(Photo by Gabriel Pendleton)
Arcades — the once-popular social setting for after-school hangouts and staple of malls across the globe — have long been replaced by mobile apps and console gaming systems. Where once quarters were king, PlayStations and Xboxes now reign supreme.
But recently, there has also been a rise in retro arcade-themed bars and entertainment venues, most notably Dave & Buster’s. There is also the more indie Barcade, which now has four locations in cities including New York and Philadelphia. This begs the question, can modern arcade games breathe life into an old tradition? Eric Yockey, CEO of Unit-e Technologies believes he can with the upcoming title Neon FM.
Yockey began creating small computer games at the age of six and continued to hone those talents during his high school years. In 2004, after working on a few music and dance game collaborations with Eric Ruth (currently of Shark Tree Studios), the two were approached by an investor to build a dance game for the arcade market.
The game’s first incarnation, titled Dance Nation, would never see completion as the investor would later drop out of the deal for unknown reasons, Yockey said. A year later, the young entrepreneur’s desire to create and build games led him to establish his very first game studio in 2005 at the age of 21 called Pop’nKO Music & Entertainment with three close friends.
It was then, that the rebranded Neon FM: Dance Radio appeared to have a second chance at being published and fully funded. Yockey and his team were offered a contract for the exclusive manufacture and distribution of Neon FM from a large-scale manufacturer (whose name he would not disclose). Pop’nKO had a chance to hit a market that, post-Dance Dance Revolution, was lacking another major dance game.
Yockey, and four other members left their day jobs to start work full-time on the production of the game. But only a few months later, communication with the distributor become extremely difficult, and capital began to disappear.
When silence from the distributor was finally broken, Yockey and his team were informed that the distributor no longer wanted to continue with the deal, citing patent concerns, Yockey said.
“I basically came into it with the belief that people are basically good and corporate people are not looking to shaft you,” he said. “I was completely wrong.”
Yockey believes that experience is the best teacher, but admitted his team’s inexperience proved too risky for publishers to take a chance. Pop’nKO Music & Entertainment, with no plan B, closed its doors.
A comeback with Unit-e Technologies
There is great difficulty working in an “old industry,” said Yockey. “People still heavily use fax machines, companies don’t have websites, the distributors and operators have extreme power on what they choose to pay.”
Unwavered by this, he still planned to move forward.
In 2011 Yockey was at it again, this time with his new company, Unit-e Technologies. The company’s flagship game, Transgression, was released on the Xbox Live Indie Arcade. Two years later, Yockey met Eric Holniker, who runs an arcade called The Save Point in Westminster, Md., and was the project lead on Team Infinity, which made Pump It Up Infinity for Andamiro (a games software company based in South Korea).
At this time, Neon FM was in its early stages, “fresh off a napkin drawing,” said Yockey.
Holniker convinced Yockey to take Neon FM to production for a second chance to launch the game and get it published. Yockey, redesigned the game to let players use their hands to hit color-coded pads. After building the demo, and going through the first round of location tests, the results were positive. Yockey’s team was confident that they had something special. It lured the attention of major publishers in the arcade market.
Neon FM is a fast-paced, Americanized EDM music game in the realm of Dance Dance Revolution, but the players uses their hands to play.
“The focus is on timing and competition instead of difficulty,” Yockey explained. Neon FM also features a patent-pending QR code login system that allows players to save progress along with account information and high scores. Users can track scores across multiple devices, including smartphones.
“We fabricate all of our own circuit boards,” Yockey said when explaining the current success of Neon FM. “We currently have over 7,400 followers on Facebook, two units in Dubai, South Korea, East Asia and seventeen in the U.S. with more test locations planned. Our unit is only $6,495 retail, priced for possible sales of multiple units.”
In an industry that has proven difficult to gain traction, every arcade these days is paired with a bar or some other form of entertainment. The coin-operated market, which also includes redemption games (games that provide prizes or tickets) is only a shell of what it used to be.
The sales figures are not encouraging. A successful arcade game will sell, globally, only 4,000 to 6,000 units.
Although those numbers exist, Unit-e wants the world to play Neon FM.
“We have a team of software and hardware guys who are passionate about building great gameplay experiences,” said Yockey. In a final follow-up interview, he mentioned that Unit-e was “running a successful playtest with Dave & Buster’s.”-30-
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