Archive | February, 2017

Virtual Reality Is Killing Arcades In China

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a plethora of news articles about how virtual reality was going to save the classic arcade. The theory goes that the VR equipment is too expensive for home users, so it creates an opportunity for operators to pony up the big bucks to buy it and then make their money back by charging per game to play it. Even Nolan Bushnell, the inventor of Pong, is trying to hype the technology as the industry’s savior. From the MIT Technology Review.

“While several high-end headsets were released last year that can bring virtual-reality experiences to your living room, adoption of the technology is still in its earliest days for a bunch of reasons—it’s still bulky, expensive, and there isn’t all that much to do once you’ve got it on your face. More than two million headsets were shipped worldwide in 2016, according to an estimate from market researcher Canalys, but this figure pales in comparison to the popularity of, say, video game consoles (sales of the leading one, Sony’s PS4, topped six million during the 2016 holiday season alone). Consumer virtual reality will likely catch on as prices come down and headsets improve. In the meantime, though, a number of companies are betting that consumers may be happy to pay a much smaller amount to try the technology with their friends at, say, an arcade, theme park, or bowling alley.”

It’s tempting to fall into this trap, but from an operator’s perspective VR is a terrible deal. Operators are being asked to pay top dollar for technology that is all but guaranteed to plummet in value over the very short term. Other than buying a brand new car and driving it a mile, I can’t think of a way that you could lose money faster between what you pay and what you’ll be able to get for it down the road.

Another limitation for operators is that while you may be able to provide a room for VR people to wander around in today, as new VR tech is unveiled, we’re going to see the stage expanded from 100 square feet to the entire world. Instead of viewing just the games in your headset, you’ll see the real world with game play overlayed. Kids can go to the park and relive the knights of the round table or parking garages to shoot aliens. As the tech allows more real world places to be explored, it’s going to make a cramped arcade seem pretty lame in comparison.

VR is already heading for mass market acceptance, but it’s demand isn’t being driven by gamers who want to pay big buck to play video games, but like the BETAMAX that came before it, by people who want to watch pornography in their homes.

Even if an operator can make a little bit of money for the next few years, once VR achieves critical mass, it will crush whatever revenue stream that operators are dreaming of. Don’t believe me? Just check out what is happening in China.

Last year, an eye popping 35,000 virtual reality arcades opened up in China. A year later 22,000 of them have closed.

That is an incredible failure rate over such a short period of time and one that should serve as a sharp warning to anyone considering investing in the VR games. Maybe Dave and Busters can afford to take losses on the games longer than Chinese startup arcades, but I doubt that most North American operators are going to fare much better using the tech in their game rooms and will only end up in debt at the end of the day.

The problem essentially boils down to consumers not being willing to pay a premium for the experience. Tech In Asia, describes the problem perfectly in their article, on the Chinese VR boom and bust.

“Enterprising store owners leaping into VR are finding it impossible to charge fees comparable to cinemas or bowling alleys for a VR experience. One VR arcade owner told iHeima that he saw eager queues when charging US$1.50 for a 30-minute session, but everyone vanished when it rose to US$5. From that kind of revenue it’s impossible to pay the rent.”

Even if the game was sold out all day, at $1.50 per half hour they are only earning $30 a day. With retail rents in North America running $1 – $2 a square foot, there’s no way to make the math work, even if you assume that Americans will pay more to play the games.

The real world data streaming in from China should serve as a canary in the quarter mines of North America. Operators who spend large amounts of money on elaborate VR setups will soon find their small VR rooms being replaced by the entire world as a stage. As the setups get cheaper, smaller and more portable, the virtual arcades will seem more expensive, bulky and limited. I’d love to be proven wrong on this one, but I think the arcade VR trend is more hype than hope.

Encyclopedia Arcade And The Case Of The Voltage Drop

Bugs MeaneyWhen we first started All You Can Arcade, it was a bit on faith. We were confident that people would want to rent arcade games by the month, but truth be told, we had no idea how to work on them. Before we knew it our launch was a month away and we had managed to collect about 100 games, but only 10 of them worked!

We knew enough to refurbish a good chunk of the games, but we kept hitting the same symptom over and over again. All of our monitors would display a scrambled image on the screen. It was super frustrating because we had no idea how to fix it. We almost missed our launch, but we finally clued in on what was causing our probablem when we learned about monitor sync 101 and realized that they sometimes need to be hooked up differently depending on the game. On that day, we must have turned on at least 20 games, that we had already put a lot of hard work into, but were missing this final piece of the puzzle in order to be able to play them. This tiny chunk of knowledge, gave us the games we needed to get started and was enough to keep us motivated to keep learning how to fix problems.

