The Mak­ing Of: Ar­cade Club

games for any fan of retro is an in­cred­i­ble place Europe’s big­gest ar­cade too. We speak to it is an in­cred­i­ble un­der­tak­ing, to visit - and run­ning it’s done to find out ex­actly how founder Andy Palmer

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - Words by Nick Thorpe

Andy Palmer on creat­ing Europe’s largest ar­cade and com­plet­ing a life­long am­bi­tion

The first time you visit Ar­cade Club, it al­most feels like you’re mak­ing a crazy dis­cov­ery. That’s par­tially be­cause the build­ing it’s housed in is noth­ing ex­cit­ing – Ela Mill was pre­vi­ously a fac­tory mak­ing hand­bags and other leather goods, so other than some sig­nage and a few play­ers smok­ing out­side, there’s lit­tle to sug­gest that there’s an ar­cade inside. But once you make your way inside, pay your en­trance fee and head up a few flights of stairs, the magic hits you hard. As you pass the cock­tail cab­i­nets and head into the main ar­cade, a sit-down Ridge Racer greets you on the left. Be­yond that you’re flanked by rows of Elec­tro­coin Go­liath cab­i­nets as you make your way to­wards the back of the room, each cab­i­net con­tain­ing a clas­sic like Golden Axe or 1942. In an ad­ja­cent room, there are PCS ready to go for Minecraft ses­sions. Down­stairs, you’ll find a va­ri­ety of Ja­panese mu­sic games like Sound Vol­tex and Groove Coaster, as well as pin­ball ta­bles, con­soles and more retro ar­cade games. If you’ve ever had any in­ter­est in videogames at all, Ar­cade Club is a thrilling place to visit.

Of course, a col­lec­tion of cab­i­nets span­ning over 40 years doesn’t come to­gether overnight. “We had a chain of com­puter shops and we no­ticed there was a turn­ing off in the in­dus­try,” says

Andy Palmer, founder of Ar­cade Club. “We had some ar­cade ma­chines in the shop which I’d been col­lect­ing for a while, and I was won­der­ing what to do with them.” Af­ter toy­ing with giv­ing away to­kens to shop cus­tomers and a cof­fee shop idea, Andy hit upon the first ver­sion of the Ar­cade Club model. “We set up 30 ma­chines in the shop to see how it would go, and we charged £10 for four hours on a Satur­day. For that they got a free can of Coke and a bis­cuit thrown in as well.”

The idea soon took off, ne­ces­si­tat­ing in­creas­ingly spa­cious venues. “BBC’S Col­lec­ta­holics got in­volved which kind of cat­a­pulted it into the strato­sphere, and we de­cided to move to the unit which was 100 ma­chines. Af­ter that ev­ery­thing was go­ing fine, no prob­lems. But there was a ma­jor prob­lem with park­ing, we had no park­ing fa­cil­i­ties around the ware­house where we were, and that caused ma­jor prob­lems with the lo­cals – it just wasn’t good. And once we reached the ca­pac­ity of 100 peo­ple it was one in, one out like a night­club. Peo­ple didn’t seem to mind it, and they quite liked the ex­clu­siv­ity.”

Still, Ar­cade Club was grow­ing and it needed a new home. “It’s very dif­fi­cult find­ing the amount of space re­quired at a good rate that the busi­ness model will ac­tu­ally sus­tain, be­cause if you go into a town cen­tre you’ve got park­ing prob­lems and you’ve also got mas­sive busi­ness rates, you’ve got ser­vice charges – you’ve got a lot of stuff on top which means you’d have to put your door prices up. You’ve got to be very care­ful about the pric­ing model.” Ela Mill was even­tu­ally picked as a suit­able lo­ca­tion, but it didn’t come without risk. “We threw cau­tion to the wind a lit­tle bit, we didn’t have a lot of money when we came to Bury,” Andy ad­mits. “We ac­tu­ally sold – which I re­gret now – an Out Run deluxe just to get the de­posit to­gether.”

With all of Andy’s prior knowl­edge, we won­der if there was any­thing he hadn’t fac­tored in. “Elec­tric­ity,” he says. “We’ve had to do so much with the in­fra­struc­ture of the mill. We’re

draw­ing eight 80-amp feeds, and there’s that surge of turn­ing the ma­chines on – we don’t want to have to turn them on in­di­vid­u­ally be­cause that would take far too long. We’ve spent many, many thou­sands just on wiring and in­fra­struc­ture.” Ad­di­tion­ally, since a busi­ness of Ar­cade Club’s kind is some­what un­usual, some peo­ple strug­gle to grasp it. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to get it through to the coun­cil some­times that it’s not a gam­bling ar­cade – there won’t be any fruit ma­chines – be­cause they don’t have a videogame ar­cade cat­e­gory any­more,” Andy says. “But we had a great guy on plan­ning who loved ar­cades, which helped – he ac­tu­ally said, ‘Do you have Tron?’ That was the magic key.”

