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How Did Caine’s Arcade Get Famous?

By now, you’ve probably heard of Caine Monroy, a nine year old boy who built a carnival-like arcade out of cardboard boxes in his dad’s auto shop. The short documentary was viewed more than 4.5 million times in just a week, netting him a $152,000 scholarship, a non-profit foundation to help kids reach their dreams, and a real pinball machine for his arcade.

If you’ve seen the 11 minute video, you probably teared up when you saw him surprised by the big crowd at his arcade. It was truly a heartwarming, feel-good story that inspires hope and creativity in all of us.

Caine Monroy and his cardboard arcade

So how did this little guy get so immensely famous?

Because he’s a genius?
There’s no doubt Caine is a special kid who is highly intelligent for his age. Many instances in the film that displayed his intelligence:

  • he built a drop-the-claw game out of a box, hook and string
  • he would hide behind a box and feed tickets through a slot
  • he recycled a toy from a pizza restaurant and turned it into a game

But did he get famous because of his ingenuity? I would argue no. Caine is a smart cookie, but that wasn’t the reason why his story went viral.

Because he’s persistent?
As inviting as a mini basketball hoop taped to a box may sound, Caine didn’t have any customers for a while because his father’s auto shop gets very little foot traffic. His dad actually told him to go play outside, but Caine never gave up. This is definitely admirable, but persistence and determination is also not the reason he became famous.

Because he thinks like an entrepreneur?
Caine could have just invited his friends to play, but he treated his arcade like a business. He charges $1 for 4 tries and $2 for a Fun Pass, which is good for 500 turns. He also made a shirt that says “Staff” on the front and “Caine’s Arcade” on the back. Make no mistake, he took his business very seriously, which is also a rare and admirable trait. But that’s not what made him famous.

Being intelligent, persistant and business-savvy are all key ingredients to achieving some amount of success in life, but to get viral on the internet requires something else. How 5 million people came to know Caine’s Arcade has nothing to do with anything Caine did himself.

The reason why Caine went viral is because his first customer was a filmmaker who understood the power of social media.

The documentary was created by Nirvan Mullick, a filmmaker who needed a car part, wandered into the auto shop, discovered Caine, and decided to make a film. More specifically:

He created an event
Getting people excited about a kid’s cardboard games is one thing. Getting people excited about a kid’s carboard games AND inviting them to a flash mob is completely different. What made you tear up wasn’t Caine’s brilliance, it was the giant crowd of supporters surprising him at the end of the video.

When it comes to mobilizing people, the best way to build a following is to offer a specific action. Don’t just get excited about a proposed city ordinance; join us two hours before the town hall meeting next Thursday and help us make some signs. You have to give people an actionable task if you want tangible results.

He promoted the event for a month
Many times we think of videos going viral as an overnight sensation, setting the internets afire in seconds. That may be the case for some internet memes, but in this case, it was a methodical and calculated effort by Nirvan. He understood the importance of promotion using social media, creating a Facebook Event, a twitter account, a website and posting to Reddit.com, and being very active to promote the event a month before the date.

He managed the logistics
When you invite the internet to a surprise party, you have no idea what will happen. Perhaps nobody cares and nothing happens, or way too many people show up and chaos ensues. There’s no way Caine could have accommodated a large crowd by himself, especially when $2 gets you 500 turns.

Nirvan was very active to set expectations, handle logistics, and answer questions. If his message was “come check out a boy genius’ cardboard arcade, best $2 I ever spent,” there would be people showing up to play, wait in long for hours, lose patience, and leave. No, the message was always “come show your support about an amazing kid and I’m shooting a film about it.”

Also, whenever there was a question or comment, he’d address it right away. He took care of issues such as

  • where to park
  • what to do if you show up early
  • whether or not to contact the media
  • why there won’t be a bouncy castle
  • how to volunteer
  • how to make a donation

He even asked a friend to continue answering questions on the Reddit page because he was going camping for his girlfriend’s birthday and didn’t want to lose momentum planning the flash mob. This was definitely a case of someone who knew where to find people on the internet and how to manage a large event.

Overall, the story of Caine’s Arcade is amazingly brilliant, and will go down as one of the top internet stories of the year. There are many takeaways from the documentary, not just about creativity and persistence, but about the ingredients needed to get create a well-organized, public event over the internet. Caine’s flash mob teaches us the importance of planning an event, allowing plenty of time to prepare, and managing the logistics – all using the power of social media.

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Corey McCarren

Lucky kid! I’m glad you looked into what made the whole story a success, there’s definitely a lot to learn there. It sounds like the film-maker who set this all up must be a pretty admirable person himself.

Jon Lee

Lucky indeed! The filmmaker sounds like an internet guardian angel. Of course, he’s become somewhat of a celebrity himself, so a win win for both.

Corey McCarren

Oh I’m sure he had his career in mind as well when taking on this project, but definitely great when you can find ways to merge positively impacting others with getting ahead!