With my transition out of the day to day work of Reclaim Hosting pretty much solidified for the past 8 months it feels like the blog here has suffered a bit. While I was never a super consistent blogger, writing about technical experiments came naturally to me whereas the intense amount of work I'm doing to build and maintain Reclaim Arcade is exciting and very nacent still, but I want to get better about documenting that work as well (and sometimes that too will be technical when it comes to repair work, just in a different way). So one thing I want to write about is how we have come to embrace events at Reclaim Arcade as a way to attract community.
When the arcade first opened it's doors it was in the height of COVID which meant thinking strategically about occupancy restrictions. Jim and I were also still very much full time working on Reclaim Hosting so we also had to be mindful about overhead and resources. Because of that for the first several months the arcade operated with very few staff and other than doing repair work there wasn't a lot needed. But as the occupancy restrictions went away and our numbers grew, we could see the changes coming and hired a general manager who in turn started hiring more staff. I think with any business there's a fine but necessary balance of people that allows you to dream up work (and then the work exceeds the capacity of the team and you hire, lather, rinse, repeat as you grow). As we grew our team they in turn started to have ideas for different events as a way to bring new folks to the arcade. Don't get me wrong, the arcade stands on its own as a destination, but with any physical business you want to give people reasons to put it on a calendar and plan to come. Here are a few of the events we've hosted in the last year with notes about what worked and what didn't along with plans for events to come.
Monthly Pinball Tournaments
Holding regular pinball tournaments was always part of the dream, after all I found my love of pinball by attending the weekly tournaments at Maltese Brewing and many people from that community had in turn supported Reclaim Arcade. The IFPA (International Flipper Pinball Association) is the primary sanctioning organization for pinball and when they started sanctioning in person tournaments again in August of 2021 I took that as my cue to start holding our own tournaments. I started with 3 strike knockout tournaments because I was most familiar with that format. You play head to head 2 player games and you get a strike each time you lose. It runs multiple rounds and you end up playing a minimum of 3 games but more if you manage to win some. Earlier this year I decided to mix the format up by trying a "Frenzy" which is pretty much solid pinball play for a set period of time (we do 2 hours). You still play head to head against others but there are no strikes, the software just records wins and losses throughout the tournament and the winners are the most wins and least amount of losses. Folks really seem to like this format because even if you're not great at pinball you'll get to play a lot of games and meet a lot of people. Speaking of the software I use Match Play Events and it's great for managing these types of tournaments.
Arguably one of the first "events" we held in July 2021 and we repeated it more recently. For this I bought several high-powered UV lights and mounted them in different areas of the arcade. I also got UV-reactive balloons, face paint, and canvas tape to decorate the space and visitors with. The first time we ran this we attempted to sell light-up items like rings and other jewelry but that didn't prove very successful. Most of the stuff is so cheap I think in the future we're just going to give stuff away with each ticket purchase. Also canvas tape doesn't last very long with the foot traffic and leaves marks on the floor. Lesson learned :) I think we could probably be doing more with blacklights given how large the space is so that might be something I invest in for the future. This event is also interesting because I can directly compare the amount of visitors from last year to this year to see how much the arcade has grown. The first glow party we did on July 30th, 2021 had 47 in attendance (which was honestly a bit disappointing for us but at least the event didn't require much work). The second and more recent one we ran on July 8th, 2022 had 166 passes sold! Pretty wild to be able to have a direct comparison like that to drive the point home that the arcade has grown leaps and bounds in just one year's time.
80s Hair Band Night
What 80s arcade would be complete without big hair and big sounds? Our plans for this event were to just play hair band music videos on the projectors and dress up. As luck would have it my good friend GNA had come into town that day so I had costumes prepared. The staff and all of us really had a great time. We sold 73 passes that evening which at the time wasn't too shabby for us. We'll be repeating this event on August 19th so it will be fun to do another comparison. The staff even worked up a great flyer for the event!
Star Wars Night
The 501st Legion is a non-profit group of cosplayers that do all the "bad guys" of Star Wars, your generals, storm troopers, Darth Vader, etc. While we didn't get Darth Vader we did get a few to show up (it's all volunteer and they do it to raise money for charity) and we raised over $500 for the Make a Wish Foundation. This is another event we'll be doing again at the end of August and we're hoping for an even bigger turnout to raise more money and have some great characters for photo ops. Also I was recently able to convince a friend of the arcade to sell me that full replica of R2D2 that will live in Reclaim Video (I might even tackle trying to get it to light up and talk given he mentioned it used to be capable of doing that)
New Years Eve Bash
With the arcade having worked out the logistics of offering food and alcohol by the end of the year I knew I wanted to throw a big party to ring in the new year with retro gaming. This was our first time creating a ticketed event and I used Eventbrite to sell the tickets. They take a % of the ticket cost but the platform is pretty easy to use. We sold 80 tickets and opened earlier that day so people could enjoy the arcade before transitioning to the evening event. Tickets were $30 per person and included a BBQ dinner and champagne toast at midnight. In hindsight this was way too cheap. It's great we sold out but champagne costs more than I realized and preparing food for that many people was quite challenging and we ended up having a lot of leftovers. I also found we could have probably sold more tickets because some who bought tickets didn't show up and not everyone was there for the full time so while it was a good crowd it did kind of suck to have to turn away people at the door when realistically we did have space. But the experience of watching the ball drop on the projector wall with a group of arcade fans was a hell of way to close out 2021 and I'm sure we'll do a variation of this annually.
