Getting back in the game!
As midway and arcade games become an ever more popular secondary spend evenue stream in parks around the world, Andrew Mellor investigates what akes a good games operation, the benefits this area can bring to park perators and what well run games can add to the overall guest experience
MIDWAY and arcade games have become a decidedly more prominent and important part of our amusement and theme parks in the last decade, providing a significant revenue stream for many venues which have recognised the true potential of such attractions.
With more park operators themselves taking games more seriously and specialist suppliers now offering bespoke services to supply and operate games on a revenue share basis, the sector has improved vastly and all parties would appear to be reaping the benefits of more professionally run games operations.
One of the companies involved in the operation of midway and arcade games, particularly at the present time in the UK and Europe, as well as the Middle East, is UK based HB Leisure. With many years of experience and a reputation for transforming the games operations of numerous venues, HB Leisure offers a wide range of products covering midway games, coin-op, extreme attractions and go-karts, and as managing director Alex Sparks notes, when operated properly such attractions can be a very valuable area for secondary spend.
“Arcade and midway games, along with the other attractions we offer, are clearly an important part of the overall offer in parks today,” he comments. “They provide the opportunity to offer additional types of attraction, additional revenue streams and help create a really fun atmosphere, both for those who play them as well as others just watching.”
And he maintains games are important to both small and large park operations. “In a small park they help to add more to the day for visitors, while in a large park they are something for guests to do when they are not on a ride,” he says, adding that similar spend per head is achieved in small and large parks.
As far as the type of equipment a good park arcade and midway area should include is concerned, Sparks notes a variety of the latter are important to provide a suitably attractive mix to maximise game potential.
“Examples of different midway games would be trophy, trade up, race, prize every time, change games, sports and high/low skill. Coin-op equipment should include redemption, videos, AWPs, cranes and novelties.”
As far as target age groups for games go, HB Leisure believes they should be available to all, so doesn’t offer, for example, kids only games.
“There should be a good mix of games with different levels of skill,” notes Sparks, adding that park operators should consider a variety of operational aspects when it comes to coin-op equipment and midway games.
“The main areas for owners/operators to think about would include visitor profile (i.e. age groups), the level of repeat visitors, the selection of employees – just as important as the selection of games and prizes as they are the main point of contact for visitors -, employee training and motivation, visible winners – other guests see people winning on the games and carrying prizes around -, prize displays and clear and concise game rules.”
He notes that it is important to have good quality prizes for people to win – “We want to get that ‘wow’ factor, the ‘I want to win that prize’ scenario,” – , adding that it is also important to win what you see.
So what are the latest coin-op and midway game successes to be found in parks? “As far as the midway games go,” Sparks observes, “it’s reinventing old classics which are fair, such as Hook-a-Duck, basketball, ball-in-bucket and Can Smash,” he points out, “while on the coin-op side, Deal or No Deal and Guitar Hero are very popular.”
Another expert in the field of games in parks is Neal Rosenberg, who prior to recently setting up SN Enterprises, previously represented Belgian games manufacturer Elaut.
In an effort to move into the parks arena, some time ago Elaut became a major shareholder in Monduce, Inc., which led the company, and Rosenberg, into US park operations with its large range of products.
“We ran a lot of remote control attractions and arcades in parks,” recalls Rosenberg, “and made some great inroads into parks with Elaut products which were very, very successful.”
Elaut subsequently bought out its partner in Monduce, Inc., to create Elaut US, with Elaut products then being produced in the US under the Elaut Skeeball Co. banner, although this was a short-lived arrangement. So how important does Rosenberg feel coin-op equipment and midway games are to parks these days and why?
“They are a lot more important than people give them credit for,” he comments. “They can account for close to five per cent of a park’s income. We’ve expanded the role of the typical arcade, running instant win and scattering it around the park rather than having it just in an arcade, but also operating photo booths, penny press machines, fish feeders, etc. All sorts to expand beyond the usual video arcade.
“Video is more or less a dying function of the industry because people can do so much more at home these days to get a better experience and not pay any dollars for it. But you can’t duplicate redemption or instant win like on a crane or lighthouse game. The instant gratification for the player is what they are looking for.”
And he notes that such attractions are important for both large and small parks. “This type of equipment holds no bounds to the size of park,” he says. “In the larger parks, they have the ability to put in arcades all round but in smaller ones there maybe just one games room. Larger parks can do more; it’s a matter of scale, like having one Skeeball alley compared to 10, with people playing against each other to give that competitive element which helps get more people playing. It’s the same with cranes with different merchandise in each unit.
“You should always be trying to better the experience for the guest so need to have nice rooms and areas. Kid’s games are important to the whole mix too. The age range for players goes from parents with little ones to adults.”
Referring to the type of equipment a good arcade or midway should have, Rosenberg says this can be a mixture of all kinds of activity, also noting that parks usually go to games suppliers/operators to see what they can offer.
