Over the weekend the Pop Culture Maven crew set out to Banning California for the second annual Arcade Expo. The good news is that a number of the problems from the first show had been addressed and while there are still a few bumps in the road. The good thankfully outweighed the bad the second time around.
While the final estimates of attendance has not been released yet I spoke with show director Daniel Lin on Sunday and he stated the early estimates are on par with the first show that had approximately 35,000 attendees this year. I’m guessing when the final numbers come in it might actually be a good amount higher. I was only able to attend on Saturday and Sunday but spoke with some people who attended the show on Friday and they said that the turnout was higher than last years. Saturday was of course the busiest day but Sunday seemed higher than last year.
The amount of working machines was a huge improvement over last years Arcade Expo and they had even improved upon the Twin Galaxies event from October that used Arcade Expo’s facility for their event. The biggest improvement to the pinball area was the Electro Mechanical machine area that has the pre 1970’s machines. This area has really struggled in past shows and I was very impressed with the job that the technicians had done with the area. On the flip side the Sega and Data East area as you first come into the pinball area was a disaster. There were a fair amount that were turned off for repair but by the end of the show over half of the row was down. While machines do breakdown this is a very critical area where the attendees see this area as they first walk in and it sadly made a bad visual presentation.
The Bally and Williams machines in the 1970’s and 1980’s area was in pretty good shape and most of the machines were on and working. While there were some repairs needed during the show this area did pretty well. The 1980’s and 1990’s Bally and Williams area was pretty solid with most of the machines in good working order and they handled the show pretty well. Sadly both the Pinball 2000 machines really struggled during the show. Both had flipper and monitor issues and while they tried to keep them going they just didn’t make it to the end.
As always the new Stern machines were always busy and while I get that they are new machine that the vast majority of people have not played, I am just not a fan of most of these machines. For me they have too much crap on the play field and the sound is turned too loud and the LED lights are just too bright. Some of the older game have had their lights switched to LED and its just to bright and those machines were not designed for them and I wish that they would try to keep them in their original release state. On the plus side across the aisle there were tow Joust pinball’s that got very heavy play and a Safe Cracker that was set to the Assault On the Vault mode and had the full doors and topper that you rarely see. Sadly the token feature was not turned on.
The worst area was the International and Obscure pinball machines where maybe 20% of the machines were even turned on. For most of the show Atari’s Hercules was on and working quite well and was alway being played. It was a huge hit of the show but the left flipper stopped working on Sunday and people were very disappointed about that. The other two Atari pinball’s Superman and Time 2000 were not working at all during the show. This is the third show and neither machine has been playable. This is a real shame considering that Atari only made seven pinball machines and Superman was the most produced and successful machine that they released. Overall this area was a disaster and very sad to see. It was a real shame because there are some great pins in this area that this years attendees sadly missed out on.
There was also the black light “adult’ room that was a great idea but I would have not mixed the two. The black light was a neat idea where they turned off the play field lights and the black light gave the play-field a different look. It was a little hard to see the ball but an interesting idea. There was also a sports room with classic Atari sports games that used the trackball controllers but only the baseball machine was turned on but had no credits. So good idea but poor execution.
Finally there was the two tournament areas with a new and old sections for the It Never Drains in California. That story is for another article that I will cover and comment on in another post.
The shooting gallery area that was across the aisle from the Data East area was moved outside into its own building and the previous area is now where the bar is located. While I was sad to see it moved, the new location is much bigger and is actually a nice improvement. I loved the wagon wheel light in the building I hope that in the future they do some theming of the build to give it a fun look. While I do think that a lot of people sadly missed this the ones who did go had a great time with these now very rarely seen machines.
The Cocktail bar in the enclosed room was a good idea but there were a few problems. First the bowling machine was left in the room and while some would think that this was OK they didn’t see all of the kids last year flipping out and playing the hell out of the machine. Because there was liquor being served no one under 21 was allowed in. There were cocktail machines in there that made a lot of sense to put they’re considering that is what they were designed for.
The Child’s Play Family Room got a fair amount of action but most kids seemed to want to play the full size machines if they could reach them with a step stool. I love that they have this area for the very young ones and is a great idea.
