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] What are some of your favorite game titles?
I go through phases, but the one I probably like the best is COD3 or COD4. I like Crackdown, I loved Dead Rising for a period of time, I’ve played through Oblivion two or three times now.
[Nathan Murray] wow, that’s impressive.
[Sean Colleli] —so you’re probably looking forward to Fallout 3.
I’m not familiar with that one.
[Sean Colleli] —it’s a science fiction Oblivion, basically.
Well I’m definitely looking forward to Civilization Revolution. I love that series, and I love strategy games. It’s primarily PC based, so you don’t see many strategy games on a console, but this new one sounds like it will be easy to play on a console and worth its salt.
[Nathan Murray] are employees allowed to compete in tournaments?
Well that was our starting rule, but we have changed that because of scheduling conflicts, because tournaments happen on Saturdays, when most people can get here and also when most of our employees are working!
I mean, we want everyone to be able to play, I don’t want the perception to be that if an employee is playing and they win, well then some customers might think “oh, well they let them win because they work here.” So first rule was that employees can’t participate in tournaments. Most of our tournaments happen after a lock-in the previous night, so all the employees are scheduled to come in and work with me.
[Nathan Murray] I noticed the security cameras; what other methods do you use to insure the safety of your store and your customers?
I’m not going to answer the first question, but I will answer the second one. To insure the safety of our customers, a few things. The cameras are a deterrent, everyone knows they’re there. We have been broken into, so we have a security system and cameras but that’s only a deterrent. If someone wants to get in they’re going to do it and steal your stuff. We have an adult in the building all the time, we have panic buttons that go directly to the police. We have emergency buttons on our security system for police, fire and hospital, so we don’t even have to dial 911. We have fire extinguishers, and it’s an open building so if there’s a fire, it’s not a problem, people can exit easily and safely.
[Nathan Murray] what about medical problems? I know when the N64 was first coming out seizures were a big concern with parents.
There are still warnings for that on all the games when you start them up, and the manuals have that printed on the first page.
[Sean Colleli] Yeah, I think the Wii shows you that right when you turn it on.
So we haven’t had any issues with that.
[Nathan Murray] I just thought the risk for that might be compounded with all the screens going at the same time.
Well it hasn’t really been an issue because when you’re playing a game, you’re focused only on your game. When we originally designed the layout, we started with every TV having its own room, and that was very cost prohibitive, and it looked like a prison [laughs]. We thought, well, we have Wiis, you need to move your arms and you’d be banging into the walls so we played with different things and ended up with a completely open environment. We found that when all the games are going and the sound is at the same level, you’re focused on your game and everything else disappears. So it’s really not an issue.
[Nathan Murray] Do players with ADD or a similar conditions have trouble concentrating?
We have a lot of players with ADD and they’re not afraid to tell you that, but they’ve never had any problems so it isn’t an issue and I don’t think it will be one.
[Nathan Murray] as far as gamers sitting side by side, have you had any problems with people running into each other, or Wii remotes flying across the room or anything?
No, we had a Wii remote get banged into a screen accidentally, but one of the rules of the game room is no running or horseplay.
[Sean Colleli] So there’s a wrist strap policy when you’re playing the Wii?
Yeah, you always sinch up the wrist strap. We haven’t had any real problems, but there are people who aren’t used to the Wii, and they get right up to the screen when they’re punching or boxing, so we tell them it’s good up to 15 feet, 30 feet is fine too, trust me!
[Nathan Murray] Have you had any problems with, shall we say, unsavory customers?
We had one tournament where tempers got really heated, and that’s the closest thing to unsavory conduct. Since then we changed our tournament rules, and we always ask the entrants, “did you read the rules?” The first section in there says good sportsmanship is required. One of the 7 rules of the game room is respect other players, keep your noise level down, don’t harass other players. So that’s a basic rule of the game room; if you don’t abide by that you’re violating your part of the agreement and we reserve the right to kick you out.
(Ken goes on to read the Gamerz official policy toward unsavory behavior).
We put that in after we had an incident during a tournament. Actually, there were some fists flying. It started with trash talking, and then a girl hit a guy. After that happened we made sure the policy was clear, and I say it before each tournament.[Nathan Murray] So what measures are you willing to take if confrontation does break out?
