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LBE Operators See Growing Public Interest In Musical Amusements

Posted On: 2/25/2000

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U.S.A. - Although the category is still relatively new, the growing availability of musical amusements is already helping site-based operators in their quest to expand venues beyond the traditional staples of fighting, shooting, driving and sports video games.

Such was the case at the Playdium, a 50,000-square foot location-based entertainment facility which opened in November in Toronto.

With an eye on appealing to a broader demographic, Ian Moorhead, the facility's senior director of concept development, said the decision was made to create a Music Zone attraction, which now features two of Devecka Enterprise's drum simulator "Drumscape," and Konami's "Bemani" series of "Dance Dance Revolution," "Hiphopmania," and "Guitar Freaks."

"One of the positive aspects of what we do in terms of merchandising our game floor is we have developed very well-themed zones: Speed for racing games, Sports for traditional sports games, Extreme Sports, 'Target and Contact for fighting," he said, noting that the interiors are decorated accordingly with carpets, walls, and graphics all conveying the particular theme.

"We had seen Devecka's 'Drumscape' at a recent show and liked it, and we also started hearing from some of our other sites that a lot of people were asking for music simulators like 'Guitar Freaks,' 'Hiphopmania,' and 'Dance Dance Revolution,' he explained. "It's difficult for us to just grab one game and just stick it in, especially a music game because it has to fit in a zone, so we decided to create a whole zone after discovering that there were quite a few of them out there."

The Music zone has been so successful both in terms of return on investment and player appeal that Playdium officials decided to retrofit its other three LBEs with similar zones, a process which is already complete, Moorhead told VENDING TIMES.

"First of all they make money, they offer something different than your stereotypical arcade program and they're satisfying a new demographic," he said. "People are surprised when they discover it's not just shooting and driving, and many people have told me that they didn't realize games were so diverse."

Because Playdium attracts people who generally wouldn't come into an arcade, Moorhead emphasized that every effort is made to offer something for everyone, not just traditional gamers.

"Every arcade owner-operator is looking for game content that doesn't necessarily appeal to the demographic of a 14-year old boy," he explained. "The reason we've themed up zones is to create a broader appeal to a larger demographic, particularly women, and the Music zone is something that they can definitely relate to and enjoy."

Although musical amusements can sometimes be intimidating for first-timers, often requiring them to dance or play instruments in front of large crowds of people, Moorhead reported no such problems. That may have something to do with Playdium's strong customer service program, which employs "gamemasters" who traverse the game floor encouraging and teaching people to try new games.

Although they have only been in operation for a relatively short period of time, Moorhead said the Music zone now rivals each of the other zones in terms of popularity. Devecka's "Drumscape," he explained, has been particularly successful, attracting "basement" drummers and first-timers alike. "There's a certain community that is quite fanatical about it, and it's not uncommon to see crowds around the machine," he said.

Konami's "Bemani" series, which has been touted as the next "Karoake" in Southeast Asia in relation to the loyal following its received, also is popular with Playdium players.

"I wouldn't say it's as fanatical in North America as it is in Japan," Morehead noted, "but certainly when you look at it in comparison to some of the more popular staples, like driving games, gun games, and fighting games, they're right up there."

Grand Prix-O-Rama, a 900-game LBE in Dania, Fla., also is exploring musical amusements, and arcade manager Jeff Condon reported that "Drumscape" has been doing extremely well, averaging $1,000 a week.

"We've had it for about 40 weeks and people just go nuts for it. I literally get crowds of people around it jumping and bobbing with whatever music is playing, while some guy inside is making a horrible attempt to play drums," he explained. "I actually get a bunch of complaints when the unit is down from people saying they came here just to play it."

Condon said he had less success with with some of the open dance games, which may be attributed to a customer base with few Asians.

"I know that "Dance Dance Revolution" is doing between $1,100, and $1,300 a week in arcades in California, but those locations have very heavy Asian populations, and those are the people who are playing it for the most part," he said.

"It just wasn't right for our market, but that's not to say it doesn't have its place.

"Anywhere that I've seen or heard of those Konami machines going into Asian markets they do great, especially 'Dance Dance Revolution.'"

To appeal to American consumers, Condon says manufacturers need to develop games that allow for more creativity, not just copying a sequence on a screen.

"If somebody comes out with an instrument-based game where the person plays and can be more creative, I think it would work well in the U.S.," he said.

As far as the music category's future, Condon said he believes it has the potential to be more than just a fad.

"I think they can be long term games , I don't think they're going to go away , because if you keep changing the music it's kind of like a jukebox," he observed.

Mike Getlan, director of enthusiasm and opportunity for New Rochelle, N.Y.-based Amusement Consultants, which operates 24 LBEs nationwide, said that musical amusements provide a great alternative for operators in their attempt to differentiate themselves.

"The challenge today is to be able to bring things into the arcade that people can't get in their homes, and musical amusements are something that really fits into that well," he said. "'Drumscape' is a perfect example , if mom doesn't want you to bang on the drums at home, now you can go to the arcade and bang on them to your heart's content."