Are FECs Ready For A Re-Packaging When It Comes To Design?

Posted On: 1/1/2018

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When the first penny arcades opened at the beginning of the 20th century, they offered inexpensive entertainment in the heart of major cities. In many respects, they served the same purpose as county fairs and carnivals enjoyed by their country cousins. The entertainment was inexpensive, though holding the promise of surprise at something new. Unlike the rural fairs and carnivals, these new attractions were permanent and with limited space.

Back then, like today, the coin-operated venues depended heavily on the lure of the new and the miracles of emerging technologies. While some boasted flea circuses and similar traditional attractions borrowed from sideshows, the real crowd pleasers remained the machines. Even simple machines that provided a diorama energized by an electric fan or a mechanical Mutoscope viewer that required turning a wheel of flip cards to create an illusion of a brief movie fascinated customers. The technology employed in the arcades somewhat mirrored technology rapidly developing in wider society. "What will they think of next?" became a rhetorical catch phrase in praise of ingenuity.

Today, FEC chains and independent locations find themselves facing the same challenges as the penny arcade operators a century ago. Millennials, who see rapid technological change in the wider world, demand some form of it in their entertainment. And it doesn’t much matter to them whether the delivery system is a smart phone, home console, or out of home experience.

However, FECs and other out of home options have one big advantage. They can and do provide a total package that includes a gameplay environment that includes food, beverages, and entertainment options wrapped nicely in an interior designed to show it off to its best advantage. Period photographs inside the old-timey penny arcades reveal them to be relatively bland affairs with bare walls and a minimum of signage. Customers were not expected to linger overly long.

Today’s FECs more closely resemble a carnival or fair midway. They are more inviting and conducive to long visits. But what is the future of these interiors? And what role do they play in the FEC experience. Just a short time into the era of large FECs, many of the leading companies have developed a design formula for success. Will the notoriously fickle millennials tire of the familiar venue and drift away, despite a steady offering of new games?

I would argue that design is destined to become an increasingly important consideration in FECs. Although not a profit center and difficult to quantify its value, it nonetheless plays an integral role in the FEC experience. There is, of course, precedent. Retail outlets ranging from fast food franchises to long-established businesses have continually evolved their appearance along with their offerings throughout the years. They have done this to attract a new demographic or to strengthen a well-known brand in a highly competitive marketplace.

What form these types of changes will take when it comes to out of home entertainment remains unknown. However, what is known is that contrary to the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt, many businesses have discovered that it breeds indifference.