On the Arcade side the vast majority of games were working and I would say that overall the ones that were not were maybe only 10% or 15%. They also had signs on the ones that were not working during the show that was a big help. The pinball side really failed on this issue. There was a lot of new gun games that were quite the hit of the show. The arcade side had plenty of volunteers to make sure that the games had credits and there were enough of them to easily find them. One of the fun things was Carrie Swidecki who had a Just Dance interactive demo that was a good idea but there wasn’t a dedicated area for her and it would be nice if she comes to future shows to give her a space. This is also where most of the venders were and sadly the number of venders was a fraction of last years. It would be nice to maybe have a different area for vender because most attendees are too buys playing and not visiting the tables. This is a tough spot for the show and I don’t think that there is a simple solution for this one.
The stage area was moved down from next to the arcade area to down the hill and then there was a tent set up for the silent auction and three of the bigger venders Marco Specialties, Nifty LED, & Mirco Playfields. Marco set up six new Stern pinball’s (Kiss, WWE, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones both versions, and Whoa Nellie! Juicy Melons) that were quite the hit and I totally fell in love with Whoa Nellie and will review it later. The auction machines were in pretty rough shape and were what you would call barn find games. They were mostly water damaged and rusted on the inside. If you were willing to take on a project that would be the high point.
There was also a camping area with a Starcade with some pinball and video games that you could play all day and night. There were about 10-15 tents and 4 RV that took advantage of the $30 a night fee to stay there. It’s an interesting idea and will see if it makes it back for future shows.
So here were some of the issue that need to be addressed for future shows. The bathrooms were definitely a lot cleaner and restocked during the show but, there is still not enough capacity to handle the volume of attendees. They need to either bring in some port-a-potties or build some more permanent bathroom facilities. While there was food venders there the prices were really high and the selection was not that great. The company who ran the Twin Galaxies event had better choices of food. You would have been better off going into Banning and getting better and cheaper food with a good selection of fast food and sit down restaurants.
While I applaud the show for putting on events the facility needs to have larger rooms for the events. It would be great if they could do things like the Classic Gaming Expo did when they were in Las Vegas. This would be a great location for a similar show if they could get the number of venders like they did. The pinball side had a few issues. While there were an ample amount of technicians to do repair work there was a real lack of volunteers to make sure there were credits on the games and to assist in getting technicians to the machines that needed help. They should have had better signage to note the games were not working. There were quite a few machine that were off but it was unclear if they were broken of just not turned on. The Arcade side did a better job with this. There is still one nagging issue on the arcade side with the older machine that you can not load credits on they need to either have a dedicated attendant in the area for credits or put credit switches on the machines.
The really good news that they got a lot more right from the first show. First of all it was really organized from the start. They had people directing the parking lot that made things a lot smoother and fit more cars. They also opened up the adjacent parking lots on the facility that allowed more cars in and less on the streets. The ticket area was really improved and was very well staffed during both the busy and slow periods of the show. The staff and volunteers were really much more organized and were very well-directed for the most part. They made great strides in getting the majority of machines working especially the Electo Mechanical Pinball area that had a lot more machines up and running. The arcade side was perfect. Opening up the outside area with the location of the stage, shooting gallery and the vendor tent was a great idea and got people outside with things to do. I love that they are trying to have more events but they need to do a better job on promoting them but overall there were some very interesting events like the Walter Day Trading Card Museum Dedication & Intellivison Panel but the Sunday panels were a bit lacking.
The best thing about the show was the large attendance of families and kids. There were tons of kids under 18 at the show and that was really great to see. Introducing classic pinball and video arcade games to kids and seeing them fall in love with them just like we did when we were growing up is priceless. There were also a lot of women that were there to break the stereotype of only guys playing video games and pinball. The younger generation (20-30) were also there in good numbers and really seemed to be enjoying it. Hopefully word of mouth will spread and will continue to gain a new generation to discover what we already know makes pinball and arcade games so great.
Overall Arcade Expo 2.0 was a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully they can continue to build on what they have done and try new things and improve on the few issues that do work but still need to be addressed. Hopefully they will get things worked out with the city of Banning so that there can be more than one show a year. They are working hard to get a regular schedule going and hopefully turn into the must attend events in Southern California.
Here are some more photos from the event. I will be posting more photos soon and a few more stories about Arcade Expo 2.0.
Great review! I was there again this year and agree with everything you wrote. Better show this year but still with room to improve.
I had a great time but I do have to complain about the prices. The entrance fee is still too high. I had several friends that wanted to go but couldn’t justify paying so much more than similar shows. Also, I was there on Friday and Saturday; the food vendors raised prices by 20-25% in Saturday compared to Friday, not cool.