The Arcade Fire
How to Keep the Flames of Interest in Games Burning

Arcades inside family entertainment centers can be the biggest revenue generator, if done correctly. But it’s more than having the latest and greatest arcade games – although that helps. It’s about smart packaging, having the right mix of games and enticing people to come back over and over again.

Packaging tokens or game credits inside the FEC arcade in bundles is an important piece of the puzzle, according to FEC managers and owners around the United States.

Diann Brooks, redemption manager at Wow! Zone in Mankato, Minn., said packaging is a big part of the southern Minnesota FEC’s success story.

“It’s a big part of what we do,” she said, noting that the center also offers bowling, laser tag and mini golf. “We have lots of different packages. For example, laser tag is our most important attraction, so we try to package that together with a little of everything, including mini golf and the arcade. So we might give them $5 or $10 in credits for the arcade, depending on the package.’

Wild River Family Entertainment Center in Somerton, Ariz., offers packages that include the arcade with its bowling and laser tag.

“Packages are certainly important,” said Event Coordinator Kimberly Ruiz. “We do a lot of birthdays, and the packages include so many credits on their Fun Cards that can be used anywhere in the building, and most of that gets used in the arcade. But it goes beyond birthdays; it also includes company events and school events, and they all include arcade credits in the package.”

Chad Reznicek, owner of Family Fun Center XL in Omaha, Neb., said the arcade is his biggest revenue generator despite also offering laser tag, paintball, bazooka ball, glow golf and more,

“We do everything we can to push people into our arcade,” he said. “Our biggest draws are the three-level arena and paintless paint ball, which is very unique, but that is to entice people to come in and play in the arcade because it’s our top revenue stream. It’s also the sort of thing people have fun and enjoy and want to keep coming back to play and win prizes. So our packages include game play on swipe cards to whet their appetite. We have multiplay combinations that include attractions and gameplay, and we also have an option for unlimited gameplay as well as an all-day pass that includes $5 in gameplay in the arcade. All of our birthday packages include games, too.”

Some centers, however, don’t offer many packages that include the arcade, particularly those that haven’t converted to card systems and still use tokens.

“The only time we package tokens for the arcade is with birthday parties,” said Candi Ciminnisi, general manager of Junction Lanes Family Entertainment Center in Newnan, Ga. “However, one thing we do to incentivize people to go into our arcade is to offer extra tokens if they use bigger bills.”

Packages including the arcade go beyond getting them in the door. They spur additional revenue because most customers spend beyond what the packages include.

“I see it quite often that when they use up the credits on the card, they say, ‘Oh, one more game,’ or ‘I am going to keep playing because I only need this many tickets to get a prize.’ So the parents hand them a few more dollars and watch them play to reach their goals,” Brooks said.

“It’s fun to see them get so excited and to eventually get the one prize they are looking for. Parents have a hard time saying ‘no.’ ”

Ruiz said enticing people into the arcade results in extended stays.

“They always spend more than what they are originally given in the package,” she said. “Kids love the arcade. They love the redemption games because they want a certain prize. So they stay in there longer, which obviously makes us more money.”

Ciminnisi said making the arcade the final destination in a party will spur more revenue.

“They usually end up playing more than the allotted tokens we give them with birthday packages,” she said. “And that’s important. The arcade is the last place they go because nine out of 10 times, you get them in there and there is no way you are going to get them out to open presents or eat cake or whatever. They spend a lot of time in there.”

“You lure them in with some gameplay and they will spend more money,”

Reznicek said. “That’s the whole idea.”

Arcades, however, are more than an amenity at an FEC, they are a main attraction.

“While the majority of people in the arcade probably start with packages, we do deal with a great amount of walk-ins just for the arcade,” Brooks said. “That’s especially the case with younger kids who may not want to bowl or do laser tag or it’s not quite ready for them yet. So they can walk in the arcade and play games and see all of the lights. It’s part of having something for everyone here.”

