LAKEWOOD, NJ -- The migration of highly popular mobile game apps to arcade environments is inevitable. The new mobile apps industry that has grown alongside smartphones and tablets has become the Wild West for the amusement industry. Design studios comprised of just one or two programmers, very low development costs and a worldwide market encourage just the kind of creative risks that push an industry forward.
For perspective, the player base of a hit app dwarfs the base of even legendary coin games during the Pac-Man era. But not every game is a hit. Of the thousands of games released each month, most sink into quietly into anonymity. Only a select few capture players' imaginations, racking up downloads into the tens or hundreds of millions. For manufacturers of arcade equipment, the trick is picking the right apps for adaptation.
Amusement machine factories will attest, finding the right app isn't as easy as it looks. Even an app that has enticed tens of millions of players might not be right for coin-op. Popularity alone is no assurance of a profitable coin-op game.
"The simple answer is you don't know if it will make a good arcade game," said Coastal Amusements' Sal Mirando. "A successful mobile app doesn't guarantee a successful arcade game. The process is the same as any game idea. It starts with assessing what you think of the game. You gather a small focus group of sales and marketing people. And if you have 10 people, you'll have 10 opinions."
New Jersey-based Coastal Amusements has had good luck with the coin-op conversion of the popular mobile app Temple Run, which has elicited more than 200 million (free) downloads. Temple Run is an "endless running" videogame developed by North Carolina-based Imangi Studios. It's available for iOS and Android systems. The player takes on the role of an explorer, attempting to steal an idol from a temple, who is chased by demonic monkeys. Translated into a full-blown arcade piece, Coastal's Temple Run is now available in a video-redemption format; a non-redemption version in the works.
SMALL SCREEN, BIGGER SCREEN
Even when a company decides to make the conversion from app to coin-op, the process involves more than just transposing the software into a larger format and pushing the units out the door. "After you license the app, you have months of software time," Mirando explained. "Basically, what you get is the skin. You have to completely redevelop the operating system. You can't use iOS in a coin-op game. We take that game and put it on our platform."
The graphics have to be enhanced to bring the quality up from small to much bigger screens, while not deviating too far from the original look of the game. "We want to stay close to the original app," said Mirando. "The graphics need to be recognizable to player."
Play format is another consideration. The downloadable games are designed to be played over long periods without breaks. That's ideal when playing Angry Birds in an airport waiting for a connecting flight, but far from perfect for an arcade where time is money. "You have to develop that game with a balance of giving the player enough of the game for his money, but not so much that he plays too long," said Mirando. "That's one of the most difficult parts. How do you give the player value while maintaining profits? That's the magic."
BRAND IN THE MARKET
There are many advantages to licensing mobile apps for coin-op. Players already are familiar with the property and the rules of the games, so there is little or no learning curve when they step up to the arcade versions. Not only are they acquainted with the theme and gameplay, they may also be emotionally invested in mastering the game. For highly popular games like Temple Run the games arrive on the FEC and arcade scene with an existing playing base and a brand. This kind of branding is poised to become even more pervasive. Developers of mobile apps are actively seeking out licensing deals as an integral part of their business model. For instance, the mega-hit Angry Birds out of Finland, with an estimated one billion downloads across multiple platforms, has already seen enormous worldwide licensing effort in all manner of ancillary products.
Whether this kind of market penetration and licensing will extend the life of arcade versions of games remains to be seen, though licensors like Coastal are hoping for the best. "The jury is still out when it comes to the lifespan of the games," Mirando said. "But games like Temple Run should have a longer life than a standard video game."
The conversion of successful mobile apps to coin-op is still in its infancy, Mirando noted. "This is a new frontier for coin-op," he said.
It should be noted that mobile apps themselves are also part of a new frontier, though it is already possible to see a convergence with social media, fan websites and multiple editions when it comes to the more popular games. This is in addition to a future that will no doubt see increasingly more sophisticated games as the processing power of mobile devices continues to increase.