Just how do you add value to coin-op? How does the music and games operator provide a value-added experience for patrons and locations? This is no small thing. A longstanding tradition holds that operators simply place equipment at a location, or in a gameroom, and let nature take its course. That strategy may no longer be enough. Competition for the entertainment dollar is tough and shows no signs of easing in the future.
Some operators have taken the lead by staging competitions or special events in conjunction with locations. A few manufacturers have jumped in with highly organized events; Incredible Technologies' Golden Tee world championships pioneered coin-op promotions, and Play Mechanix's Big Buck Hunter events are grabbing headlines. Of course, pool and dart leagues have been a tried and true strategy for decades.
I'd like to suggest another grassroots strategy. While not intended to supplant more organized and formal promotional vehicles, it can certainly go a long way to adding value to amusement clients and consumers. One operator I spoke with a few years back organized one-off boxing tournaments for his machines, moving informal tournaments from location to location on what were typically slow nights. Prizes for these events were usually hats or t-shirts, but the coveted reward was bragging rights at the local tavern.
Today, there is the potential for supplementing ad hoc events with social media either through the location's own online efforts or accounts easily established specifically for the promotion. These types of partnering promotions not only add value to the location for patrons, but also increase the operator's value to the location itself.
Those with long memories will remember when operators would joke that they were in the "moving business." The quip referenced the day-to-day process of moving equipment from A locations to B locations, and so on. Unfortunately, it also downplayed the fact that they were, for better or worse, in the entertainment business. This was an easy thing to do when there were far fewer entertainment choices and the equipment was all but printing money when placed in prime locations.
Fast forward to 2016: There is no getting around the fact that coin-op is competing against a myriad of other entertainment options for the consumer's attention. Even worse, many of these options are accompanied with high-dollar and pervasive hoopla. I propose that operators adopt some of the promotional tools at hand and join the fight. That means getting out of the moving business and into the entertainment business.
Admittedly, this is not easy stuff. It takes time and imagination, as well as a new level of cooperation between location management and operator. What it likely does not involve is hiring additional personnel or the purchase of new equipment. What it does require is leveraging existing resources, right down to smartphones, and office printers. Partnering with another local business, such as a beer distributor, can ease some of the burden.
Spoiler alert: Some promotions are going to fail. That is simply the nature of hoopla in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable marketplace. That's the bad news. The good news is that the majority of successful promotions are scalable and reproducible -- a promotion that works in a small location, is likely to work in a larger one. And many successful promotions can be repeated with good results more than once.
Will promotions and added value turn back the clock to those halcyon days of coin-op? The answer is almost certainly no. However, they can go a long way to re-imagining and shaping a new future for coin-op entertainment.