Having a good mix of games – redemption and video – is important for success. But it’s the redemption games that seem to have customers coming back for more, more often.

Enticing customers to come back is important to Brooks. “ …The biggest thing for us is to change that redemption counter quite often. I spend a lot of time looking at what is selling and what is not selling and asking my suppliers what is hot and what isn’t so hot. If something is hot, I will keep it there for a couple of months. But I want people to walk in there and see completely new things all of the time. It keeps them interested.”

Currently popular prizes are whoopee cushions, jumbo sunglasses, finger traps, goofy teeth, candy and the I Helicopter, a remote control helicopter that can be controlled by an iPhone, Brooks said.

Matt Chub, general manager for Rogue Valley Family Fun Center in Central Point, Ore., offers mini golf, go-karts, a playhouse and batting cages, and the arcade is equally important with about 70 games.

“Redemption is so important and we recently expanded,” he said. “We had a mix of redemption and video games but we had all the redemption games in one small area. So we were talking to some professionals and they told us our redemption area was too small. So we visited some other FECs and got good advice and made it bigger and brighter with more games and more lights. We also have a bigger display cabinet and it looks like a carnival now and you just see people’s eyes lighting up. And because of that, our revenue has increased. You have to keep that redemption counter full and you will do well.”

“The counter has to stay fresh and look neat,” added Brooks, noting the arcade at Wild River FEC features a 50/50 split in video and redemption games. “We have one of the best you will find, and it’s a big part of why we are successful.”

Junction Lanes’ redemption counter takes a lot of work, Ciminnisi said, but the results are worth the effort.

“We actually cut a good amount of our video games and added redemption games because they are so popular and make kids happy and make us more money,” Ciminnisi said. “It’s gotten to the point where adults are playing, too. We try to constantly update our prizes, even seasonally so that we have squirt guns and super soakers in the summer and basketballs and footballs and bicycles in the fall and winter. At Christmas we will add video games. And we’ll even get licensed plush when something is popular, like when the Smurfs movie came out. Right now, one of our biggest things are little guitars. Kids are really saving up to get those.”

Junction Lanes added The Price is Right Plinko game recently and it became the arcade’s number one played game along with Big Bass redemption game and the Big Buck Hunter shooting game.

“It is very important to add new games, but on the flip side of it, we have people who keep coming back looking for their favorites, which might be older games. So you have to find that balance. I think one of the most important things is that you have to move the redemption games around. There might be one in the back corner not making any money and you move it to the front and people are playing it because they didn’t realize it was there. So we try to keep the most popular and newer games out front, but we like to rotate them around.

For Wow! Zone, they will soon add Harpoon Lagoon, a tabletop video, redemption game where players try to spear electronic fish and open treasure chests at the bottom of an ocean. That will join popular games including the Big Bass Wheel, an oversized wheel that looks like the wheel from “The Price is Right” where players spin it and can win tickets ranging from 4 to 1,000; and Keymaster, where players must navigate keys to a hole to win prizes ranging from $50 to $250, including Kindle Fires and video games’ and Terminator, a shooter video game.

“It’s very important to keep adding new things as much as possible,” said Brooks, whose arcade has about 40 games. “Even one game a year can make a difference. We added Keymaster last fall and that has been huge for us. You need to offer new things and new challenges or repeat customers will get bored. They are good investments. You have to have a good mix. On the video side, people love anything they can shoot or drive. But the biggest thing for us is redemption games. I see the kids eyeing up what they want to try to win before they even play a game and they point and ask, ‘How many tickets do I need to win that?’ You have to constantly offer new things for kids or it will not be as much fun.”

Chubb said they offer a set of new offerings every year.

“It can’t be the same old Pac-Man every time they walk in the door,” he said. “We have a lot of repeat customers who come in weekly, but we want the people who only come in maybe every three months to walk in and say, ‘Wow, that wasn’t here the last time I was here.’ You have to keep it fresh.”