Well there’s a few things. I’m not too worried about anyone getting in my face. I’m not going to be threatening about it, I’m just going to calmly ask you to leave. If it continues, I’ll tell you I’m going to call the police. I won’t physically escort you out of the building, but if you get in my face I will defend myself. So I doubt we’ll ever go there; Gamerz isn’t that kind of a place, it’s a family friendly environment and people know that coming in. We’ve only had once incident and it was resolved quickly, and they haven’t been back by the way. It’s just bad it had to happen.
[Sean Colleli] Are you having any launch parties coming up? I think your wife mentioned you are having a Civilization launch party.
She would know more about what we’re doing with that. That’s marketing related, she handles the marketing aspect and I handle the operational side of things. If there’s something coming up I help plan it, but I haven’t talked to her about that one. We’ve done two launch parties so far, and they’ve both been kind of a bust. The Club was hyped, we hyped it for months before it came out, we had posters everywhere, we were talking it up, letting people come play it for free. Some people liked it, but most people preferred Halo or Call of Duty. It was too slow for people, too slow for me. There were a few people who liked it because it was unique, with the multipliers and the score, you know, it was a different kind of shooter, and most people didn’t like it.
We also did Culdcept Saga, no one liked that game. I loved it, it was a fun little game, but it’s cute, more juvenile, not the kind of thing teenagers like.
[Nathan Murray] I’m sure it’s the same thing a lot of people said about Mario Party.
Yeah, and I was surprised that Smash Brothers is as popular as it is. I mean, I have 30 year old guys coming in to play that game at night, and they’re proud of it.
[Nathan Murray] How important are regulars to your business?
You mean people who come back on a regular basis?
[Nathan Murray] Yeah, do you see lots of people doing that?
Yes we do, we’ve got, probably between 10 and 15 who are here about three times a month, about 5 will be here three times in a week, on a fairly regular basis. I think what we need is to have about 50,000 gamers in the Columbus area to know about us, and we’ll be set. We need to get to the critical mass, so the regulars will help build up games. In Vegas, in Casino card rooms, they do what they call putting props in, they pay people to come play poker. Prop up a game, basically. So when newbies like me come in out of town, they call a few of the props over to the table and they’ve got a game. It’s similar. If we have enough people to get a 6 player Call of Duty game going, it’s a lot of fun, but if you come and play by yourself it’s not as much fun. We need to get where we have 15 people in the building all the time it’ll be a lot of fun, because we’ll have people playing Call of Duty or Gears of War, or Halo against each other, and when that happens everyone loves it and there’s a whole lot of excitement that goes on. We just need that on a regular basis. The regular customers ensure there’s someone in the building to play with, and these guys like these games and it helps prop up games.
[Sean Colleli] I think that’s the unique aspect of this business, that maybe at home you could play with 2 or 3 other people on Halo or Call of Duty…
But you’re all on the same screen, or you’re trying to link it all together and you’re playing in some guy’s basement without air conditioning…
[Sean Colleli] But come here and you can get a lot of people together at once.
Yeah, you can play 12 on Halo and 12 on Call of Duty, and during lock-ins that’s one of our most popular things. That’s what they’ll do, they’ll play Halo for 3 hours, then they’ll move to Call of Duty, then go to Guitar Hero or Rock Band, it’s that critical mass of 12 to 15 people in the same building who want to play those games. Regular customers are what makes that happen.
[Sean Colleli] The gameplay and games here are basically free advertising for Microsoft and Nintendo. Have you gotten any endorsements or anything like that?
No, I haven’t pursued it beyond initial inquiry. I went out looking for how you get sponsorship money and advertising. We’re affiliated with iGames which is an organization for places like us. There’s hundreds of them across the country, not exactly like us but combinations of LANs and gaming stations like we have. I would assume that they are working on sponsorships and deals. Actually when there’s a new game launch, like for The Club, they’ll send us free copies and they put up a tournament prize. It’s a form of sponsorship, but it’s unique to a launch. It’s not because I can play Call of Duty in my building, Activision wants to give me money. We’re small potatoes. If we were a chain of 200 of these stores that would be different, but we’re only one store so in the grand scheme of things, we’ll touch probably 200 people who will care in a month, that play that game. I think for right now that’s not very likely. I wish it were [laughs].
[Sean Colleli] Well, thank you very much for taking time to talk with us.