According To George ne thing for sure about the family entertainment and out-of-home entertainment industries is that change is a constant; it really should be part of the business plan. Our friends from the bowling world who have expanded their centers into Bowling Entertainment Centers have learned that they have to change and experiment to stay relevant to the BEC audience. We launched the first edition of Beyond Bowling, this section of Bowling Industry Magazine, back in March. The name reflects our intention to bring focus to the various disciplines that comprise BECs. Beyond Bowling covers games, redemption, laser tag, food and beverage, and all the other possibilities. With each quarterly edition, we hope to bring you relevant and up-to-the-minute information by profiling leading BEC centers, letting you hear straight from the owners and managers, and by adding a little bit of “how to” and “how not to.” We’ve also created a Beyond Bowling group at Bowling Industry Online. You can join the group at bowlingindustry.com/groups/BeyondBowling. In this our third edition, we feature the sport of laser tag. In the BEC, laser tag has proven itself a worthy and complementary attraction. It stands on its own in paid admissions while helping to drive party and group sales over a wide age group. We also provide a preview of games and attractions that will be featured at IAAPA 2012, being held in Orlando November 12-16. This is the entertainment industry trade show of the year, with over 1,000 exhibitors and nine miles of aisles. If you’re in the family entertainment business or contemplating a modernization to a BEC, this show should be on your radar. This will be my 25th consecutive IAAPA. Stop by our Pinnacle/Redemption Plus booth 1021 and say hello!
George McAuliffe President, Pinnacle Entertainment Advisors
Chris’ Corner o you remember back in your youth when your imagination was the only limit to what kind of fun reality you wanted to experience? Whether it was a hundred foot tall roller coaster or fighting a fire breathing dragon, anything was possible. Over my time here at IBI, I have heard of this event called IAAPA that takes place every year in Orlando that just might be the closest thing to the imaginary wonderland of our childhood. As the bowling world continues to evolve, this trade show that caters to the broader amusement and family entertainment industry is becoming more important to bowling proprietors. While Bowl Expo will remain the marquee event of the bowling world, learning more about what IAAPA has to offer can only help you more in every aspect of your business, including bowling. In this edition of Beyond Bowling, we wanted to give just a taste of what to expect from this show. We hope it will inspire you to dig deeper into what is possible. When going down that road, I encourage you to bring the imagination of your youth. You never know what you will discover.
Chris Holmes Director of Advertising, International Bowling Industry
By Robert Sax
A Blast for Building Business Adding a laser tag feature to a bowling center is a large undertaking that has proven to be very profitable for many centers. nyone who has thrilled to Han Solo dispatching Imperial stormtroopers with his blaster in “Star Wars” will understand the appeal of laser tag. With more than 800 laser tag arenas in the U.S., it’s one of the most popular recreational attractions around. There are more than 420 laser tag attractions in bowling and family entertainment centers, and it is the #2 attraction in our industry in terms of revenue and return on investment. So, if you are considering expanding your center, laser tag may be your best choice for bringing in new customers and boosting your revenues. When Max Bowl in Port Arthur, Texas, planned to renovate its 40-lane FEC, the owners considered a variety of new attractions including indoor golf and car rides before settling on a 4,000 square foot, two-story Lasertron system. “After talking to other people in the business, they said that out of all the things you could do, laser tag is your best bet and the most profitable,” says general manager Doug Davidson. The picture is bright so far, with weekend revenue for laser
tag running as high as $3,000 after just 60 days in operation. Since the first “Photon” game center opened in 1984, people around the world have enjoyed this exciting high-tech game where hand-held infra-red-emitting “phasers” are used to “tag” the sensor vests of other players. A computer keeps track of hits and generates a score card for each player or team at the end of the match. Laser tag is popular with male and female players in all age groups. The two biggest demographics are children aged 7–13, especially for birthday parties; and young adults aged 16–25, who spend the most on the game. These groups are probably a big part of your customer base already, and the game is also popular with corporate and adult social groups.
