Gamerz Interview Part 2

Article

posted 9/17/2008 by Nathan Murray
other articles by Nathan Murray
Part 3 Interview with Ken Jones

Ken Jones always has a thoughtful look on his face when talking to customers and it is not because he is daydreaming. Ken always makes sure that if he doesn’t have the answer or the solution to a problem he will get right to work finding a solution. Ken often works late and, even when he is playing a game himself, won’t hesitate to help a customer.

[Nathan Murray] First question: what was the inspiration for Gamerz?
Well it was a combination of a couple of things. First, I’m a gamer, and one of the things that always used to frustrate me was I’d play online (I’m a very competitive person), and this was in COD3, COD2, Halo. When you play online you’re subject to lag, and the guy who didn’t have the lag had an advantage. He’d skate all over the screen. Some people had lag switches. They’d throw on the lag switch, skate around a corner, kill you, turn off the lag switch and you never saw them. It drove me and my clan nuts! I got really frustrated with that, and I knew if we were on a LAN there’d be no lag, everyone would have he same situation. I wanted a competitive environment where everyone would be equal, where we could take the lag factor out of it. It’d be a situation where true skill comes into play, it wouldn’t just be against a guy with a slower connection. So that was one of the main inspirations for Gamerz.
The other is that I love gaming, and I always wanted a job where I could play video games. And with this job I get to do that, everybody who works here does, because that’s part of the job. You have to know the games and learn then. Every employee here gets to learn the games—for every 20 hours of work you get a free hour of game time. They can also come in and play online for free, which is a nice perk. At night when there are no customers here, they can play when they’re done with their work. It boils down to I just love videogames.

[Nathan Murray] ok, cool. So how do you conduct business? What’s your business model?
Whew, that’s broad. Haha, let’s see, so the question is what are all your trade secrets? [laughs]

[Nathan Murray] No, no, just generally how are things run around here?
Well, very basically we rent time on systems. That’s the basic premise. We have TVs, Xboxes, Wiis. We package those things together as a system, and customers rent those systems. We charge a different rate depending on the size of the screen. Software comes with the rate for the screen, you can change games as often as you like, so that’s a fairly high level view of what we do. We found that a significant portion of our business come from birthday parties, and outside events. Like this morning, I was at an Army recruiting tournament that we ran for them. We kind of ran it together, but it was our equipment and our processes. We brought the copies of the game and set it up. Occasionally we do that for schools, and dances. Like last year Reynoldsburg had the Tomato Festival, and we were there advertising ourselves. We were there for the Reynoldsburg Halloween Festival. We’re doing a company party here in town, we’re taking 17 TVs, 7 Xboxes, 5 Wiis, we’re going to set them up in a theatre arrangement on a stage and people can come up and play it as part of the company party event.

[Nathan Murray] So Gamerz is mobile?
Yeah, we take our show on the road so to speak. There’s limitations—we can’t take all our systems obviously, it’s just not very practical, so this will be one of the bigger ones we’ve done where we take 7 gaming stations basically. And they only wanted certain games, 5 or 6 games, so we don’t have to bring are whole library with us. As I said we do birthdays, we had one last night where a group rented half the facility for 3 hours. They had 25 kids in here, and they were younger kids, with this half of the building all to themselves, and it got a little busy. The other half was really busy because it was Friday night, so it was kind of packed and a little crazy.

[Sean Colleli] Do you get college parties?
Not really, we had a LAN party that was a practice run, we did that last Tuesday, and it was kind of a dry run to see it we could make that work. We ran into a couple issues with displays and resolution, because we use the big TVs as monitors for the computers, and people bring in their own laptops and rigs. We have plenty of tables for people to set up their keyboards and mice. We hope to do that probably twice a month, with a LAN party here, who knows how many people we’ll get. As for college parties, we do have young people come in who are in college, like one time we had between 6 and 8 come in as a group. It is a fairly popular thing for college kids to do, because nowhere else can you have all these systems linked together and you get your own screen and everybody can play against each other.

We’ve had the Sheriff’s department, the deputies come in, and they’ll do a COD tournament. I guess they want to take their aggressions out on videogames instead of criminals [laughs]. We’ve also had youth groups that come in, church groups. We’ve had one that’s come in 3 times now. It’s a good opportunity for a safe, family oriented environment.

[Nathan Murray] You don’t have any problems with the church groups “spreading the message” while they’re here?
No, not at all, it hasn’t been an issue. Youth groups have done private lock-ins, so they’re the only ones in the building. When we do that we close the doors to the rest of the public. So it’s an issue only for a couple hours, and we put up a notice in advance telling the general public we’ll be closed for a lock-in.

