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Editor’s Notebook: Fear And Loathing In Coin-op

Fear And Loathing In Coin-op


June 10, 2008
By Cam Wood


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In a recent conversation with a manufacturing representative, the issue of operator confidence came into debate. The discussion was over the age-old “ain’t like the old days” attitude
that is prevalent today. But what was being said is that the level of
purchasing confidence among operators “ain’t what it used to be.”

In a recent conversation with a manufacturing representative, the issue of operator confidence came into debate.

The discussion was over the age-old “ain’t like the old days” attitude that is prevalent today. But what was being said is that the level of purchasing confidence among operators “ain’t what it used to be.”

We can see the distance technology has brought us from those days: machines in both vending and gaming niches are far more advanced. But skepticism has also kept pace.

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The Canadian market has experienced a great deal of recent turmoil. The 2003 SARS scare, mad cow disease, no-smoking legislation and now fear-mongering over avian flu, has left the amusement industry pondering what could be next.

The problem with this attitude is that there is more to fear in fear itself. The supposed threats to our collective wellbeing are a direct result from a pandemic of over-reaction in society. According to a recent Maclean’s magazine report, British sociologist Frank Furedi says that “the more secure a society is – in terms of health, wealth and political stability – the more likely it is to fixate on theoretical menaces.”

These menaces are fuelled by two over-zealous societal agencies: government and media. For example, take the launching pad of this new-age mentality: Y2K. In the weeks prior to December 31, 1999, fear was rampant among civilized society. The media informed us they
didn’t believe the power grids would recognize the date change and mass blackouts would result. Headlines focused on computers crashing, sending the foundation of our economy into an anarchistic void, where banks would “lose” our collective savings, records destroyed, thousands maimed and wounded in the ensuing hysteria.

Shall we continue?

The end result of Y2K was nothing but a boom for the software industry – to the tune of $100 billion. And to the makers of gasoline powered generators. Fortunately eBay survived the Y2K dilemma, and is now is an excellent outlet for unloading that un-opened generator to someone who has a real purpose for it.

What Furedi says emerged from issues like Y2K, SARS and the bird flu, are “fear entrepreneurs.” These groups, drug companies, government agencies, etc., try to manipulate the population through fear to produce self-profiting results. He cites their use of “experts” as the biggest tool in their scheme to drive consumer decisions.

Is an expert scientist really necessary to prove that if you walk across a busy highway, the odds will show a significant chance of getting run over? Common sense would dictate an understanding of reality, but an effective media campaign utilizing traffic “experts” could influence spending on unnecessary safety controls or questionable infrastruture.

As Furedi points out in his own comparison of skin cancer research and sun tanning, by creating a sense of urgent fear among the population, fear mongering is attached to ways to generate more money – research money to counter for under-funded medical science, and profit for pharmaceutical companies.

Petroleum and energy companies can also be cited as examples. In the United States, executives from refineries and production firms are presently being called onto the carpet to defend their announcement of record profits achieved during the same quarter as the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina and astronomical gas prices at the pumps.

There remains a prevalent fear among consumers over the unknown home heating costs yet to arrive in climatically-challenged Canada. Hospitality “experts” have warned the food and restaurant industry this fear will gravely influence how consumers spend their disposable income this winter, while personal finance reporters are warning Canadians to save their money to cover the costs now.

Concurrently, governments use fear as a motivating factor. The federal Liberal government in the last election managed to stave off defeat with a fear strategy by painting the leader of the Conservative party as a western Canadian extremist. This was before we learned the Liberals were central Canadian thieves.

We also need look no further than our southern neighbour to see this is constant practice. From the backyard bomb shelters of the 1950s, to today’s constant public announcement of terror-alert levels, the American government has managed to maintain shepherd-like control over the sheepish masses and deflect examination away from the truer reality. It was fear mongering that formed the basis of their invasion of Iraq, despite no evidence of weapons of mass destruction found prior to, and since, the war began.

So, given the fearful mood of society today, is it fair to say operators have reason to be concerned?

Sadly, the answer is yes. In the “good ol’ days” the biggest fear was whether or not the location would produce good margins. The challenges we expect the coin-op industry to face in 2006 relate not to technology, consumer preference or real healthcare issues, but rather to this new overwhelming sense of pessimism among us.

SARS killed fewer people than the flu in 2003 – 43 people out of 251 diagnosed. In the same year, over 100 died when they fell out of bed. Yet, the fear of falling out of bed has not put an end to many business ventures.

Fear is the forecast for 2006 … unless we’re too afraid to admit it.


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