The roots of the Ar­cade Club games col­lec­tion, which now num­bers over 250 games, can be found in Andy’s own long-term col­lect­ing hobby. How­ever, the se­lec­tion has been bal­anced for qual­ity and com­mer­cial ap­peal. “I tar­geted cabs, some of which I had any­way, like Space In­vaders, Pac-man, Galax­ian, Star Wars, Robotron and De­fender. I just went for triple-a ti­tles, the best of the best, be­cause I thought if we’re gonna do it, we’ve got to do it with triple-a ti­tles.” The longterm build-up of Ar­cade Club’s col­lec­tion has also been a ma­jor fac­tor in the qual­ity of the games avail­able, ac­cord­ing to Andy, sim­ply on fi­nan­cial grounds. “If I was start­ing it now, straight away

I’d run into a brick wall of, ‘It’s £1,000 for Pac-man, it’s £1,600 for Don­key Kong’ – there’s bet­ter ways to make money nowa­days with an in­vest­ment. Ev­ery­thing’s just gone ridicu­lously priced.”

De­spite that, where there’s de­mand, Ar­cade

Club adds ca­pac­ity. “If say for in­stance Pac-man or Space In­vaders is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar, even if peo­ple can’t get past the first few lev­els, we’ll add more cabs. We did have three De­fend­ers in here at one point be­cause it was par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with 40-some­things that wanted to re­live their youth.” What’s more, there have been very few games that have es­caped once be­ing put on the Ar­cade Club most-wanted list. “Discs Of Tron and I, Ro­bot were two dif­fi­cult ones but I’ve got a source for those now, they’re buried in a friend’s stor­age but he’s said once he gets to them they’re ours, which is fan­tas­tic.” Still, cer­tain games aren’t fea­si­ble to run. “Every­body keeps say­ing about the R-360, but the prob­lem with that is that it needs X-ray­ing ev­ery six months or so to look for mi­crofrac­tures in the sub­frame and stuff. They were a bit of a night­mare to keep go­ing back in the day, and I think the duty cy­cle at Ar­cade Club would mean it would po­ten­tially be bro­ken more than it would be work­ing. It also needs an at­ten­dant, which means it needs to be fully staffed, which needs a wage.”

One in­ter­est­ing facet of Ar­cade Club is that al­though it has a huge ros­ter of retro ar­cade games, it is not ex­clu­sively retro-fo­cused. “I think peo­ple will get bored of Pac-man,” says Andy. “A lot of peo­ple will turn up, play Pac-man and Space In­vaders, re­alise how hard they are, be put off and then never visit again. For those sorts of peo­ple you need to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, so we have Ja­panese games, VR, PCS, con­soles – we cater to what the au­di­ence wants.

Most of the newer ar­cade games found at

Ar­cade Club are Ja­panese games, so you’re un­likely to find any­thing that you could eas­ily run across in your lo­cal bowl­ing al­ley. “We ac­tu­ally fly out to Ja­pan, we source ev­ery­thing our­selves,” says Andy. “We want to be on the cut­ting edge all the time.” That’s some­thing that can’t be achieved by stick­ing ex­clu­sively to what’s avail­able do­mes­ti­cally, which Andy at­tributes pri­mar­ily to the amuse­ment in­dus­try’s lack of fo­cus on videogames. “It’s al­ways re­demp­tion, the ticket ma­chines now. The in­dus­try’s go­ing that way and I feel it’s a bit of a mis­take, be­cause they’re just aim­ing for kids with these tick­ets, it’s a lit­tle bit ma­nip­u­la­tive and it’s not in the spirit of gam­ing, it’s in the spirit of money,” he ex­plains. “I know that’s what busi­ness is there for but at Ar­cade Club, we have to make money, fine, but I feel like we can do it in a fair way. It’s hard to bal­ance, but I think I’m do­ing it.”

The busi­ness end of things is an in­ter­est­ing sub­ject – con­ven­tional wis­dom says that the ar­cade busi­ness isn’t the place to be to­day, and Andy has said him­self that there are bet­ter ways to make money. “It’s not a book­ing sys­tem at Ar­cade Club, which means you’re never guar­an­teed on your num­bers. Sum­mer was hard for us, we had the World Cup and the heat­wave to­gether, so we saw a mas­sive dip in num­bers,” Andy con­fesses. “Luck­ily we’re struc­tured so we could get through that, but we wouldn’t have got through that if it had lasted three months. We would’ve had ma­jor prob­lems.