PLANNING FOR SUCCESS There is an outdoor version of the game, but “arena” or indoor laser tag is the one for BECs and FECs. Within the arena format there are three levels: attraction, standard and pro. Attraction-level systems are the least expensive to build and operate, but the entry-level game experience they offer may not generate enough repeat play to really boost sales. Standard level systems offer more features and a level of game play that should appeal to all but the most hard-core laser tag players. A BEC will be better-served by a standard-level system that can grow with the customers’ needs. Regardless of which level chosen, a laser tag attraction usually consists of three areas: the arena, the briefing room and the vesting room. The arena is the enclosed space in which the game takes place, and it is the
largest of the three areas. The briefing room is the place where staff explain the games and rules to the players. The vesting room is where players suit up with their vests and weapons. Arena designs vary, but the basic layout is a single room with a maze of obstacles, doorways and windows through which players stalk and fire at each other. More sophisticated arenas add ramps and multiple floors plus “themed” elements that transform the area into a rich fantasy environment such as a medieval castle, a jungle or a spaceship. The average laser tag arena at a BEC or FEC is between 2,000-3,000 square feet and the average startup cost is $80,000 to $120,000. The amount of space needed for the attraction will depend on how many players are to be accommodated. An average size laser tag arena in a BEC or FEC accommodates 24 players. According to Lathan Gareiss, founder of Budget Arenas, that’s a number that will accommodate two average size birthday parties at one time, which is important to maximize the best source of laser tag revenue. Prime Time Family Entertainment Center of Abilene, Texas, opened in 2007 with bowling, laser tag and other attractions in a new facility. The original one-story Lazer Runner arena cost approximately $150,000. Several years later they renovated the arena to add a second story at a cost of $75,000. It was money well spent says general manager Scottie Squyres. “A two-story arena is ten times better for players, and our laser tag revenue went up 100% after we added it.”
As with building or renovating a bowling center, setting up a laser tag attraction is a sophisticated project with many variables. There are many equipment vendors, systems, contractors and other elements to choose from, which can be intimidating for a first-timer. “There really is no such thing as a full turnkey operation,” says Ryan McQuillen, executive director of the International Laser Tag Association, the laser tag industry association. “I consider [a laser tag attraction] three different pieces. There is the laser tag system, the arena and the theming company that creates the environment,” McQuillen adds BEC owners should enlist experienced help in order to get the project done with a minimum of headaches. One option is to hire a consultant who specializes in laser tag. Be aware, however, that a consultant may work with only one laser tag system vendor. A general contractor, who has built laser tag attractions and who can refer a buyer to several system vendors and other providers that are needed to complete the project, is also a choice. Another option is to join the ILTA as a developer member. They will help a buyer navigate the many choices of systems and contractors, and will offer valuable guides and checklists to help budget and plan the project. For additional fees, they will consult on-site. On average it will take two to four weeks to design and plan an arena and six to eight weeks to build it out. If a fancy theme is chosen, it will take three to five days for painting and installation of props. It will take an additional two to three days to set up and test the game system and get ready for players. Budgeting time and money for the training of staff about the laser tag system is of utmost importance. It is best to retain a trainer experienced in laser tag. Figure on a few days
for basic training on the game and the game system plus one to two weeks for center staff to get up to speed running the attraction.