Five years later, I still spend more time studying arcade repair, then I ever spent studying in college and the education continues to pay off.

For the last couple of years, we’ve had a mean bug that’s crept into our fleet. The games would work great after refurbishment, but three to six months after getting them turned on, they’d all start to fail. When we measured the voltage running the games, we would consistently see a 0.2 to 0.5 drop in the 5V voltage and couldn’t quite figure out why the PCB board seemed to suck up power.

To solve the symptom, we would boost the power supply to run hot and that would be good for another 3 to six months until the power supplies would burn out. After running into this mystery a couple of times, we started to put the games into deep storage until we could figure out why they all kept failing. Because we assumed, it was being caused by bad circuit boards trying to draw too much power, we missed something much more obvious.

After cleaning the chips, it would sometimes help, but this bug has managed to brick at least 20 of our games. Well today, our Mortal Kombat 2 started to display the same symptoms and quite frankly if we pull that one from the fleet, our customers will riot, so I sat down to get to the root of the case of the drop in voltage.

To do this I took my voltage meter, measured the power at the power supply and then started tracing the 5V line and measuring wherever i could touch wire. When I measured the power before it even went into the edge connector, I saw that the voltage had already dropped. I now suspected the connector between the wire and the power supply. As soon as I crimped over the end of the line to put on a new one, I immediately saw what my problem was.

We love getting a good deal and I would be willing to bet you a quarter, that you cannot find a better deal on the jamma harnesses that we buy. Unfortunately, it looks like we may have gotten what we paid for them.

From the outside, the harness looks like it uses a thick 18 gauge wire to run the power to the board. That’s a lot of metal to conduct a small amount of voltage. It’s part of why I never suspected that it was our culprit.

Once you open it up though, you can see that from the outside it looks 18 gauge, but on the inside it’s short quite a bit of metal. The solution was simple, run a thicker wire from the power supply to the harness and Voila! Mortal Kombat 2 back up and running, just in time for our free play arcade at the Jack of All Trade show this weekend.

While this simple bug should have been spotted sooner and has caused us a lot of headaches, it’s also incredibly exciting to figure out the source of our problem and to know that with very little work, we’ve got another 20 awesome games back on our website. Learning to fix arcade games hasn’t been easy and your education never really ends, but each time you solve a mystery, the next game gets easier and easier to fix.

Hopefully, other people who’ve run into similar trouble, can save themselves the same headache by A.) double checking the wire you’re using when you can’t get your voltage to travel cleanly from your power supply to your circuit boards and B.) paying just a little bit more better quality jamma harnesses.

The Pop Up Arcade Is The Hottest Trend In The Event Industry Right Now

Treasure IslandOne of the reasons why we started All You Can Arcade, was because we wanted to make sure that arcade games were around for future generations to be able to play. It’s no secret that the large arcades from the 80’s and 90’s have become an endangered animal. As they’ve slowly disappeared, it’s gotten harder and harder for people to find games, but this scarcity has created a silver lining for our industry.

It’s led to the rise of the pop up arcade.

If you’re lucky enough to have a neighborhood arcade, it will do well when it first opens, but because you have such a good thing going, traffic tends to drop over time. If you don’t have a local arcade, but you find out that there will be a temporary one at an event, people will go out of their way to show up, because they only have a short window to relive the classic arcade experience.

Over the last two years, we’ve seen an incredible amount of interest from conferences, public markets, sporting venues, pop up store fronts and other large events for short term popup arcades. Sometimes, our customers will charge to get into the arcade, sometimes they’ll put them on quarter play, but a lot of times they’ll advertise them on free play and then watch as the masses show up to play Street Fighter 2 and Ms. Pacman. When we started, we didn’t anticipate that there would even be demand for pop-up arcades, but when our customers started asking for them, it became clear that they were a hit.

For us, running the popup arcades has been a lot of fun. Because we’ve focused our company on renting out games by the month, we don’t always get to see people play the games, but when we staff the popup arcades, we get a chance to see how excited the kids (and kids at heart) get when they have a chance to play old school arcade games. If you’d like to keep tabs on our free play events or visit us at one of our pop-ups, check out our Facebook page for events and updates.