“Once the pandemic hit, we prepared for the worst,” says David McIntosh, Director of Marketing at Tastemakers, the parent company of Arcade1Up. “We tightened up our staff, we let go of some of our external partners…as most people did. We did go into survival mode and started getting back to our roots of being a startup.”
Steeped in nostalgia, Arcade1Up has been developing and manufacturing 3/4 scale arcade cabinets of some of the most iconic arcade titles in history, releasing them through major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart since 2018. From Space Invaders and Street Fighter to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Golden Tee, Arcade1Up’s line of cabinets spans the history of arcade culture.
The idea is to bring the classic arcade experience to people’s homes, reviving arcade hits in a new format that fits more snugly into the modern gaming landscape.
“We only started as a company two years ago, and we had seen the success of retail and grew into bigger shoes over time. But then we took those shoes off and kicked them to the side went back to the startup grind.”
When the pandemic hit the United States earlier this year, it forced Arcade1Up to make a power move that would hopefully save it from disaster.
“We had to decide on some blockbuster titles to release,” McIntosh explains. “If business took a turn for the worst, what were the products that we could really put our efforts behind to help keep us going through these tough times?”
Ultimately, Arcade1Up chose five cabinets featuring curated collections of some of the biggest arcade hits. The most exciting of these new releases are the Marvel/Capcom crossover cabinets. The X-Men vs. Street Fighter cabinet has Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Superheroes, X-Men: Children of the Atom, and even SNES deep cut X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, while the Marvel vs. Capcom cabinet contains Marvel Super-Heroes: War of the Gems, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Superheroes, and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter.
Rounding out the line-up of new cabinets are Big Buck Hunter (Big Buck Hunter Pro, Big Buck Hunter Pro Open Season, Big Buck Safari, and Big Buck Safari Outback), Marvel Pinball (including ten tables from Zen Studios), and the legendary Ms. Pac-Man (Galaxian, Pac-Mania, and Pac-Man Plus also included).
“If there was one thing to bet our dollar on…we were hoping Ms. Pac-Man would be it,” McIntosh says. “Ms. Pac-Man had always been on the back burner — it took us a while to get the deal sorted out. We couldn’t be happier for that product to see the light of day. It’s the most iconic arcade game in history, and it hasn’t been released in an at-home arcade form factor since its original release almost 40 years ago.”
As for the other titles, Arcade1Up wanted to hit a variety of audiences and demographics. “Our audience is really segmented by intellectual property,” Mcintosh says. “Each game IP bears its own audience. People anywhere from ages 12 to 65 know Pac-Man, whereas something like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat is a bit narrower of an audience, from 25 to 45 and predominantly male.”
The audience is split by genre as well, and each of the new titles was chosen to target a different type of gamer. “X-Men vs. Street Fighter is for our fighting game fans,” says McIntosh. “It’s one of the most iconic fighters to date, and the Marvel franchise is as popular as it’s ever been right now, so we really wanted to bet on it. Big Buck Hunter is a classic bar game, so it was a no-brainer. It’s also a diversification play for us — it opens the door for us to get into sporting goods sections at certain retailers.”
The Big Buck Hunter cabinet is notable in that it’s a light gun cabinet that uses an LCD monitor in place of a CRT monitor, and no light bar, which is a technical achievement. Fittingly enough, Arcade1Up is already considering future re-releases of other classic light gun games.
“We know that the demand for light gun games is insane,” McIntosh says. “All of the comments on the launch video were talking about how Big Buck Hunter opens the door for Terminator, Time Crisis...these people started firing off a hundred different games. And we’re one hundred percent interested in shifting focus to other light gun games after Big Buck Hunter.”
As Arcade1Up was developing these titles over the past few months, COVID-19 altering the country and its economy, the company was surprised to find that the new way of life brought on by the pandemic had actually affected the business positively.
“We saw a 90 percent week over week increase in sales at major retail partners,” McIntosh reveals. “Online sales started skyrocketing. What we discovered was that Arcade1Up entertainment became a staple in people’s homes while they were spending additional hours inside during quarantine. And because we got rid of the excess fat, if you will, and hunkered down on our core business, we have room to breathe and we’re shifting the business in a new direction.”
The unlikely surge in business brought about by shelter-in-place has afforded Arcade1Up with the freedom to expand its business model in new and exciting ways. While McIntosh couldn’t confirm any specifics beyond the five new cabinets, he did hint at how the business will evolve in the near future.
