Over the weekend was the first Arcade Expo in Banning California and it appears to have been very successful. As with any first time events there are going to be both good things and some problems. Overall the show ran very smoothly and there were only minor issues and some of them are already planning to be addressed for the next show that is planned for later this year in October.
I was unable to attend the show on Friday but I was told that the number of people who were there was double of what they expected. I can only speak about the show on Saturday and Sunday. We arrived an hour before the show opened so that we could see the floor before it opened that day. Covering the show as the press did allow me access to the staff and areas of the show like the tournament area during the competition.
First the parking. While there is a fair amount of parking at the complex and was cones off there was more cars than the place could handle on Saturday. Both the lot and the surrounding streets were packed from the morning to the early evening. It did start to free up after about 6 to 7 pm that night. They might want to consider alternative parking or possibly a shuttle to an off site lot if available.
We already had press passes but the ticket area was set up outside to handle pre registration and on site sales. This seemed to go smoothly but there were times where it go a bit backed up but not terribly. The lobby area is a bit on the smaller side and sometimes got clogged up so in the future they might want to keep the area more clear. There were two sets of bathrooms one in the pinball area and the other down the hall from the lobby. There were two problems that I found. First there were a few times where it was obvious that there needed to be more bathrooms because there were not enough to handle the crowds. The bigger issues was that with the amount of people at the expo the bathrooms became very dirty and was not kept up with during the show. They might want to consider getting more staff for that at future shows. This falls under the first show underestimates of capacity issues of the facility.
One of the other issue was the temperature. There were a few problems with this. There were areas especially in the pinball room that got too hot and was a bit uncomfortable. The issue was more of an airflow then a lack of air conditioning. On Sunday they did set up a huge industrial fan but placed it in the older 1960’s area that never had a temperature issue because it was not as busy in that area and they had one of the big doors open in it. The other issue was the main stage area. While it was nice to have an outside area when I went to the Roger Sharpe panel it was down right freezing. The organizers might want to at least get a tent or something that might help with the temperature and the wind issues. If for some reason it had rained they would have been screwed on that area. Hopefully they will address this in future shows
The pinball area is quite spacious and was able to handle the crowds pretty well. There were some times where the area got clogged with people standing in the middle of the road but this was not a major problem most of the time. While there were over 500 pinball machines in the area there were maybe 350 to 375 that were actually working and that estimate was a bit fluid with machines going in and out of service. I am not complaining about that because there was never a time while I was there that you could not play a machine. While there were machines that I wanted to play at the expo some were not able to be repaired before or during the show. This was a massive amount of machines in one location and is probably the most machines in one location. Some of the pinball machines are unable to be set for free play or large amount of credits. There were many attendants and volunteers on the floor that could help you with a problem machine or adding credits to them. The service staff worked long hours before the show and during the show to get as many machines up and running. They did an amazing job considering that a few weeks before the show when I went out to take a tour and a lot of machines were not even on the floor yet and there was still a ton of work to be done on them. I’m sure that some people did complain that their favorite machine was not working but I’m sorry but that is just insane. There were machines that I wanted to play also that were not working.
One was the Six Million Dollar Man that is the only 6 player pinball. At one point the machine was turned on but didn’t have any credits. A technician came over and tried to put credits on it and was unable to do so. He looked at the note and said that the machine would probably not get repaired during the show. While I was disappointed it was not the end of the world and went on to play another machine.
The machines that were playable were in mostly very good shape with a lot of them in quite excellent condition. There were problems here and there with balls getting stuck, balls not loading and in the case of Popeye it kept spitting out balls and I played it for probably 15 to 20 minutes and got 1,682, 780, 780 points. Ok so it was a fluke but it was kind of fun just beating the crap out of the machine. The busiest area was the newer Stern games that were packed all day long and when I left at 1 am they were still full. The sad thing was that people tended to ignore the older vintage pinball machines. I wish that people would expand their horizons and play machines that they have never played before. That was the thing that I loved about the expo was that I got to play a ton of machines that I had either never played or have not played since the time that they were in circulation.
The gun-room was a blast with a nice selection of mechanical gun games. There were only a couple of them that were not working and that was really nice to see. The “kids room” had some really neat games and a rare Moppet Leprechaun game that were made in kid size cabinets. They also had the Super Mario Mushroom World Gottlieb also in kid size cabinet.