1 Year Birthday Party
Reclaim Arcade opened it's doors on January 29th, 2021 so it seemed fitting to throw a big birthday party for turning 1. We decided to bring in a DJ and do karaoke and it was an absolute blast. We did an "Arcade Golf" style contest where folks could play 18 different games and attempt to beat the challenges for each one. We've tried different contests and mini tournaments like this and honestly rarely do people participate. It ended up being a lot of work coming up with the challenges, printing signs and score cards, and keeping track of it all and I think we had like 8 participants out of the 310 (!) people who came through the arcade that day. I ordered a bunch of cupcakes and made toppers and those looked great despite also being a ton of work.
First Fridays Karaoke
Given how much fun karaoke was for the birthday party we decided to lock in doing it once a month. We also decided after a few questionable parenting choices to make it a 21+ event after 9PM. Karaoke is always a great time and you start to see regulars come out month to month. I've even set it up so that the words to the song show up on the big projector wall which is fun. What's also cool is this event was born out of elements from the birthday party and then inspired another event later down the road so you start to see the evolution of ideas when we're thinking about what works and building on it.
Women Flipping Out
We hosted the very first Ladies Only pinball tournament in the area but also it was completely organized by one of our members and she did a ton of work to promote the event. We had 27 women show up to play and everyone had a blast. We did a Frenzy style format for this tournament as well and even opened on a Tuesday specifically for the event (but the arcade was open to all). We're going to be doing them more regularly every other month but on Thursdays so that we're not staffing the entire arcade on an off day just for a single event.
By special request of my staff, they wanted to have an Emo Night and since I'm too old to really understand what Emo even means in the context of music genres I of course said absolutely. We've had two of these now and they've been quite popular with a particular demographic that I would say sits firmly in the margins of many scenes from goth and punk to rock and alternative. A buddy of mine Collins that does a ton of work to help me at the arcade has been DJ for this event as well as several others and we have a dedicated DJ booth and equipment now. Live music will continue to be something we double down hard on at the arcade as it's one of the formats that works best to allow people to still be at the arcade and enjoy the space while also adding something for other folks to have fun and enjoy.
Summer Bags and BBQ Blowout
The goal of this event was to have a big outdoor party. We have a great space behind the arcade where the food truck lives so we planned to setup multiple cornhole boards and do a tournament while also smoking pork shoulders for pulled pork all weekend. To complicate things I also decided to build a kegerator and buy customized stadium cups to offer draft beer for the first time ever. Collins and I built 4 sets of cornhole boards complete with stain, vinyl overlay, and many coats of poly. We setup canopies outside for the DJ as well as the draft beer. This was a massive effort and we saw a lot of interest on Facebook for it, but unfortunately weather was not on our side with record breaking heat meaning people were looking more to stay indoors. To add to our misery we had an electrical issue that took out one of our AC units in the arcade (exactly what you don't want on a weekend like that) so we had to setup a few standalone AC units to try and pump cold air in with mixed success. The weekend wasn't a complete bust numbers wise but sadly this event wasn't as big as we had hoped it would be. We've since moved the kegerator inside but I'm very torn on whether to keep offering draft beer, it's a lot of headache and overhead and the returns aren't as big as I had originally thought. The original choice to just go cans and bottles seems even more brilliant now having been through this, but possibly having a few select things on draft in the future is still an open question.
More Karaoke! But this time specifically for the younger kids. This event was created in response to seeing a few daring kids willing to sing at the start of our karaoke Friday's (before the age requirement sets in at 9) and wanting to do a family-focused event. As usual, it snowballed into a bounce house, hot dog stand, and chill gamer room in addition to 4 hours of karaoke with Collins' 11-year-old son DJing. We caught a bit of rain in the last 2 hours of the event but overall it was a massive success with 268 passes sold on a Sunday which is typically quite a bit less busy. More importantly than the numbers, the feedback from parents was really great and seeing kids singing into the mic was an utter joy.
We've got a lot of irons in the fire for future events. As previously mentioned we'll do Star Wars Night and 80s Hair Band Night again. I'm working with a group of DJs that are going to create an immersive techno experience (to include a laser light show and soundscapes). We're planning a country night, Fall Festival, and a big Halloween extravaganza that will hopefully be timed to coincide with the completion of some much needed renovations to gain more space in our growing arcade. I think the biggest lessons I've learned from all of these events is to outsource where possible and have solid plans for bad weather or other things that could have an impact. The community consistently rewards us with their stewardship of the space and it's a joy to be able to make opportunities like this possible.