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Operational Reality in a Virtual Future (Ode to a Game Tech)

This blog post is an extract from the Bob Cooney’s VR Arcade Game Buyer’s. You can download the whole guide here.

As an operator, the future success of any reality-based attractions, whether virtual, augmented, or mixed, depends highly on your operations and technical team’s commitment to guest satisfaction. Our industry is built on a “30-seconds to fun” mentality. Nobody is having fun if the system won’t run.

Even with the best game content, the perfect price per play, the most modern headset, and the flashiest logo over the front door pimping the experience, without a quality technician, you do not have a business. The technician is your location’s most profitable asset. They are curiously gifted humans; many having learned on the job one failure at a time because where can one go to learn virtual reality arcade game repair? I’ve yet to see a school on this planet that offers a degree in “Golden Age, Modern Era, or Advanced Arcade Game Repair & Maintenance.”

The market is driven by what is new, flashy, trendy, or casually dressed in a global IP. But what happens behind the scenes in the back of the house doesn’t get enough attention. I’m talking about the POTS and PANS in the arcade, man!

For those who don’t know:
POTS — Plain Old Technical Shit, and
PANS — Pretty Advanced New Shit

There’s not much in the middle except redemption games and claw machines.

As a technician, I find it easy to get lost in transition from the coin-op world to the new Digital Out of Home experience…between the POTS and the PANS man! There have always been distributor and trade association programs that focus on core electronics and troubleshooting fundamentals, but what is there for the VR segment? Where does that leave us today regarding a workforce to support this new VR equipment pushing into the arcade space?

“We all need a Danny!” was my top takeaway from the last VR Arcade Game Summit sessions, a reference to one of the handful of standout technicians in the crowd at Cooney’s two-day deep dive into VR at the Las Vegas AEI Show co-partnered by the AAMA and AMOA. The Dannys, Iron Mikes, Dougies, Snitchlers and other members of the “Fraternal Order of the Coin-op Game Techs” are those singularities in the human race that can fix almost anything with a Leatherman. Like Jedis, they seem to absorb all that techy stuff by holding the manual in their hands for a few minutes.

The arcade technology in most FECs has comprised mostly multidirectional joysticks/force-feedback input devices, a console of buttons, and hi-resolution monitors. Not so much anymore with VR, and the importance of the technical team’s input and feedback when investing in commercial quality VR equipment cannot be stressed enough. Nothing is worse than customers walking into an arcade and seeing the newest VR game advertised on the website and across social platforms sitting dead in the water. The motion capture, haptic feedback, optical tracking, ambient light-sensing boundary detection and technology designed to counterbalance the equilibrium is leaps outside the realms of diodes, capacitors, and cherry switches.

Major private equity mergers and acquisitions are shifting the staffing landscape of many operators, a core threat to people’s customer experience in our space. Artificial intelligence labor management systems might not account for preventive maintenance, off-hours-overseas support calls, or continuing education for the technical teams supporting these systems. Various investment analysts are projecting an average of US$30 billion increase in the amusements sector by 2030. And we are trending up from US$12 billion in 2022 to US$22 billion by 2025 in the AR/VR growth vertical. That accelerator will drive more VR equipment into our arcades, restaurants, and theme parks. If you don’t educate your technical staff to help them migrate from POTS to PANS so they can efficiently support these new high-tech products, you’re just throwing your capex down the drain.

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