Game Grid Arcade Operator Highlight

Raw Thrills: Tell us about your business!

Adam Pratt: The Game Grid Arcade is a traditional arcade business located in a shopping mall – traditional in the sense of what arcades were like in the 1980s. This means our focus is on video & pinball amusement; we do not operate any ticket machines.

We also cover every era of gaming, with our oldest title being Space Invaders (1978) and our newest release being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018). There is no entry fee, we operate using tokens.

RT: How did you get started?

Adam Pratt: I was a gamer before it was “cool,” growing up playing every video game I could get my hands on. I also had an entrepreneurial streak built into me, so when I saw the movie TRON, something in my brain clicked as to what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a “Kevin Flynn,” running my own arcade.

In reaching adulthood, I found my way into the industry through collecting. In 2000, I saw a classified ad in the newspaper for arcade machines being sold in downtown Salt Lake City. I would have loved to pick up all of the games the guy had, but I only had the budget and space for a couple of them: 1942 and ZAXXON. Over the next few years, I collected games from here and there, just putting them into my garage, until I was ready to start my own business. My timing was fortunate – I managed to convince some family members to invest in the venture, which along with a small bank loan, allowed me to purchase the equipment I needed in May 2008. That was right before the big economic crash; I was also very fortunate to survive through that period of turmoil. That said, I had to work two jobs for quite a while to cover the home bills while the business grew at a slow pace.

I’ve also been known in the business through my writing, first on my blog Arcade Heroes and in magazines such as Hardcore Gamer Magazine, Replay Magazine, and Old School Gamer Magazine. I’ve been doing that since 2006.

RT: What are 2 of the best lessons you learned as an operator?Adam Pratt: It’s hard to say that I’ve completed learning any lesson in the business, as I feel like I’ve got a lot of improvement to do. One area is in procrastination. It’s easy to come up with big ideas, but much harder to just put your foot down and implement them. One place I’ve been dragging my feet on is in creating a party area. I can’t afford to do a build out in the location, but I have the space to do a temporary conversion of the space. That still will cost a little bit, plus it will require some reorganizing. I’m sure if I get past that, I’ll regret having waited so long. I think the same thing can apply to buying certain games. Sometimes you want to put it off for a while – maybe because of budget or it’s wise to wait and see how a game performs. I’ve learned when you can tell that a game will be a hit regardless, why wait? When it comes to Raw Thrills titles, I’ve yet to own a game that performed poorly for me. For a few of them, I wonder why I waited to buy.

Another lesson I’m still trying to learn is to how you build a community. Arcade gaming is social to begin with, but some locations seem to attract stronger communities of players than others. Sometimes this is limited to specific genres of titles, but I have seen how some other locations build a strong group of players through other means like tournaments.

RT: Do you have any Raw Thrills games on location? How do they do?Adam Pratt: Yes, and they are stellar. Raw Thrills products have always been in my top earning games. When I first opened, I started with a pair of Tokyo Drift conversion kits. I picked up a couple of Cruis’n USAs and converted them over, where the pair served as my primary racers for a few years. Then the Super Cars kits came along and I upgraded the cabinets to those. That was often my #1 game, until Jurassic Park Arcade and then Cruis’n Blast came along. In 2018, my top three games have all been Raw Thrills games – the #1 spot bouncing between Cruis’n Blast, Jurassic Park Arcade, and The Walking Dead. I also have a single Batman unit, a Big Buck Wild, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, each of which performs in the top 10 of the 60 or so titles I have on location.

RT: Where do you see the Arcade Industry going over the next couple of years?

Adam Pratt: No matter what happens in the world, people still have a desire to be entertained. Arcades can provide that in a unique way, so as long as the content is there to present the public with unique and interesting ways to have fun, we’ll stay strong.

It seems like the growth of bar/arcades is just starting to level off a little bit, but they won’t be going away. FEC growth will continue to influence the industry in creating big, amazing games, but I also can see where there are plenty of opportunities to support street operations with smaller, more budget-conscious titles. I’d certainly like to see a little more of the latter when it is possible. Golden Tee can’t be the only arcade concept that occupies the $3000-$4000 budget range.

One elephant in the room with the industry is VR. It’s interesting tech and they are finally coming up with some interesting games like Beat Saber, but I keep having to serve as a VR skeptic. VR is an attraction in the same way that go-karts, bowling, or rope courses can attract people to locations. It is not a “replacement” for the arcade, as I keep seeing said outright or implied in the industry. There are just too many big obstacles that prevent the technology from becoming such. You can’t install a VR arcade machine or space into a truck stop, a gas station or any other spot where you would need a ride attendant. It should be clear by now that any wearable tech has this disadvantage in the out-of-home entertainment space. But I still see proclamations that the arcade is doomed because of VR, which simply isn’t the case.

I think there is huge potential to be found with Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MXR) technologies, as those can be implemented into arcade machines in a way that are not wearable-required. Whether or not we’ll see those technologies being used in incredible ways over the next few years is up for developers (and the market) to decide. But I would love to see them continue to get a boost. In thinking about it, The Walking Dead is an example of MXR to a small degree, thanks to the overhead light feedback.

RT: What are your favorite games to play and why? Both Raw Thrills and Others?Adam Pratt: Overall, I play just about everything, although I never really gotten into MMOs or mobile games. At home, I enjoy a good RPG or adventure game – I sunk over 200 hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; but when I don’t have time for that, I like arcade action that can be enjoyed in a quick sitting. I still break out one of my old Atari systems every week and play a classic on the 2600 or the Lynx. For me, a classic is something that never gets old no matter how often you play it.

Among Raw Thrills titles, I really do love TMNT, and not just because I grew up as a big Ninja Turtles fan. I have a soft spot for beat ‘em ups and TMNT plays just like a beat’em up should. It’s always better if you can play with a friend. I haven’t had a chance to play Halo yet, so I can’t speak about that, but I do enjoy both Big Buck Wild and The Walking Dead, as they require a bit more skill than the “spray & pray” casual shooters do.

On others, one of my favorites is still Dariusburst Another Chronicle by Taito; I love the challenge it provides on top of the amount of content; I also like shoot ’em ups (shmups), so it hits all the right notes there. It also still has the best soundtrack I’ve heard in an arcade game in modern times.

I’m not really adept at pinball, but I will give a machine a shot when I come across one. If I still had any arcade games at home, I’d do a pinball machine before a video title due to the complexity of potential shots…but at the same time, I learned that when you collect, it’s just not the same as when your quarter is on the line.

RT: What advice would you give someone looking to get into the industry?Adam Pratt: A big part of running any business is motivation. While money is one of the strongest motivators there are, you need something more than that to help you get through the tough times, as they will come. Motivators will vary from person to person, but if you don’t care or understand video games or arcades to begin with, it will be hard to keep “caring” when the road gets rough.

I also bring that up as some locations get caught up in a death spiral that just makes things worse. Games break down, they don’t get fixed so people come away with a bad impression and earnings go down, the owner stops caring, the games get worse, the earnings stay low and eventually the location closes.

It sounds like Business 101, but do a business plan. That will force you to have to look at the little details which are important in finding success. It also shows that you are serious about the idea, which sets you apart from the 99 other dreamers who also have an idea. Having dreams and ideas are fine, but they aren’t enough to make the difference that counts.

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