INTEGRATING LASER TAG INTO YOUR CENTER McQuillen notes that too many operators treat laser tag like bowling or an arcade, expecting it to run with minimal supervision. But laser tag involves multiple players with varying skill levels, often playing at the same time. Experienced players will have high expectations of game play, while newbies will be unhappy if their game ends too soon due to their lack of skills. It’s important to meet the needs of all players so that everyone has fun. It’s best to have a separate desk to service laser tag players because checking them in takes time and has many details. If a separate desk can not be provided, be sure to have several staff members dedicated to the laser tag attraction. It takes more time and staff involvement to ensure that all the laser tag customers have a good experience, but it is crucial to generate the repeat play that is so important to its success. Marketing a laser tag attraction takes fore thought and planning. Start building anticipation through wordof-mouth among the existing center customers as soon as construction starts on the arena. Outdoor and inhouse signage and flyers as well as posts on your website and social media platforms. Be sure that the special event planners know about the new offering, and develop some special party packages that incorporate laser tag. Don’t overlook the value of a public relations campaign to generate media coverage of a new laser tag attraction. The game is exciting and offers lots of the great visuals that media outlets love. Try inviting local TV news anchors to play a game, or team up with a charity for a celebrity-fueled fundraising event. Keep local bloggers and websites that cover family activities in mind as well. Crazy Pinz of Fort Wayne, Indiana, combined several marketing tactics for the successful launch of its $250,000, Delta Strikepowered, pirate-themed “Piratez Cove” laser attraction earlier this year. First they held an upscale VIP party to woo local companies for corporate events. They also offered free laser tag on opening day, drawing 1,000 people in just twelve hours. Social media initiatives included email blasts and promotion of laser tag on their existing Facebook page, which has a strong base of 9,000 friends. The 32
marketing campaign has sparked strong initial business. “Dollars per square foot is already producing about what we averaged on the bowling lanes for the year, and we’re not into our busy season,” says Dave Kerschner, a partner in Crazy Pinz. “I anticipate our revenue per square foot to be double what we created with bowling.”
TAKE AIM AT THE BOTTOM LINE Han Solo didn’t have to worry about return on investment, but it’s important in our universe. The good news is that over the last few years laser tag operators have enjoyed annual sales growth of 8%, according to the ILTA. In summer 2012, Spare Time Family Entertainment Center in Lansing, Michigan, added a Laserforce arena as part of the major renovation of its 40-year-old, 40-lane center. The 2600 square foot arena has two levels, is equipped for 20 players and cost approximately $200,000. Operations manager Bill Assande expects it to pay for itself in a year and estimates that laser tag has already added 3-4% to the center’s revenues. Assande recommends that BEC and FEC
owners considering a laser tag attraction pay close attention to their market when developing a budget and projecting revenues. “It’s easy to get carried away,” he says about all the systems and options that are available. “Stick to your budget and remember that it’s easy to upgrade later.” Being strategic with the theming budget is essential. Gareiss recommends using those dollars to make the entrance, vesting and briefing areas enticing and to get players excited about the game. Many laser tag attractions feature expensive paintings and props in the arena, where players often don’t notice them due to the black light, fog, loud sound effects and the demands of the game. “I played an arena that had a $10,000 mural on the
wall,” says Gareiss, “and I didn’t notice it the first five times I played.” In general, center owners who have added laser tag have been very happy with the results. “Any time you can bring more bodies into your center is good,” says Prime Time’s Squyres. “Even if they don’t bowl, [laser tag players] are going to buy food and drink and play in the arcade.” Laser tag represents about 16% of Prime Time’s business, and some months it outpaces bowling. The Clubhouse, an FEC in Statesboro, Georgia that opened in October 2010, included laser tag from the beginning. The Zone Laser Tag-equipped arena has been so successful that it paid for itself in less than a year. “Laser tag is by far the number one revenue generator in our arcade,” says owner Tony Ross. “I would tell [other owners] to do it. It’s a great attraction to have as part of your attraction mix.” Laser tag’s high compatibility with your existing customer base can also pull in customers who don’t bowl. Jay Patel of Frames N’ Games in Pooler, Georgia operates a Laser Blast system and has seen nice ancillary sales in other parts of his facility that. “Grandparents will bring their grandkids in to play laser tag and end up eating lunch at our restaurant while the kids are busy,” said Patel. If you want to add another profit center to your business, you should give serious consideration to laser tag. It’s hard to beat laser tag’s combination of exciting game play, high public awareness and potential to generate repeat business. It may be more complicated to set up than an arcade or boutique lanes, but the strong revenue potential makes it worth, well, taking a shot. May the force be with you. ❖
Robert Sax is a writer and PR consultant in Los Angeles. He grew up in Toronto, Canada, the home of five-pin bowling.
