Although he was just a kid at the time, Joseph Peluso remembers Pac Man Fever. “When this business first started, Pac Man was really big,” said Peluso, manager of Game Time Amusements in North Bergen, N.J. “You could put a video game in a pizza place and it would bring in $200 dollars a week.”
With the advent of the Xbox and other popular home entertainment systems, the fever surrounding coin-op video games has subsided, and as 2010 winds to a close, amusement vendors are largely more focused on branching out into other areas. In many cases, this expanded territory includes jukeboxes, pool tables, electronic darts or prize redemption machines.
“The last three or four years, jukeboxes and pool tables have been our top earners,” Peluso said. “You can count on them to do the same numbers every week, give or take $40 or $50.”
However, some video games continue to earn their keep, Peluso said, most notably those too large, unwieldy or expensive to be found in the typical home.
“In order for a game to do well, it has to be something they can’t do in their house,” he said. “The only games that make money are the boxing games, buck hunting games and basketball games.”
Another characteristic of a top-earning video game is an interactive or competitive component, as with Silver Strike Bowling, said Jeffrey Collins, president of Ace Music Company, Inc., in Kokomo, Ind.
“It’s very user-friendly, and very lifelike,” Collins said of Silver Strike, which was the company’s top-earning machine of 2010. “You can build your own bowler, and you can pick his or her clothes, make him a right or left-hander, and customize the bowling ball. It’s an incredible technology.”
This enhanced virtual experience is made still more realistic through nationwide competitions and league play, some of which involve cash prizes.
“There’s a card that keeps track of how you’ve done, and there are contests and prizes that go with them,” Collins said. “You’d think it would be easy to cheat, but it’s not.”
The added appeal of winning prizes or cash has made prize redemption games a top-earning machine in 2010 for Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based AmuseMeGames.com, said Manager Steven Bray.
“Our best-earning machines are jukeboxes and games that dispense award tickets that can be exchanged for merchandise,” Bray said. “People like to win prizes; that’s the main reason those do well.”
Jukeboxes, once a mainstay of nostalgia, have also been modernized to keep up with demand, Bray said.
“In the past several years, jukeboxes have been able to hook up and interface with the Internet, and so the selection of tunes now is limitless,” he said. “A compact disc jukebox would have had 100 CDs and 1,500 songs, and now an Internet jukebox has 650,000-plus songs.”
LaVerl Jose, part owner and repair technician for Bannock music in Pocatello, Idaho, has also had the most success in 2010 with Internet jukeboxes.
“Downloader jukeboxes do well, they do much better than the CD jukeboxes did,” he said.
This advance in technology has significantly increased the earnings of, and emphasis on, the once-humble jukebox.
“It’s really revitalized the jukebox. We do strictly downloader jukeboxes now,” Bray said. “If a location isn’t significant enough to deserve a downloader jukebox, then it’s not significant enough to deserve a jukebox.”
When it comes to earnings, choosing the right location is just as crucial as choosing the right technology, Bray said.
“There are some bars that focus on things that are detrimental to our income, such as karaoke or live music,” he said. “We’re looking for a bar that not only does well, but that allows our equipment to do its job.”
Knowledge of the location and the demographic are important factors for Dave Knupp, president of Amuse-O-Matic in Fort Dodge, Iowa, which yielded its top earnings in 2010 from bowling and golf games.
“It’s mostly going to be people in their 30s and 40s playing these games, they like being online and competing in contests,” said Knupp, who places himself in that demographic. “That age group hangs out a lot in bars; some of them are places I go, too. So it’s really about location and knowing where to put them.”
This emphasis on location has also worked well for Cliff Entrekin, owner of Action Vend in Fayetteville, Ga.
“It’s all based on the clientele,” he said. “For example, if you’re at a pizza place, kiddie games do well, like the games with the crane where they can win a prize. It’s totally dependent on the clientele and the location.”
With the threat of obsolescence looming over even the most current technologies, coin-op vendors need to continually keep an eye on future sources of revenue, said Bray of AmuseMeGames.com.
“In 2005 we bought a building with a showroom, and we sell a lot of these machines to people for their homes,” he said. “We sell new and used jukeboxes, pinball machines, pool tables, electronic dart machines and video games. So that’s one way we’ve diversified.”
According to Knupp of Amuse-O-Matic, it’s important to update technologies and be aware of the latest trends from year to year.
“You have to keep updating every year,” he said. “Some operators don’t like to have to spend a little extra to stay up-to-date. But it’s important, and it pays off.”
Peluso noted that adding new locations is an ongoing goal for his company in terms of increasing revenue.
“The only way in this business is to try to get new locations,” he said. “You can’t change the locations you already have; you can’t make them earn more money. We just try to put out as many machines as we can, in the right locations.” –
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