While the heat isn’t some­thing many would seek out in an ar­cade, Ar­cade Club does at­tracts a num­ber of play­ers used to heated com­pe­ti­tion. “We have a lot of record hold­ers here – Char­lie­far, David Lyne he’s called, he’s the Galax­ian world cham­pion and he’s the best player I’ve ever seen in my life. John Stood­ley comes here quite of­ten, he’s one of the world’s Pac-man cham­pi­ons. Shaun Hol­ley from the Ten Pence Ar­cade pod­cast, he does a lot for the com­mu­nity. We have MBA, Manch­ester Bat­tle Arena which is our fight­ing com­mu­nity – it’s all to do with gam­ing across all gen­res and all ages, that’s what Ar­cade Club’s about.”

Speak­ing of all ages, Ar­cade Club is fam­ily friendly but it re­quires adult su­per­vi­sion for all chil­dren un­der 16. “Yeah, it’s quite strict ac­tu­ally, very con­ser­va­tive,” Andy ad­mits. “The rea­son we did that is we didn’t want a gang of kids po­ten­tially caus­ing is­sues. I want ev­ery­one to be safe – and the other thing is we don’t know ev­ery­one’s med­i­cal his­tory,” he con­tin­ues. “So if some­body drops off a group of 12-year-olds and one of them has a fit, falls or has an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to some­thing in their food, we won’t know what’s go­ing on there and it could po­ten­tially be life-threat­en­ing. And the other thing is, I’d hate for some­one to turn up five hours af­ter drop­ping their child off and say, ‘Where’s my child?’ be­cause they’ve just gone out of the front door, be­cause you can come and go as you please. I don’t want any­one ever to go, ‘You lost my child.’” Ar­cade Club also runs adults-only ses­sions

(with 16-to-17-year-olds al­lowed as long as they are with an adult) on Thurs­day and Fri­day.

So what does the fu­ture hold for Ar­cade Club? A new lo­ca­tion has just been an­nounced, based in Kirk­stall, Leeds and due to open in early 2019. We also dis­cover that a third floor is in the works for Bury. “We’ve found that the Ja­panese floor can get a lit­tle bit chaotic, so what we’re do­ing is we’re go­ing to turn that floor into a ded­i­cated Ja­panese floor, drop the VR and PCS down a floor and set up a more loungey con­sole-type area,” says Andy. “I’ve al­ways wanted to do a con­sole area for peo­ple but if you can’t keep on top of it, peo­ple tend to start re­set­ting things. It needs stew­ard­ing, so to speak, it needs some­body there to make sure ev­ery­thing’s okay.” Ad­di­tion­ally, it will free up space for some of the more pop­u­lar at­trac­tions. “We find that VR can be a lit­tle bit queuey some­times, es­pe­cially on a Fri­day night, so we need to add more,” says Andy.

How about long-term plans – Ar­cade Club is al­ready the big­gest ar­cade in Europe, could it be­come the big­gest in the world? “I don’t know if we can achieve that, but hope­fully we can,” says Andy.

“We have hun­dreds of ma­chines in stor­age, and we have lit­er­ally about 50 ma­chines in con­tain­ers wing­ing their way over from Amer­ica and Ja­pan. We are look­ing to­wards the fu­ture and we want to make Ar­cade Club big­ger.” How about more lo­ca­tions? “One day – maybe – I’d love it if we could pos­si­bly open about four or five across the UK so ev­ery­one could en­joy it,” Andy replies cau­tiously, “but I have to make sure the in­fra­struc­ture is there first, and that we’re able to keep on top of re­pairs be­fore we could do that.”

Re­gard­less of any plans for fu­ture ex­pan­sion, Ar­cade Club is al­ready a unique and ex­cit­ing venue for any gamer to visit – and when all is said and done, that’s the thing that Andy finds most sat­is­fy­ing about the busi­ness. “It’s never been about the money, it’s just about hav­ing a fan­tas­tic time and leav­ing some­thing, once I’ve left this mor­tal coil, that was worth­while. That’s very im­por­tant to me. I don’t want to just have a big bank ac­count,” he says. “A lot of peo­ple said it wouldn’t work, and I’d end up with a very ex­pen­sive les­son in what busi­nesses not to open, but for­tu­nately it did – peo­ple sup­ported us and just love Ar­cade Club for what it is, which is a great value day out that the whole fam­ily can en­joy.”

» As well as gam­ing, Ar­cade Club of­fers food op­tions, and you can even en­joy your meal on a cock­tail cab­i­net.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.