“One of the unique hooks we had was the remote control attractions,” he explains, “and it was through these that we were also able to get involved in arcades. Not many other companies did remote control and we sold ourselves as being able to do it all rather than dealing with different suppliers and operators. It is always to the park’s advantage to work with one company.”
And he says that crane machines have been one of the most successful types of coin-op equipment over the years, with the chance of an instant win and good quality prizes being key.
“High value prizes are very popular. Everyone wants to play for phones, iPods and other really good stuff. They are willing to spend more money to do this and play for one or two dollars to win these items. Merchandise has always controlled the industry. If it’s good they will play. Merchandise sells a crane. If you put garbage in there, no one will play it.”
At Germany’s Europa-Park, Ralph D. Stumpf, director shopping, explains that the park offers redemption and midway games (which are operated by HB Leisure) which for visitors are an attractive additional offer alongside the rides and shows of a leisure park.
“And although midway and redemption games are not the main attractions at Europa-Park,” he continues, “we still put a lot of importance on (their) high quality. Midway and redemption games can be an attractive entertainment offer in the park and of course they can have a positive economical effect as well. However, park owners have to decide whether the operation of those games corresponds to the park´s philosophy.”
And he goes on: “It is important for a park operator to offer a large variety of games, always making sure that games with a suitable degree of difficulty for younger guests (aged four to six years) are available. A mix of classical games, that the guests are usually already familiar with, and innovative ones, that tempt them to try out something new, usually makes for good entertainment for the visitors. At Europa-Park we also think that it is essential to integrate the games into the theming of the area they are in.”
Stumpf also notes that, while midway games are usually suitable for all age groups, redemption games have to be tailored for different target groups.
“At Europa-Park, which has a large variety of attractions and shows for all age groups, a wide range of redemption games is offered in order to guarantee economical success.”
The park offers no coin-operated games due to the legal situation in Germany at present, but with midway games in mind, Stumpf has several recommendations for fellow operators.
“Regarding midway games, park operators have to make sure that they are located at highly frequented spots in the park to attract the attention of the visitors. Also the staff members responsible for midway games are crucial to their success, as they have to encourage guests to participate. Moreover, it is important to offer attractive prizes that are displayed visibly. Last but not least, park operators should also make sure that there is enough room for storage of the prizes (stuffed animals need a lot of space).”
The most popular midway games at Europa-Park are those with a sports theme, while when it comes to redemption games, visitors prefer those that not only consist of pressing buttons on a system, but which encourage them to participate interactively. And the importance of the prizes depends on the type of game, according to Stumpf.
“When playing a redemption game, the visitors usually focus more on the game itself,” he points out. “It has to have an interesting and appealing theme/content. Midway games usually need attractive prizes in order to attract the visitors. The guests appreciate the mix of good entertainment and the possibility to win attractive prizes.”
In the US, one of the country’s largest amusement parks, Cedar Point in Ohio, features a major games operation as part of its offering, with 44 midway games and a full variety of coin-operated equipment in three inpark arcades. They clearly, therefore, play an important role and are a vital revenue stream.
“Even in a weak economy, games still provide a good source of revenue for the park,” says manager of games Steve Gerold. “They have a bottom line that is difficult to match in any other segment of park revenues. Games have a definite upside in a recovering economy.
“Any park needs to have a variety of games and coin-op that will provide entertainment for all age groups. Prices and prizes need to be spread across the board so that guests can find what they consider to be the best deal, whether it be a 25-cent arcade game or a $5 midway game.” And he adds further to what operators should think about when it comes to games.
“An operator has to take into consideration where the majority of the spending will come from, but at the same time has to reach out to newer audiences. While a teenager may be more likely to play a game, mom or dad might be deciding where the money will be spent.
“A park’s first concern is that it doesn’t appear to be cheating the player,” he continues. “Avoiding a bad appearance is paramount and requires that the park offers reasonable prize structures that guests can play in a clean, safe atmosphere.”
Among Cedar Point’s most popular midway games are Bank-A-Ball, group water race games and guess-your-weight stands. Popular coin-op games include cranes, Giant Stacker, shooting galleries and Deal or No Deal. On the subject of prizes, Gerold observes that traditionally, game prizes have been of a lesser quality than retail, but believes the line between the two has become “much fuzzier” over the years.
“Licensed plush has become a staple on most midways,” he says, “but many guests will opt for much larger generic offerings. Value will generally determine a guest’s willingness to play and that value is perceived in many different ways.”
At the UK based Bourne Leisure, operator of three of the UK’s most well-known holiday brands in Butlins, Haven Holidays and Warner Leisure Hotels, Mark Harper, a director within the Caravan Parks Division, notes that the company does not operate midway games, but all types of coin-op games with the emphasis being on family games such as redemption and video.
