. I also happen to have an Evo Monitor sealed in box waiting around for use (got a deal on a couple of them). I want to stress that the PRIMARY FUNCTION OF THIS SETUP is to serve as a test point. I have the spare (crap) JAMMA harness sitting around that I took out of Puzzle Fighter to use to build a test board.

If it comes down to it, this gives me the option of installing the converter and Evo Monitor into a cabinet to keep a game from going totally down. I have to test this out tomorrow to see how much lag this whole thing is going to cause. I already know that the Evo Monitor averages about 8.6 milliseconds of latency. Just need to see what the converter is going to do.

On Friday I made arrangements for the addition of a trailer hitch to my car. I can't keep renting vehicles from home depot and whatnot to move games between home and the storage unit. I'll probably be getting the actual appointment for install set up at some point tomorrow.

Well, that's Six of Eighteen things dealt with.