Hats off to ECM’s first graduating management class! The BPAA announced the first graduating class from the School of Entertainment Center Management (ECM). Twentynine students representing 11 states and Canada attended the curriculum-rich, 6-day program packed with 30-plus hours of classroom and handson instruction, individual and group projects. Students worked on real-life problems, learning real-life ideas and solutions they will be able to take back and implement in their centers. “The School for Entertainment Center Management is the only certification program of its kind in the bowling industry,” said Steve Johnson, BPAA executive director. “Students attending the course receive
valuable one-on-one time with some of the best bowling and entertainment center, business people the industry has to offer. If anyone aspires to further their career in a bowling-anchored entertainment center, this school should be the destination of choice on their career path.” Students covered all the complexities in operating centers that also offer a unique combination of attractions, food & beverage service and event hosting, and visited multiple sites where they were able to question the managers, operators and owners. The professional faculty included executives from Namco, TrainerTainment, Brunswick Bowling, Trifecta Management Group, Cornerstone Consulting and Stars & Strikes among others.
By George McAuliffe
Insider’s Guide to IAAPA 2012 his will be my 25th IAAPA. I can’t tell you where the first one was- it moved around quite a bit in those years- but I was there, at the “park show” as we arcade operators called it, to scour for attractions to combine into our new large format family entertainment center. For Bowling Entertainment Center (BEC) operators who are bowling proprietors first, with a developing FEC expertise, IAAPA can provide much more than a place to see rides and attractions. It offers a tremendous amount of information on business in general and on the attractions business in particular. An extensive seminar program provides targeted educational opportunities. Beyond formal seminars there are roundtables, field trips, networking, and social events where some of the best work gets done. Check the daily schedules. Most of your time and focus will be on the trade show floor. In the early days show management didn’t group exhibitors by type of attraction or product. Today’s show floor is much easier to navigate. BEC operators will want to spend considerable time in “The Coin Op Pavillion,” located in the lower left hand quadrant if you look at the Expo floor plan, available at: http://www.iaapa.org/expos/attractions/2012/exhibitor/BookBooth.a sp. All of the game manufacturers and distributors are in this area, as are related attraction providers for FEC’s. I’ll be in the Redemption Plus booth #1021 throughout the show. Please stop by, say hello, and we’ll take you through some of our innovative redemption, crane and merchandiser products. We have called all of our friends who are exhibiting and have put together the following quick preview, exclusively for Beyond Bowling readers, of what “must see” new product will be on display.
LAI Games, Booth 1031 LAI Games’ will be in the house with several proven products to show. Their newest might be Balloon Buster. Although it debuted last year at IAAPA, this is the new and improved production model that is reportedly earning well on tests right now. LAI believes it will be a very successful piece for them which, given 38
their track record for great games, makes me want to stop by. Balloon Buster is a merchandiser where the player must pop a balloon with a dart to win his chosen prize. Payout for the prize arms can be set globally, or individually for a mix of prize values. Speed of Light, an interactive music game (think Dance, Dance with hands) debuted last year and was a Best in Show winner from several industry observers. Since then LAI has refined the piece with positive changes in appearance and game play. It recently placed #1 novelty game in the latest RePlay Players’ Choice Poll, receiving a 9 out of 10 score from operators, which corresponds to a rating of “Excellent.” LAI reports that Speed of Light is developing a large player following, as evidenced by the number of playerposted videos popping up on YouTube. In addition LAI tells us they will show Mega Stacker Lite, the all tickets version of Mega Stacker, which features a progressive ticket jackpot. Both it and Mega Stacker, are an affordably priced “extreme” version of the classic Stacker. We’ve had success with the merchandiser version, in our higher volume client locations in particular, and I want to put the ticket version through the paces. I’m also planning to see, feel, and touch LAI’s three new children’s redemption games: Pirate Battle, Princess Castle, and Choo Choo Train. Like others LAI has produced over the years, the cabinets are a work of art, and I like the ball toss format. Children’s games are usually not the highest ranking games in the arcade, but it’s important to recognize that they are largely incremental sales–sales we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have something for the younger kids.
