Video report: Arcades still thriving

Game rooms offer what home systems just can'tBy CHRISTINE MARGIOTTA, cmargiotta@poststar.com
Updated: 5/11/2006 12:40:49 PM

Puffy pink and blue stuffed animals sit towered in a corner of the "Family Fun World" arcade in Lake George -- a sure sign the busy summer season is about to start.
Those giant plush toys, redeemable with 2,200 bright pink tickets (now that's a lot of Skee Ball), are also big reasons why arcades like Fun World stay busy.According to Fun World owner and Lake George village Mayor Robert Blais, competition from home video gaming systems would have dimmed his pinball machines for good by now, if not for those toys."When someone comes into a family entertainment center today, they're looking to leave with something for their money," said Blais, who's been in the arcade business for the past 35 years. Redeemable prizes are the main edge arcades have over home systems like Sony Playstation and X-Box 360, Blais said.But keeping that edge comes with a price.Around 25 years ago, if Fun World took in $100,000, Blais would use about $10,000 of that for prizes and giveaways.
These days, he'd spend more like $35,000 for the prizes.That's also because prizes are becoming more and more sophisticated. Sure, one ticket will get you a pixie stick full of colored sugar, but if you put in your time and accumulate 10,000 -- that could score you an iPod.Besides, Blais has found the games that offer instant rewards -- either point tickets or actual prizes -- are the most popular."In our arcade, you'll find that 66 percent of the income will be from games that give out a prize," Blais said. More than half of the games in the arcade give out prizes or tickets.Blais shies away from calling Fun World an "arcade." He opts for "family entertainment center," because unlike mall arcades where lots of teenagers congregate, his establishment stays away from violent shoot-'em-up games and opts for a wider range of games that appeal to young and old.But Anthony Cuthrell, manager of the video arcade "Tilt" in Queensbury's Aviation Mall, said his customers also run the gamut, from young kids to parents.Cuthrell believes it's the atmosphere that gives arcades like Tilt an edge over home video gaming systems."It's mostly because you're around more people," Cuthrell said. "Like with the dance games, you like to show off your skills. People come to watch that." And like Fun World in Lake George, prize giveaways are Tilt's bread and butter. A listing of "redemption prizes" is currently under construction on the arcade's Web site, www.tilt.com. Ironically, some of the prizes patrons can redeem with Tilt tickets include a Nintendo Game Boy and an X-Box 360, according to the Web site.But even though Nintendos can't spit out prizes every time you master another level of Donkey Kong, they will continue to give arcades their share of problems.Home gaming companies, for instance, have no shame when it comes to ripping off arcades, Blais said."If you were to purchase a new game like 'Need for Speed,' if it's popular, the next thing that happens is Playstation puts it on the market and you lose that," Blais said. "That's eroded the video game business."Arcade games have also climbed in price and have much shorter shelf lives. A game Blais buys in winter for the coming summer usually ends up old news before the first snow thaw. Despite the obvious challenges, Cuthrell believes arcades still have a special place in the amusement market."It does well even though a lot of people do have home systems," Cuthrell said. "There's something about the arcade that people love to come to. It's an atmosphere they can have fun in."

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