October 2-4, 2015 celebrated the inaugural new home at the Museum of Pinball in Banning California and got off to a pretty good start. I was able to attend the show on Saturday and Sunday and will be covering events at the show in future post. Today I wanted to talk about the show and what was good and what was not so good. I will say that overall the show was good but compared to the inaugural Arcade Expo in January there were some problems with the Twin Galaxies show.
I think the biggest of my concerns is that the event didn’t really have an identity. While Twin Galaxies was founded in 1981 by Walter Day who started the original Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa Iowa and in 1982 has been keeping records of high scores since 1982. While the original arcade no longer exists, the high score part has lived on the internet. While over the years Walter and Billy Mitchell have continues to be involved with events all over the United States, this is the first time that they have set up a permanent since the original arcade.
While the Museum of Pinball is a great facility with over 800 pinball and video game machines it’s becoming the premiere arcade due to the sheer size of the facility in the United States, the Twin Galaxies event was not as well attended as the January Arcade Expo show. There were two problems right off the bat first, the pricing was way too high the VIP package was $200 for the 3 day event that is more than double the cost of the Arcade Expo show. While there “perks” like a parking pass that was for the regular lot, t-shirt, and getting in an hour earlier each day. While the t-shirt was nice and I bought one myself they were only $25 and they had plenty of them. There was never a parking problem like the January show that was packed. I would estimate that there were maybe no more than 300 people there on Saturday and Sunday was pretty quite with maybe 150 people so parking on the street was very easy. If you choose not to get the so-called VIP perks you were still looking at $50 a day to go and while there are a ton of games to play it just seemed overpriced for the event.
While I can only speak for Saturday and Sunday the tournaments were very underwhelming. The NES Decathlon had at most 15 people entered into it. The prize money seemed really high for the events. They were $1,200 1st place, $500 2nd place, and $250 3rd place. I know that you want people to enter the contests (I do no know if you had to pay a separate fee for them) but it seemed pretty high for an event that not a lot of people seemed know it was going on. So if you were a half decent player you could have really scored big time.
This leads to the biggest problem is that not a lot of people knew about this show. A friend who is always on the pinside forums said that no one really knew that the show was going on. The SC3 Los Angeles based gaming group posted on the Facebook page and it was the same response, no one seemed to know about it. While I did go the original press event for the show (See Part 1 & Part 2), there was not really much information about the event that was given to us and there was no press junket where they tell you about what it’s going to be about. They just let everyone in and played the games. While I know that people probably wrote about the event, it didn’t seem to translate into attendance of the show. They even ran a Gorupon for the show that made the price much better (The VIP 3 day was down to $105 and two adult tickets for Saturday were $55. According to the site there were less than 50 sold and for Groupon that is not that great.
Twin Galaxies apparently hired a 3rd party promoter to do the show and I don’t know who they were but they were the ones that set the high ticket prices and were in charge of the publicity and I certainly hope that they do not use them again. With the light turnout they didn’t do a very good job on the show.
The only other issue that I had with the show was during the NES tournament they had a lot of problems getting the systems to work when they went to change the games. This really slowed down the process and it also seemed a bit unorganized from where I was standing. It’s one thing to have an arcade game or pinball tournament because of the limited availability of games but let’s be really honest that finding original NES systems is not that difficult. They should have replaced all of the pin connectors on the systems that are notorious for being a huge problem. When they couldn’t get the games to start they did the classic blowing the cartridge that does NOTHING to fix the problem. I suggested that they use WD-40 that is the best thing to try to clean the pin connector first. They should have had extra replacement machines ready to go for the tournament. On the plus side they were very observant of the gameplay during the tournament to make sure that everyone was playing for the correct amount of time.
So now to the things that did work for the show. Having Walter Day and Billy Mitchell gave the show some nice celebrity spotlight. There were some great panel discussions like the original programmers from Intellivison with Keith Robinson,
Behind the Game Soundtrack with Tommy Tallarico.
One of the best things at the festival was the first public screening of Man VS. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler directed by Tim Kinzy & Andrew Seklir that is an incredible documentary that played to a packed room and got an incredible response. I will have a review of the film up very soon.
Almost all of the special guest were hanging around the show floor and were very friendly to talk to and have a more one on one conversation.
There was a flash mob wedding on Saturday where Aaron Ruth and Sara (Nee Huntley) Ruth got married on the spot. It was a lot of fun and not anything that I expected at the show.
The number of working games continues to improve and while there are machines that have worked and were not working at this event there were some that had been DOA at the past show and press event that were now working. The video game side had a higher percentage of working machines. While having credits to play some of the game that can not be set to free play is still a big issue, the machines are working very well on the video game side.
The pinball selection is improving but they are still struggling with getting them up and running. There were quite a few that had been working but were not on. There were times where you would ask a technician about it and there were a few cases that the machine had seem to have just been turned off. Pinball machines are more tricky because they have a lot more moving parts than a video game so they are working on it but it will take time. Hopefully there will be more improvements for the upcoming January Arcade Expo 2.0 show.
The facility has installed air conditioners they are still struggling with them. On Saturday the outside temperature was about 83 degrees but it was much warmer inside. The Stern pinball and the Alienware PC section were real hot zones. There were many times where is was cooler outside than in the facility that had air conditioning. I spoke to them about it and they are working on it, so they continue to try to improve things a with the growing pains.
Overall the show was fun but the nagging issue is what the point of the Twin Galaxies Festival is. The Arcade Expo was much more successful and very well attended. I think that some people might have thought that you might not be able to just play the games because of tournaments or people trying to get high scores. If they are planning to continue having these festivals they really need to come up with a better game plan for the next show, but more importantly they need to develop an identity for the show. Having a big facility is one thing but they need to give people a reason to spend money and travel time to the show. As with any first show there are going to be problems. The good news is that some of the problems can be fixed but the question is will they?
The show was far from a disaster and the people who were there seemed to be having a great time. The thing that I really loved was that there were quite a few families there and it’s always great to see a new younger generation discover classic pinball and video games. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a kid pull up a step stool and start playing.