ACAM Provides Arcade For Escapist Expo
By Mike Stulir
Board of Directors, The American Classic Arcade Museum
The Escapist & ACAM: A Door Opens
January 23rd, 2012 started out just like any other winter day…..until this arrived in my E-Mail:
“So it turns out that The Escapist is holding its own Expo this year and I was hoping to have a classic arcade there. You wouldn't happen to know anyone who might be able to do such a thing, would youuuuuuuu? Someone terribly tall and handsome, preferably. :)”
This message came to me from my longtime friend Susan Arendt, who is the Executive Editor of The Escapist. I’m sure that if you are reading this, you already know that The Escapist is one of the leading web publications that celebrate the gaming lifestyle. Susan and I met over ten years ago and we have been friends ever since.
I have no doubt that Susan was aware of two things when she sent me that message. The first is that she is one
of the few people that I would do absolutely anything for. The second is that her use of flattery will get her
everywhere. In any event, we traded some e-mail and talked on the phone for a while in general terms about
what Escapist Expo would be all about and how The American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM) could fit in.
Allison Harn and Jose Mireles of The Escapist
The ACAM facility is a highly sought-after resource, and that affords us the opportunity to be selective about who we partner with. Aside from being part of the biggest and best classic arcade in the world, we constantly receive inquiries and requests. We invest massive resources into saving and preserving arcade games. We have a fully interactive “hands-on” arcade with over 300 completely playable coin-operated games. We provide research materials to journalists. We host groups of college students from many local Universities when they need to study the birth of gaming.
We work with the original game developers on preserving their legacy. With the recent explosion of major gaming events, we are now receiving countless invitations to provide games and historical exhibits for trade shows. Unfortunately most events don’t have a good grasp of the overwhelming costs involved to bring games to a show. When discussions actually get going, event planners tend to back off once they are aware of what is involved to move games cross-country. However, once Susan and I discussed specifics of this event, it became clear that Escapist Expo was an event with huge potential and ACAM needed to be part of it.
At that point, I brought some other ACAM staffers into the mix. Our President, Gary Vincent, was the first person brought into the loop. I introduced him to Susan during the GameX convention that ACAM attended in Philadelphia, PA back in 2009. Gary was very impressed with her at that time, and once I explained what Susan wanted from us for Escapist Expo, he was fully on-board with trying to bring an arcade to their event. ACAM volunteers Scott Gaulin and David Hernly were also brought into the discussion for their feedback and expertise, as they would be attending the show with us.
All of these conversations led to a face-to-face meeting at PAX-East. Gary and I met with Susan Arendt and Janelle Bonanno, who is the Business Development Manager for The Escapist. They were blown away by the environment we create at PAX-East to replicate what Saturday night was like at an arcade in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Gary and I also met separately with Greg Tito, the Senior Editor of The Escapist. At that point, it was clear that The Escapist and ACAM is a great fit, and we made a verbal commitment to attend the show.
We tabled discussions on the specifics of our Escapist Expo appearance until after our International Video Game Tournament, which is our big event that we have been running for the last 14 years. Once the tournament was over, I started making inquiries about costs for moving approximately 30 classic arcade machines from New Hampshire to North Carolina.
ACAM has our own large box truck, but we thought that bringing in a dedicated freight transportation company to move the games would be a better option considering the time and distance involved. The quotes came back from three companies that specialize in moving trade show exhibits and it became clear that we needed other options. The numbers were more than double what we anticipated.
However, we were determined to make this show work, so we started looking at alternatives. At the suggestion of David Hernly, we reached out to a man who prefers to only be known as “Buffett.” He provides a good chunk of the classic coin-op games for the MAGfest show in National Harbor, MD. Buffett lives in Virginia, and it was suggested that perhaps we could utilize his collection and significantly reduce the moving costs. After speaking with him, we came to an agreement on how to make it work, and I finalized ACAM’s commitment to Escapist Expo.
With all of the arrangements set in stone, we had no alternative but to play the waiting game until the day before the show.
Day 0: The Journey To Durham
I drove to Virginia to meet up with Buffett for loading & transporting the games. Gary & Scott flew from New Hampshire to the Raleigh/Durham Airport where The Escapist staffers Allison Harn and Jose Mireles were waiting to transport them to the hotel. Buffett and I arrived in Durham around 9pm. Unfortunately, we could not start setup of the games until 7am on Friday; a mere 5 hours before the start of the show. So, we left the truck of games in the satellite parking area and went to check in at the hotel.
We were all staying at the hotel attached to the convention center, the Marriott Durham City Center. Like all Marriott hotels I have stayed in, this was an outstanding facility, and it was very nice of The Escapist to put us up so close to the convention space. We checked in, and Scott went straight to bed since he worked overnight before the flight. Gary, Buffett and I took a little time to check out the Durham Convention Center and acquaint ourselves with the layout. After a quick dinner in the hotel lounge, we headed to bed so we could get an early start.