“You’re going to see a lot of our product categories evolve beyond the 3/4 scale machines and closed systems,” McIntosh teases. “You’ll start to see online capabilities, transactions, downloadable content. Very soon, arcade culture will be in everybody’s home in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s a plug-and-play device that talks to an Arcade1Up machine, or a Golden Tee online machine that talks to other machines.”
The first glimpse at the innovations Arcade1Up is bringing to the fore is in the company’s NBA Jam cabinet, which is just starting to arrive to consumers’ homes now. “It’s our first cabinet to have wi-fi capabilities,” McIntosh explains. Players can play up to four players on one cabinet, or they can go online and play 2v2 matches against other cabinet owners. “The direction we’re shifting toward now is game development, taking these iconic titles, manufacturing the machine, but also redeveloping them.”
With new features like online play, Arcade1Up could be poised to breathe new life into the arcade industry and transform it into something new and exciting. It’s no secret that people are less inclined to visit a local arcade in 2020 than they were in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so Arcade1Up is making it easier to get these cabinets into gamers’ homes at an affordable price (cabinet range from around $199 to $499, depending on the retailer).
“We’re preserving the arcade experience and culture — it’s just going to change slightly,” McIntosh says. “We’ve been quoted by our business partners for reviving the arcade business. For us, that’s a huge responsibility and accolade for us. Our business model has shifted from manufacturer to game developer. You’re going to start to see that in the titles we’ve announced and in the titles we have yet to announce for later this year.”
But where does this evolved vision of arcades leave traditional walk-in arcades and their owners? Is there still room for traditional arcades in today’s gaming landscape?
“We’ve been trying to partner with arcades since before COVID hit,” McIntosh says. “They were afraid that we would cannibalize their business, and rightfully so. They thought that it would take away from the true arcade experience if you saw a $3000 arcade machine and a $300 arcade machine, and you can get a similar experience between the two. For them, that was scary.”
But McIntosh says traditional arcade businesses warmed to the Arcade1Up model.
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and we have now had them come out to us and they’re saying, ‘You guys now have the keys to the consumer’s house. You’re in people’s homes. We also want to get into people’s homes. How do we work with you to bring this experience that we provide to your business model?’”
McIntosh asserts that “the modern game room is an Arcade1Up game room. You see five or 10 arcade machines in somebody’s house, and people can’t go outside to get the arcade experience right now. Arcade1Up has retail space, and traditional arcades don’t. We have space at the consumer’s house, and they don’t. I’m not saying that what arcade owners have been doing is wrong, but just like Blockbuster and Netflix, times are changing, and we’re at the forefront.”
Standing at an arcade cabinet, feeling the tactile sensation of the buttons and joysticks, feeling the sound from the speakers wrap around you — this is the unique experiential element that makes arcade machines special and distinguishes them from consoles and PCs, and McIntosh believes that offering as authentic an arcade experience as possible is key to the Arcade1Up’s success.
“The solution to at-home arcades existed before us,” McIntosh explains. “You can go buy a multicade right now that has every game in it, or you can add any game — however legal or illegal that may be — to a cabinet. But the reason we’re at all major retailers, the reason we’re selling out, the reason we’re doing well during this pandemic is that our unique selling proposition in the marketplace is the experience. It’s what people remember playing and seeing at the arcade down to the cabinet artwork and the gameplay. For us, the experience is everything.”
From its inception, Arcade1Up has been fueled by nostalgia and a commitment to recapturing the magic of titles released before some of the company’s employees were even born. But as the business continues to grow, McIntosh believes that the company will naturally be less reliant on vintage titles and more open to new experiences. Could an at-home cabinet of a modern title like Killer Queen be on the horizon?
“Nostalgia was the foundation that got us to where we are,” McIntosh says. “But there are only so many AAA and AA titles that you can roll out, and we’ve ticked a lot of them off of the list at this point. We started releasing titles from the ‘80s, went into the ‘90s, and now we’re starting to look into more modern games and turn that into a more modern experience for a whole new audience. A lot of today’s arcades feature modern titles. You can imagine what’s coming down the pipeline for us.”
Arcade1Up’s Marvel vs. Capcom, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Big Buck Hunter, Ms. Pac-Man, and Marvel Pinball cabinets will be out later this year.