Rogue Valley recently added Pirate’s Hook, a fishing-themed redemption game featuring a wheel that players crank, and Dizzy Chicken, where players pull down a lever that sets a ball in a spiral and players have to gauge how hard to hit to stop it in a certain spot for different point values. Chubb said the FEC is also considering purchasing Monopoly, but he is waiting to see how the game resonates with people at other arcades before he makes the investment.

“We usually buy games right before spring break and also depending on the release of certain games,” Chubb said. “We pick a game here or there throughout the year, depending on the game. We really trust our distributor and his recommendations of what’s out there. We typically won’t buy a game when it’s first released because we want to see how it does out there. Maybe it has issues that need to be resolved. Then when we feel ready, we’ll buy it.”

Chubb said the arcade’s number one game is Deal or No Deal.

“We’ve had it for years now, but it’s our most-played game still,” he said. “And on the ride game side, the new game Big Buck Hunter HD is doing amazing, as are Let’s Go Jungle and our four-car NASCAR setup.”

Family Fun Center XL features about 100 games with 40 redemption, 20 prize games and 40 video.

“We have a higher percentage of video games than most places and we even brought it down to get a better mix,” Reznicek said. “We are unique because we have been around since 1982 and have a lot of history. So another FEC can open up and they have 10 or 20 percent arcade games, and they are fine. But we are a place that when people come in they say, ‘Hey, last time I was here you had all of these video games … what happened?’ ” if there were not as many video games. “So we have a unique customer coming to us to look to play video games, so we accommodate that,” he said.

That said, Family Fun Center XL is constantly adding new games.

“We brought in a bunch at the end of the summer,” Reznicek said. “We can do 12 games at once sometimes. But one thing we have learned is to buy recycled and used stuff that has been refurnished and you can get some great deals. And we also learned to upgrade our own games to LCD monitors. We can take an older game like Ocean Hunter and add an LCD monitor and it becomes a popular game again. It has helped games like that go up tremendously in earnings.”

Reznicek said his most popular games include Big Bass; Stacker,  a prize game where there is a screen with blocks that light up and you have to try to stack them to hit the top of the screen to win prizes and tickets; the Terminator Salvation shooter video game, which has had great longevity; and the Fast and Furious racing games.

“It seems the industry has shifted, when it comes to video games, to shooters and racing games,” he said. “I think it’s because not too many people have light guns and steering wheels and pedals at home. So they can do it here and have a great time at it.”

One thing is for sure, arcades appeal to all demographics.

“We have all ages in there, but our sweet spot is that 8- to 14-year-old crowd,” Brooks said. “Recently, I was talking to an older gentleman who was in there and he couldn’t  remember the last time he played games like this in an arcade. But when you get in there and see air hockey and you just want to hit that around for a while, no one can resist.”

Chubb said Rogue Valley Fun Center has players ranging from small children at birthday parties to grandfathers.

“Moms, dads, everyone plays in the arcade,” Chubb said. “And manufacturers are really figuring that out with games like Wheel of Fortune and Monopoly and Deal or No Deal, games that older people can relate to, whether it’s a classic board game or a TV game show. Now, they’re diving into games based on smartphone apps. It’s all about what people can relate to.”

Ciminnisi agreed: “We have the Price is Right Plinko game where they drop tokens in and they fall down the board just like the game show, and adults can’t stop playing it. I have people from 3 to 60 in our arcade.

Reznicek said the beauty of family entertainment centers is that they truly attract the whole family.

“We really cater to a wide spectrum of ages,” he said. “I was just talking to someone about that the other day about how we don’t cater just to young ages like Chuck E. Cheese and we don’t cater just to an older audience like Dave & Buster’s does. With the attractions we offer, it’s a great mix of family-friendly attractions, and the arcade is a big part of that. They come in here and play games that they haven’t played since they were little kids. No matter what age they are, we have something for them here.” –

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