All American Chicken, Booth 3681 I’m fascinated by the possibilities this 21st century version of a classic concept has for bowling centers. The
machine incorporates sports, cute characters, motion/animation, sound and lights to create a true attraction. The egg format allows for vending a wide variety of prizes, the machine can vend at various price points, and it is a low cost piece. We will be experimenting in the coming months to best locate: either on the concourse or in the arcade “kiddie corner.”
Baytek Games, Booth 1024 Baytek will be leading with their hit attraction game, Connect Four which has extremely solid, Top 5 numbers in the locations we work with. It’s big, interactive, eye catchingand fun! We expect to see the usual solid lineup from Baytek, makers of Big Bass Wheel, Crank It, Road Trip merchandiser, and many others. Look for a surprise as well!
Benchmark Games, Booth 515 The Benchmark booth will feature several new products which Benchmark’s Rich Long, while not prepared to announce as we went to press, tells us are “guaranteed to raise a smile.” Long did tell us that they will feature Monster Drop in Extreme and Standard versions, their Super Hoops Basketball, and a “new style” Tickets to Prizes automated redemption center.
Betson/Raw Thrills, Booth 2015 It appears that Raw Thrills has broken new ground once again with the introduction of Sno Cross, which will be seen for the first time at the show. Sno Cross is reported to offer “next generation true HD graphics” on a 42” monitor. Players, utilizing QR codes, will be able to share high scores on Facebook and Twitter. The game play features six racers and seven tracks based on the x games venues throughout the world. This will be an attention getter.
Brady Distributing Company, Booth 404 Brady Distributing Company will be present as always. This year’s Brady booth will have their Sales Representatives and FEC NRG Advisory Team to assist attendees with their amusement equipment needs. They also provide professional guidance and layout assistance for development of new FECs and BECs, conversions of existing facilities, and upgrading of underperforming facilities. On the game side, Brady will feature two of the latest and hottest HD Video Games.
Coastal, Booth 1324 Coastal is aggressively developing product and will be showing three new titles: The Simpsons Soccer, Super Sea Wolf and Temple Run. The Simpsons Soccer combines one of the most widely known characters worldwide with the world's most popular sport. Super Sea Wolf is the latest version of what has been a solid, steady earner. It features a 55" LCD with other updates like attacking planes and machine guns. Temple Run is Coastal’s move into applying a licensed smart phone application (Temple Run has had 100 million downloads) and can be run as either redemption or straight video–we will be testing to determine the best use.
games–that’s been tried before without much success. Rather, “videmption” games are designed as redemption skill games, but utilize touchscreen, HD and other video features as part of the play. Bejeweled plays much like the app game from which it was inspired. It has a few features not present on the app game to enhance its suitability for redemption. It is a beautiful attraction in terms of cabinet design, shaped like a giant translucent gem that changes colors. It’s a four player game. Sega will also be showing Super Monkey Ball Ticket Blitz. Whether it’s the challenging, multi faceted game play or attractive cabinet design–or most likely, both–we are seeing nice numbers on this piece.
