Interviews// Kevin Williams: Arcade Guru

Arcade Actions

Posted 21 Jun 2007 16:02 by
Just why is The Stinger Report?s Kevin Williams the man we look to for arcade news? Here?s some insight into what the man knows.

SPOnG: Aren't arcade machines and arcades themselves on a very limited lifespan?

KW: Wearing the rear-view mirrors, the previous industry that was 'arcade' of the Space Invaders and Street Fighter era - yes that sector is gone. Looking at the current Out-of-Home interactive entertainment scene and I personally see a very interesting market. A Sega cabinet like the latest Afterburner CLIMAX DX will look at placement in a site for over 14 months, nine of which will be at its maximum profitability.

The days of a US manufacturer releasing ten cabinets a year that sold on average 5,000 units are long gone. But sales are strong for those remaining and well worth the effort as SEGA, Namco and Betson sales figures reveal to those that look. You will hear a lot more about the 'monetisation' of the sector, and unlike consumer 'we get to see the money!'

SPOnG: In your opinion, which company has been the most consistent player in arcades?

KW:The most consistent would be SEGA; followed by Namco, Taito and obviously Konami Digital Entertainment. On the North American front - new comers like Raw Thrills brings vast industry experience, and a compelling growth in game content. But it is Sega with a game like 2 Spicy - that not only builds on a new concept (originated by Namco) but takes it to a new level internationally, along with its ALL.NET investment and facility brand, that marks them out.

SPOnG: Do you own any consoles?

KW:I personally own a NeoGeo JP from my time launching the MVS / AES system in the UK. I also have a GameBoy and a Clie NV80 PDA that does a perfect impersonation of a PSP. Other than that I play mainly arcade releases, though evaluate a slew of XB, PS2, PS3 and XB360 titles. I am behind in Wii evaluation, but summer is coming! A big fan of PC fps' and also like a good 'Halo' session if I can get the chance, but my first love is a good arcade gun game.

SPOnG: What's the profit on the average arcade machine?

KW:The numbers are governed by location and foot traffic obviously. I can not go into detail on actual numbers as that would breach client confidences, but we are seeing facilities running games like Let's Go Jungle seeing daily revenue of around 160, if not higher - very good revenue compared on previous years.

Products such as Global VR's Aliens EXTERMINATION and Need for Speed Underground hold the UK seaside Coinslot trade-paper top ten chart spots. While games like the new Raw Thrills' Fast and the Furious Drift have seen 25% increases of revenue with new features and a growth of player interest away from home gaming.

SPOnG: Where and what - as far as you know - is the oldest working arcade machine still making money?

KW:The BeMani brand is a workhorse that has kept evergreen in a 3D centric market; I have seen Dance Dance Revolution units over ten years old still sucking credits in a mainstream site. But for my money Sega's Daytona USA is an old horse that still gets ridden hard some thirteen years from launch.

I was in an arcade just recently and saw a cherished DX four machine set-up with refurbished seats, steering, PCB and screens. The owner would kill than swap-out his loyal soldier. I am still a sucker for a quick game of 'cone-ball' every so often.

SPOnG: What are the best arcade to home ports of all time?

KW:I always thought that it was the near perfect port of Tekken and Ridge Racer onto the PS that guaranteed the system's success and inevitably started the migration of Generation-X from dropping coins in cabinets. I wonder if this will be repeated with 'Tekken 6'?

SPOnG: Home gaming is generating some star designers and coders. Are there any stars in arcade gaming?

KW:I know it's painful for consumer gamers to admit that most of your heroes cut their teeth in coin-op. I think however the power house of Yu Suzuki, at SEGA is a fundamental talent who has much to offer. He has suffered from the duel responsibilities of an arduous consumer R&D schedule and his dwindling AM projects, but we hope to see many more new titles following on from his last, Psy-Phi.

One fact you have to keep in mind with amusement - for some time we have treated development as a secretive team occupation. I can more readily tell you about games developed by SEGA's AM#2 or Taito's GM division than the individuals within. There are members of some of the leading teams in consumer gaming in Asia that have come from arcade projects. For many years the arcade manufacturers never named the individuals. This is a factor in my own discomfort with just picking one name when a game takes ten's to develop - especially with the star system in the consumer scene.

SPOnG: What arcade machine would you save for eternity?

KW:Tough questions as ever - I would be torn between 'BattleZone' and 'TimeCrisis', though my personal favorites aside, 'Donkey Kong' ('Monkey Kong' to give it its Japanese release name) would go into the time capsule as the momentous moment in the creation of a character that would ascend to rule the globe, take Nintendo from failure of 'RadarScope' to world fame and mark a point in video gaming history paying Nintendo to start consumer platform R&D - as with PUCK Man.

SPOnG: What arcade machine would you send to hell?

KW:That is unfair, though we do have our fare share of really bad titles, though 'Sonic Fighter' would see the heart of the sun if I had my way. I just saw a remake of 'Crazy Climber' with hand pedals, at AOU'07, and would also buy that a one way ticket across the Styx.

SPOnG: How do the U.S., Japanese and European markets differ? Do they?

KW:The U.S. market is staggering out of a crippling collapse that has lasted from 1998 that saw names such as Atari, Midway and others abandon coin-op. During this lean time the market has evolved and seems to be turning a corner with new names like Raw Thrills and Global VR redefining video amusement in a post crash market. The Asian market has been on the rise since their collapse in 1996, and has surpassed expectations to the point that Bandai, Sammy and even Square ENIX have brought up amusement factories to share in improved revenue return - the profitability of arcade sales and venue operation a hidden secret of recent financial results. For Europe a heavy prize gaming element is reflected on the market structure - while a strong video game playing audience still keeps coin-op alive in an intense market that gets the latest titles before the US.

SPOnG: How did you get into coin-op?

KW:Ouch! I was hocked after playing Atari's Lunar Lander, becoming an early amateur London computer club member cutting my teeth on PET's, Apple IIE's and BBC's. One of the first freelance game reviewers with the then magazines. Developed my first game in 1985 ('Bear George'), was sucked into consumer games, then jumped after being on the Tetris licensing team for a coin-op development, and then to arcade simulators and virtual reality. Head hunted by Disney Imagineering for theme parks, then arcade projects at T2 and then back to an arcade gig for Infogrames - finally founding Out-of-Home Entertainment consultancy (KWP) that specializes in the future market including amusement, interactive attractions, exer-gaming, edutainment and beyond - this linked to our e-News service (The Stinger Report) - what a Wild Ride!

Feature writer Kevin Williams is founder and director of the out-of-home interactive entertainment consultancy KWP Limited. His extensive years in the global video amusement and hi-tech attractions industry includes top management and design posts, with special focus on new technology development and applications. A well-known speaker on the industry and its technology, he pens an extensive number of articles. Founder and publisher of The Stinger Report - a popular industry e-Newsletter and web-based information service.

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