[Nathan Murray] What separates Gamerz from other types of arcades?
Primarily it’s the gaming stations. It’s not a traditional arcade in the sense you have coin operated machines, or card operated machines where you have to pay $50 a minute to play. If you go to a Gameworks or a Dave and Buster’s, you can go through 20 bucks in 20 minutes, your money goes really fast. And while the games can be very engaging and involved, they’re short term games, you play for 3 minutes, 5 maybe ten tops and you’re done. Most of the games we have on Xbox 360 or Wii are story driven games you can play for hours. I mean, there are some games you literally play for weeks to finish the game. The nature of the game is very different, the interaction is different. It’s more of a relaxed environment, it’s not as noisy or annoying as an arcade can be.

[Nathan Murray] what’s your policy on food and beverages?
We allow anyone to bring in food or drinks, we also have a snack bar with energy drinks, sodas, water, Gatorade, beef jerky, candy, chips, pretzels, gaming food.

[Nathan Murray] What was the experience like setting up Gamerz?
Well, we tried to do it fast. We had some hiccups at the beginning trying to go through the process of getting the licenses involved, getting the contractors engaged.

[Nathan Murray] Did you have any problems getting a business license since this isn’t exactly a traditional business?
The only challenge we had was trying to classify us. There were two forms of classification: one was zoning, and we’re an assembly hall officially because we fill any kind of preset zoning regulations. From a business perspective, they weren’t sure what we were. We ended up being classified as C3, commercial entertainment. Like a miniature golf place. When we described what we did the first thing they’d say is, “oh, so you’re an arcade,” but there’s a key distinction in Reynoldsburg. The term “coin operated” was part of the arcade definition, and none of our stuff is coin operated. Gamerz is a place of amusement, but it isn’t a coin operated arcade. It’s kind of a new classification, and zoning is still trying to catch up with that.

[Nathan Murray] Are there any other places like Gamerz in Ohio that you know of?
There’s nothing else as far as the number of stations, and we’re the only place with no PCs. We don’t have PCs here other than the ones that run our business. Other places that I know of have mostly PCs with a few console games, there’s a couple in the Cincinnati area, there’s at least one in the Cleveland area, there were more but some of them didn’t survive. As far as I know, we’re the only place in central Ohio that does this. I think we’re the biggest, and at one point we were the biggest in the country in terms of total gaming stations.

[Nathan Murray] Here’s the big question. There are quite a number of M-rated titles on your game list. Have you had any problems with concerned parents?
No, we have a pretty clear policy when you sign up. You have to be 17 or have a parent’s permission. If you’re under 17 you need an adult to sign 2 pieces of paper, a consent form and a family terms of use form. Likewise if you’re under 13, you need a parent to sign for you to play T rated games, and so-on. We’ve had a couple of times where we set up a player on an M rated game, and we’re busy so there’s no place to put another player except at a station next to that M rated station. Now the kid next to that station can see the M rated game being played, and while we don’t have any “adult” titles, there is sometimes language and a lot of violence; they’re shooter games, that’s what you do. So that is a concern. What we try to do when we have a pretty full house is put all the M rated games on one side of the space, and put T rated games and under on the other side. Most parents don’t have a problem, the key thing is they don’t want their young kids playing an M rated game.

There are also a few games that we won’t carry, because they’re too much or too over the top for our family oriented environment. Grand Theft Auto is an example. Kane and Lynch is one that we bought, and once we played it and realized how much language there was in it, we took it off the list. We do have a lot of other M rated games, like the Halo games and COD 4 of course.

[Nathan Murray] When you started Gamerz, were tournaments at the core of what you wanted to do?
Yes, we knew we would hold a tournament on a regular basis. We tried having two or three tournaments a weekend at first, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. People wanted to play in both but couldn’t spend their entire day at Gamerz. We also found that tournaments, especially when there is money involved, bring out the very competitive players and the average competitor who thinks they’re good comes once, gets beaten by the really good players, realizes they weren’t as good as they thought and never come back. Like Guitar Hero—we had a guy come in, play Through the Fire and the Flames, and miss one note. No one is going to beat him, they know it so they never come back. So we’re working on a way to balance out the tournaments and make them enjoyable for everyone. We’re contemplating a leaderboard that has a prize at the end of a period. Some game like Guitar Hero are easy to set up leaderboards for, while others like Halo are more difficult. We may have a competition that lasts for two weeks or a month, ad whoever is at the top gets a prize. Like with Guitar Hero, we might have a song of the month, and whoever gets the highest score on that song gets $50 at the end of the month. That way, people have something they can practice at, something that is within their reach.

[Sean Colleli]  It gives people a chance to practice at a single goal, instead of getting beaten by the awesome guy every time.
Exactly.