Ice, Booth 1408
Redemption Plus, Booth 1021
ICE is no stranger to good licenses and is out front on the trend to arcade versions of game apps. Their booth will lead with Doodle Jump Arcade, based on the app which has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. Joe Coppola told me “Raw Thrills did an incredible job in identifying the elegant game play of Doodle Jump. It’s got a sleek cabinet and unique leader board element to this game to make it that much more competitive among the players, adding excitement to locations that don’t have redemption but wish to add Doodle Jump to their game offerings. ICE will also be showing Milk Jug Toss which is a redemption twist on the timeless hit carnival game. Cut the Rope, the company’s latest merchandiser, will round out the offerings. Cut the Rope is a merchandiser that is a true skill game, which gives it a unique place in the market.
Redemption Plus has a lot of new things in store this year that you won’t want to miss. We've expanded our booth size, allowing us to feature twice as many items as in previous years. We’ll be showing a wide selection of our redemption merchandise, the latest and greatest from our line of HIP Crane & Merchandiser Kits, as well as our amusement park line of Emerald Toy plush. Our Pinnacle Entertainment Advisors team, Jim Kipper and I, will be there and available to discuss how we can help you improve your FEC profitability. This year we are introducing a little more fun to the booth through our Spin to Win game where you can win some great prizes like free product, a percentage off your next order, or a free redemption profitability check from Pinnacle, among other things. Just look for the big purple Redemption Plus sign hanging from the ceiling, and you won’t be able to miss us!
Sega, Booth 815 Sega, coming off of last year’s IAAPA success with Keymaster, arguably the hit of the show, promises an aggressive lineup of new releases this year. Keymaster will still be an important piece in the booth; Sega is now offering the piece in six different colors. This is great for route operators who can rotate colors between locations but also for arcades which can use multiple colors to distinguish prize mixes or just find a color complimentary to their décor. Sega recently began shipping two new “videmption” pieces, Bejeweled and Super Monkey Ball. “Videmption” is the term for the growing trend to develop redemption games with a video screen component. It is not simply adding ticket dispensers to redemption 42
Intercard, Booth 1015 Debit card systems are integral to the success of today’s modern day FEC. Intercard will be featuring their iEvent online scheduling system, an online solution to booking facility resources for parties, group sales, and special events. The program is controlled online with the system architecture provided by Intercard's available Cloud technology. Based on security permissions, all users (admin to customer) will use the same software to book reservations, block dates, administer payments, and set up routing sheets and itineraries to manage the facility resources daily.
Intercard will also be showcasing a new style of automated payments kiosk called The iScan. This sleek, more compact kiosk will join its big brother The iTeller in offering Intercard clients highly versatile and reliable payment stations. Both utilize an optional marketing scanner that allows guests to bring in a single use QR code email blast for redemption at the terminal. Also new is the "Points for Play" e-Ticket payment option (Patent Pending). When activated, customers can use the points (or e-Tickets) they were awarded for playing redemption games as tender on arcade readers and elsewhere throughout the facility. Items at your Redemption Counter are no longer the only way to provide incentive to keep people playing.
Embed, Booth 1034 Embed is showing several product enhancements at IAAPA including the company’s new Facebook plug-in for the Embed Self-Service Debit Card Kiosk. This social media interface will allow guests to quickly register or update their play card account by using their profile information from their Facebook page, making it easier
than ever for location operators to capture important marketing data. They will also show their existing systems which together provide a total operating solution for any entertainment facility. So there’s a preview for you that will hopefully help with advanced planning and save you some steps. Again, please come by our booth 1021 and say hello. We will be continuing to improve Beyond Bowling in the coming year and would love to hear your thoughts on what you find useful. ❖
George McAuliffe is a 30 year family entertainment center operator and president of Pinnacle Entertainment Advisors by Redemption Plus. Pinnacle is an industry consulting firm www.grouppinnacle.com. George has operated entertainment centers from 2,000 to 150,000 square feet including redemption and merchandise games since 1983 and has assisted numerous Bowling Entertainment Center owners develop their FEC side. He is a regular speaker at industry conventions worldwide and writes for RePlay and International Bowling Industry Magazine. He can be reached at 913-563-4370 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.