Day 1: An Incredible Experience
As soon as we returned, we met up with panel moderator Joey DeSena from RetrowareTV. We then found the guest of honor, legendary Atari game designer Warren Robinett.
Gary and I had some time to speak with Warren for a few minutes before the panel, and we discussed some of the intricacies of designing games in the limited space available on the Atari 2600, and some of the non-gaming work he has done. We also familiarized him on the work we do at ACAM.
The panel was focused mostly on the preservation work done by ACAM, and Warren’s stories about development back in the heyday of the Atari 2600. I will have to admit that I was a bit worried about attendance for this panel. We were the first panel scheduled on the first day of the convention, and I had concerns that there would not be a lot of people at the show that early. Boy, was I wrong. The room was easily 90% full, and we ended up going over our allotted time due to all of the great questions. The panel was a huge success, and the attendees all came up to shake Warren’s hand when the panel concluded.
For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of my work for ACAM is getting to know the former developers when we do panels, or build displays for the Museum. Warren was one of the most charming people we have had appear with us at a show, and we could not have been more thrilled and proud to have him with us.
After the panel was over, we took Warren over to meet some of The Escapist staff before he had to leave. We were all pleased to hear that he would be back with his sons at some point over the weekend.
Escapist Expo party at the American Tobacco Campus
With Warren gone, Gary and I returned to the arcade on the main expo floor. David Hernly had arrived during the panel, so we were now fully staffed. What really amazed us early on was just how mobbed our arcade was. It was full almost immediately from the time the doors were opened. We had fears that Friday might be a slow day. With Escapist Expo counting on so many of the local college students to attend, I figured they would not be showing up until Saturday, Friday attendance turned out to be outstanding.
At the end of day one, we moved on to the evening party. The ACAM crew had been invited to the VIP event for the show. The party was held at the American Tobacco Campus, which was a two block walk from the convention center. The campus is a registered historic site with roots in the American Tobacco Factory established in the 1800s. The factory buildings have all been restored and repurposed for office space, restaurants and the stadium for the Durham Bulls baseball team.
The party was held in a beautiful courtyard underneath the smokestack for the old Lucky Strike cigarette factory. The weather was perfect for an outdoor party. The crushing life-sucking humidity from earlier in the day had subsided and we partied outdoors as the sun went down. After an awesome meal of BBQ Ribs & BBQ Turkey, Gary and I spent hours mingling with the other exhibitors, panelists & special guests for the show. Most of my time was spent meeting a number of people participating in the show, and visiting with all of the people I worked with at The Escapist to arrange ACAM’s appearance including Susan Arendt, Janelle Bonanno, Greg Tito & Greg Lincoln. Gary did the same and also spent a lot of time with one of the musical acts appearing at the Expo, D&D Sluggers.
I cannot thank The Escapist crew enough for holding this party. It was so nice to have a chance away from the show floor to meet the other exhibitors and guests, and having the party in a location that celebrates the history of the Durham, NC area was a great idea.
Day 2: The Show Continues
Day two of the show was even busier than day one. The show floor was completely full, and there were lines of people waiting to play the games. I wish I could contribute some incredible stories of the day, but we were so busy, we weren’t too aware of what else was going on around the show. I was told by a show staffer that the show was so busy that that they had to stop letting people in the door at several points during the day so as not to exceed the capacity of the building.
With the end of day two, Gary, Scott, David, Buffett and I set out to soak up some of the local nightlife. We found this bar called Bull City Burger & Brewery, where we had some awesome burgers and some great beer that they brew right there in the bar. I highly recommend their Gateway Golden Ale.
We returned to the convention center for the evening entertainment which included the costume contest and the D&D Sluggers concert. We met up with Joey DeSena and we also spent a lot of time talking with Greg Tito and Schuyler Dievendorf of The Escapist. Unfortunately, my back had been bothering me since Buffett and I loaded the truck several days before, so I was having a hard time standing in the concert hall. I elected to relax in the hotel lounge with Joey, David & Buffett. Gary & Scott stayed for the concert and had a wonderful time.
Day 3: The Finale
Day three was a shock to us. We could not believe how fast time had passed, and the show was almost over. The main expo floor was still quite full. Warren Robinett returned today with his sons Ballard & Tai. We were thrilled he came back and we got to spend some more time with him, and his kids seemed to love the games. David had to head home mid-afternoon on Sunday, so we said our goodbyes and he went off on his way.
There was a rumor floating around the show vendors that the street fair running outside of the convention center would not be over until 5pm, and the streets would not be open to get our trucks to the loading dock until 7pm. The rumor turned out to be true. When the show ended at 4pm, we packed up all of our materials and prepped the games for loading. That left us with 90 minutes to kill, so we headed off to the hotel lounge for dinner.