“Midway is not suitable for our market, but the coin-op offer is critical to our customer experience,” he says, adding that a good games area should include children’s rides, redemption, SWPs, vending, cranes, pushers, videos and AWPs. He believes that such equipment should be aimed at the whole family, while the location and general attractiveness of the environment are also key.
Wisconsin, US, based game manufacturer Bay Tek Games specialises in ticket redemption games and its products, including merchandisers, can be found in parks around the world.
“Coin-op games, specifically ticket redemption and prize redemption games, are very important to parks because it is another feature to offer customers that can’t be found or duplicated at home,” says marketing manager Holly Meidl. “Games like video games, pool tables, dart boards, karaoke machines, foosball, air hockey, etc., can all be found in the home market. Redemption games also offer the customers items to take home (prizes), leaving a lasting impression and increased experience, and attract a broad range of ages and are not gender specific.”
She concurs that games are important to all sizes of park – “the experience is what will bring customers back to the park whetherit’s a large or small operation,” she states – adding that the game mix is also crucial to cater for all ages so everyone is entertained.
“Understanding the importance of game mix within a location will increase the customers’ overall enjoyment and satisfaction. Game mix will ensure you have something for everyone to guarantee entertainment, variety and value each visit. Proper game mix will also help average out a game room’s payout, which is important to the company’s bottom line. The most important thing to note is that game mix is an essential key to successful ticket redemption operations.”
Meidl states that payout and prizes are the two most important parts to a successful redemption operation, adding that as far as game popularity is concerned, novelty games have seen the most success recently, including Big Bass Wheel, Slam a Winner and Deal or No Deal.
Also based in the US, in Florida, is Bob’s Space Racers (BSR), one of the most well known suppliers of midway, coin-op and redemption games in the world, offering a vast choice of products. As well as manufacturing games, since 2000 BSR has formally supplied management services and consulting for games operations in major parks both within the USA and internationally and is currently involved with about six major operations.
“If done correctly, midway and arcade games can be a valuable source of revenue and add entertainment value to the guest,” notes the company’s Jack Mendes, adding that there are many factors to consider as far as actual equipment is concerned and what type of equipment a good arcade and midway area should include.
“Every location is different so there’s not a standard answer other than a good mix, and size appropriate. It is very important that the games be geared to who is going to play, plus the prizes have to be appropriate to both male and female, kids, teens and adults.”
From an operational point of view, Mendes notes: “Games done well are a lot of work; you cannot install games and expect them to generate revenue without having someone manage them daily. Location, operation, traffic patterns, prize selection, rules, pricing, are all critical components of a successful games operation.”
And like our other interviewees, he agrees prizes are a key element.
“Good prize selection and buying are critical to a successful games operation. Prizes are the ‘fuel’ that make the game work.”
Operating concessions in various parks is the UK company Chili Games, which is involved typically in midway games, amusement arcades or a combination of both. And managing director Tim North believes such attractions are gaining in popularity.
“They seem to be getting more and more popular in recent seasons,” he says. “Generally families have more and more access to leisure activities of all types within the home these days, so they expect to see the same when they visit attractions in their leisure time.”
And he continues: “Coin-operated arcade or amusement equipment is important to all parks, whether large or small, as it is not labour intensive. However, midway games are harder to operate in attractions under, say, 300,000 visitors, as the amount of manpower required to operate them correctly tends to have a negative impact on the profitability of the operation.”
He believes that the equipment mix should be carefully selected in relation to the demographic of the visitors.
“Arcade equipment can be expensive, so it’s important that the machines are selected for the specific guests of that park, rather than something that is big and cheap! Midway games can be even more in depth, as not only can you develop the game for a specific type or age of guest, you can also tailor the prizes on the game, making it far more technical than most people think – you can’t just put any old bit of plush on any old hoopla game!”
On the operational side of the sector, he notes two main considerations.
“Firstly, location, location, location! Where will be the best place to situate games or arcades, so that they have maximum exposure to the guests but don’t take away anything from the other areas of the park. The last thing you want to do is dilute the retail spend by placing games or arcades inappropriately. However, the correct location can lead to some great returns and even strengthen the retail offer so long as the stock in each department is chosen well.
“The second decision has to be whether or not to do the games and arcades yourself, or to appoint a specialist games/arcade operator to do it for you. Generally specialist concessions will improve games revenue by between 200 and 300 per cent, meaning the owners would get a good revenue stream as a rental without having to worry about any investment or operation issues.”
And of course North agrees that good quality prizes are also a vital part of the equation.
“Midway and redemption are generally activities which people partake in for the end result – the prizes. So, if they’re not up to date, appealingly displayed and attractive to the captive audience of your park, then you will pretty much render the game or redemption area useless before you get the chance to generate any revenue.”
No prizes for guessing how a good game operation should be run then!