The video game side had both the video games and the venders. This area was running nearly 90% of the machines working during the show. Although the issues of the machines not having credits was a noticeable problem the one gripe that I had with the area was the vintage mechanical games that can not have credits stored on them. There should have been a staff member that stayed in the area to put a credit on them so you could play them. Most of them were working but unplayable because no staff member was near them most of the time. I was informed that the credit issue is planning on being resolved before the next show with them adding an external credit button that will be placed on the outside of the machines. This will be a huge improvement. I really have to give credit to Juan Sanchez the owner of the Last Arcade on the Planet who dingle handedly got the video game side up and running as well as it did. There were very few games that were not working and while some of the games did have some issues Juan was working the entire time at the show to keep things going on the video game side.
The show was the busiest on Saturday with most of the people were on the pinball side. It probably had a lot to do with the Guinness Book of World Records attempt of the most people playing pinball at the same time. (I will cover that part in another post). The video game area was pretty quite. That really changed on Sunday because there were a ton of families that came to the show that day. While there were a lot of kids playing pinball the vast majority of them were in the video game room and they were having the time of their life. They carried around their step stools like a badge. They were playing many games and not just the ones that they might be familiar with. It was great to see the younger kids experience games that they had never seen before. It was also great to see a lot of women at the show.
While there were more guys than gals it was really nice to see that women like to play pinball and video games just as much as the boys. For me this is what the hope of this continuing expo can do. While people like myself will go out of our way to find pinball and video games to play its the public at large that we need to expose to this nearly lost culture.
The one thing that the show had in its favor was the incredible staff and local volunteers. While the kids from the local high school did the best they could with helping out it was the main staff and the technicians that really impressed me. The big surprise was the lack of chaos that can plague a first time event like this. Overall the expo ran pretty smoothly and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. There were time that they were overwhelmed with the attendance and the snack bar ran out of drinks at times. There was some catering on site but they were a bit on the slow side. We actually went into town for food to take a bit of a break from the show. I did hear that the food was pretty good and the expo will try to get more on site food for the next show. The bathroom issue needs to be seriously addressed before the next show with both amount and being cleaned on a regular basis. Parking is OK but they will have to look about expanding that in the future. The good news is that the facility seems to be big enough to handle large crowds but they will have to be careful and watch attendance in the future of ratio of working machines vs number of people. They do need to get the pinball side a bit more organized. I think that they underestimated the amount of working machines that came from storage. I noticed that some of the machines glass still needed to be cleaned off correctly but overall they were mostly ready.
In the end the event was a huge success. The attendance was good (as of this writing the final numbers have not been released) and the show ran pretty smoothly for a first time event and new location. There are some needed improvements but overall this is a great starting point for the show. The next event is currently scheduled for October and hopefully they will be able to build on the success of the first show. The positives of the show certainly outweighed the negatives. Nothing is perfect but considering the scope of the Arcade Expo I was impressed and can’t wait until the next event. There are more things to talk about but they will be covered in other post soon. Here are some more pictures from the event.
Great post and great photos! My impressions were very similar to yours. Although I was disappointed with the amount of games that were down, it seems that more and more these shows are about the other activities, seeing old friends, and the atmosphere; this show had plenty of all three.
One complaint that I had that I don’t think you mentioned was the volume of the games. This was both a good and bad thing for me. Normally at shows like CAX or Texas Pinball, I have to wear earplugs after the first day as the noise is just incredible! While Pinball Expo did get loud at times it was no where near the level of other shows. The down side to this is that many of the games had the volume so low you couldn’t hear them at all, this was true on both pinballs and video games.
As someone who brought his whole family I have to say it was a pretty good experience for the kids too. They had a great time, there were plenty of stools for them to use (my two older kids are playing The Simpsons video game in your photo above) and the Wreck-It Ralph movie provided a good break for them during the day on Saturday. My wife wished they would add a diaper changing table in the bathrooms as we also had my 1 year old with us.
Overall, I had a great time and look forward to going to the next one. I imagine they will have a lot of the bugs worked out and if they don’t, I’m not sure I will be so forgiving.
Thanks for your thoughts on the show. I wholeheartedly agree about the volume (except for the newer Stern machines that were way too loud). Glad you brought the family too. It really was great to see lots of kids at the show and they really seemed to enjoy themselves. The staff wants me to send them suggestion on improving the future show and I will add your suggestions.