We returned 45 minutes later, and still had no update for when the streets would be reopened. After looking outside and noticing that most of the street vendors had not left yet, we were worried we were in for a long wait. We struck up a conversation with two of the Durham Police Department officers that were doing crowd control, and they agreed to help us get the truck to the dock. Buffett and I walked to the satellite parking area several blocks away to get the truck, and the Durham PD assisted us in navigating all of the blocked off streets to get our truck to the dock. That was incredibly awesome of them to help us out. The Durham PD was also doing security at the show, and all of the officers we encountered were wonderful.
Gary, Scott, Buffett and I loaded up the truck. By the time we finished, the streets had reopened and we took the truck back to the satellite parking area. After a quick celebratory toast at the hotel lounge to honor the success of the show, we headed to bed.
Day 4: The Aftermath & The Long Ride Home
Gary and Scott flew back to New Hampshire on Monday morning. Buffett and I took the truck of games back to his home in Virginia on Monday afternoon, and after unloading everything, I continued the trip home to Philly.
Reflecting on everything that happened at the show while I was driving home, I feel I can declare the show a complete success on all counts. Gary, Scott and I were all in agreement that this was the most fun we have had at an event since ACAM started appearing at shows. Moving 28 games (that weigh around 300 pounds each) is a huge task. The Escapist crew made everything so easy for us, and the attendees showed us that all of the work was worth it.
The masterminds of ACAM's appearance at Escapist Expo -- From left: ACAM President Gary Vincent, Business Development Manager for The Escapist Janelle Bonanno, Executive Editor for The Escapist Susan Arendt, Director of ACAM Mike Stulir
It was awesome being at an event that was more intimate, and allowed us to interact more directly with the attendees. Events like PAX-East may be awesome for ACAM from an exposure and business-development standpoint, but they are not ideal for interaction with attendees due to the size of the crowds. Being part of the main expo floor at Escapist Expo gave us a tremendous amount of one-on-one time with the attendees, and that allowed us to provide a better exhibit.
The feedback we have received to this point has been stellar. If The Escapist decides to make this an annual event, it goes without saying that we will attend.
In closing, I would like to offer special thanks to the following people:
ACAM Staff/Volunteers & Other Contributors:
Gary Vincent – For continuing to be ACAM’s driving force & visionary. ACAM’s appearances at these shows could not happen without his 30+ years of arcade operation experience.
Scott Gaulin – It is always rewarding to work with Scott, and I was thrilled he was able to make the trip.
David Hernly – While we did not run a tournament that required our scorekeeper, David made the trip anyway and volunteered his time to interact with the people playing our games. Thanks David!!
John McGray – John is our graphic design wizard that goes out of his way to make ACAM’s promotional materials & presentations look incredible. Thanks for all that you do!
Warren Robinett – Wow, was it fun to do a panel discussion on gaming history with the creator of one of the most popular games on the Atari 2600. Warren, it was a pleasure and an honor to have you join us.
“Buffett” – He loaned us games from his personal collection and came to the show to help us with any service issues that popped up.
Bob Lawton & Funspot – If it were not for the generosity of Bob Lawton & his family, ACAM could not exist. Thank you to Funspot for giving ACAM the floor space we need to operate the museum and preserve gaming history.
Joey DeSena – It is always a pleasure to see the crew from RetrowareTV and it was great to collaborate on the panel discussion.
Lorien Green – Thank you for all of your social media advice and assistance. You have been a huge asset and great friend to ACAM.
The Escapist Staff:
Janelle Bonanno – When Susan Arendt first told me that I would be working with Janelle for some aspects of the show, she said to me “You are going to love Janelle.” After getting to know her, I found that Susan was absolutely right. In fact, if there were a way to steal her away to work for ACAM, I would do it in a heartbeat. Her energy level, passion and enthusiasm continue to amaze me, and I hope we get a chance to work together again.
Greg Tito – Greg was responsible for putting together the panel on classic gaming, and I cannot thank him enough for making sure classic games were represented at the show.
Greg Lincoln – Greg was always checking in with us to see how things were going and if we needed anything. He provided an awesome level of service, and that was greatly appreciated.
Allison Harn, Elisa Murciano & Jose Mireles – Thanks for overseeing all of our transportation needs. That took a huge burden off of our shoulders, and we are very grateful for your help.
Tom Kurz and Alex Macris: Co-Founders of Themis Media, the parent of The Escapist. You have built one of the finest gaming communities on the web, and ACAM is proud to be part of it.
Susan Arendt – There are not enough good things to say about Susan. I have been blessed to have her as a friend for many years, and she is one of the most giving and selfless people I know. She ran herself ragged all weekend trying to keep everything running smoothly, and somehow, she made it all look easy. She constantly puts the needs of others ahead of her needs, and she does not seek out attention or fame for herself. To me, this is one of the best qualities a person can have. Plus, she always makes me laugh out loud. The reason that ACAM was able to attend this show was due to her desire to have the classics properly represented. Susan, thank you being a part of my life, and for being a valuable friend to ACAM.