Social Gaming

Gaming is the 800 pound gorilla in the entertainment industry, but Social Gaming is likely to be The Next Big Thing for in-home, mobile, and out-of-home entertainment. You might even say Social Gaming could be the holy grail for entertainment creators, the platforms that offer it, and the out-of-home entertainment venues that provide it for their guests.

It’s important to note that large, non-gaming entertainment companies are now entering the gaming industry. Why? Because Gaming is HUGE!

Netflix is going to include gaming as another entertainment option in their monthly subscription, which means gaming will be FREE for all their current subscribers! 

As a Netflix subscriber, I love the idea of being able to play games for free, because frugal me will no longer have to play solitaire with those stupid ads. 

Unfortunately, the entertainment venue operator side of me is not happy. 


Because, both new and legacy in-home and mobile entertainment competitors are going to be providing our guests with even more low cost or free choices to forget about our out-of-home entertainment venues. These competitors are extremely well financed and are investing BILLIONS to attract and retain the attention of BILLIONS of People and those people are our prospective guests. From Netflix’s perspective, it’s crazy smart of them to jump into gaming due to the fact that in-home and mobile gaming has been growing for decades and is directly competing for the attention of Netflix’s own customers. Important note: The gaming industry is far bigger than any other part of the entertainment industry.

In Netflix’s 2019 shareholder letter, it said,

“Our focus is not on Disney+, Amazon or others, but on how we can improve our experience for others. We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO. When YouTube went down globally for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time.”

It’s important to note that when humans aren’t playing games they are often watching their favorite gamers livestream their games on Twitch or YouTube. 

Even Zoom, the live video conferencing company, is experimenting with their own gaming experiences. Zoom games start with their strength, which is giving their users the ability to see and communicate with the people they are playing with or against. This means they are starting with a more social gaming experience, but not necessarily a good one. 

Designing fun games that are habit forming is really hard and yes they have to be habit forming and even addictive to have a chance at being played repeatedly. Adding a social element to gaming makes them more sticky (i.e. players are more likely to play them again and again if they are sharing the experience with their friends and family).

It’s important to note that many successful card and board games have gone digital. Games like Solitaire, UNO, Pokémon, Poker, Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary, Trivia Pursuit, and many more have been around for a long time. It’s highly likely that they will continue to be popular for a very long time and possibly forever. These games have already proven that they are perennial games.

As an example, first-person video shooters have been around for decades (Historians agree that the first real attempt at a first-person shooter came in 1973 with Maze War for the Imlac PDS-1 computers installed at the NASA Ames Research, which was 48 years ago). And now, there is almost zero chance that first-person shooter games are ever going to be replaced by something new.

To reiterate, existing game genres, that have been around for decades, are much more likely to continue to be successful. 

A newly invented game faces huge barriers to entry, even if the game is very fun to play. Why? Because for every new game invented, there is still a learning curve. It’s the learning curve, as well as the overabundance of already popular existing gaming choices, that make it nearly impossible for a new game to break through.

As Netflix, Zoom, many new, and existing gaming companies replicate and iterate already successful, perennial gaming genres for in-home and mobile entertainment platforms, it’s going to make it more difficult for out-of-home entertainment venues to draw people out of the home or off of their mobile device – BUT, not impossible. As out-of-home entertainment operators, we still have the ability to provide our guests with superior social experiences. In order to do this, we must focus our offerings on maximizing in-person, face-to-face social experiences.

Key Ingredients

1. Provide our guests with multiplayer, perennial games that are recognizable, familiar, easy to learn, and fun to play. They must be simple games at the core, but difficult to master (i.e. players need to play frequently to reach higher and higher skill levels). Each game should be designed with varying skill levels that can be selected to match the capabilities of the players playing. In addition, each game must have lucky opportunities where players with lower skill levels have the opportunity to get a good score or even win. All game genres should be games of skill, but a single shot or correct answer at the right time could change the entire game. The most skilled players will continue to rise to the top of the leader boards, but all players need to have at least an occasional shot at winning.2. The goal is to also develop a player and team ranking system that recognizes many of the top players and teams for each type of game. 

Displays above each game and around the facility can show the top ranked players for each game both locally and nationally using the player’s photo, avatar, name, or codename. It’s important to acknowledge lots of different players – including players or teams who achieved a personal all-time high score or ranking. 

3. It’s very important to have comfortable bar-height seating with tables positioned to maximize face-to-face socialization along with integrated food and beverage service within the social gaming area. The entire experience needs to be designed to enable non-participating guests to feel they are a part of the overall social experience as fans, audience members, or simply the ability to enjoy hanging out with their friends and family. 

Important note: bar-height seating enables guests to stand or sit and still have comfortable conversations with their friends, family, or groups. To be specific, low-level seating is horrible if the goal is to create a socially conducive environment.

Click on link below to see our new LED Axe Throwing attract mode.

LED Attract Mode Video

4. Fast Casual Food & Beverage (F&B) service needs to be designed into the gaming and social experience so the kitchen and staff can maintain high quality F&B service (I’d like to thank Neil Hupfauer for getting us (especially me) to think more about this issue and how it can be improved by developing better processes to handle it).

Based on the likelihood of significant F&B volumes, while operating multiple social gaming attractions, it makes a lot of sense to program staggered breaks in game play to make sure the kitchen and waitstaff don’t get overwhelmed. 

In addition, during game breaks or programmed pauses, we can display photos or videos of our best selling or new food and beverage offerings. As an example, with our new Axe Throwing attraction, we have an option to add an additional monitor on the exterior of our protective dividers of each Axe Throwing lane facing each sitting area. 

This monitor can be used to show the Axe briefing video, a secondary or primary scoreboard during game play, as well as display food and beverage options to entice our guests to take a break. Food and beverage can then be ordered by guests within their designated space using their mobile devices. Again, these F&B promos can be scheduled to create breaks or pauses in game play to smooth out the F&B service. 5. Our Center Manager Pro software is at the center of enhancing our Social Gaming experience. It is a complete POS system with Food & Beverage, Online F&B ordering, payments, etc. It also enables guests to make both online and in-house reservations for parties, groups, as well as individual players. It has built-in email, CRM, Membership & Monthly Options, Loyalty, Time Clock & Scheduling, Tracking of Daily Tasks & Problem Logs, plus much more, and it is fully integrated with Intercard’s card system.

Center Manager Pro is specifically designed to elevate the fun of each experience and maximize food and beverage revenues. Guests can use their mobile devices to order and pay for food and beverage using a metal decal with a unique QR code fastened to each table. The QR code enables guests to access our online F&B ordering application while seated at their designated area and enables staff to bring food, beverages, and desserts directly to the guests’ table. 

Most importantly, our Center Manager Pro software is designed to seamlessly integrate all the pieces of an entertainment venue together in order to maximize the connections between our guests, their friends, family, groups, and fellow guests. We continue to add software and hardware enhancements that maximize the guest experience and the revenue that can be generated.6. The goal is to also integrate automated quarterly Tournament Events. It’s important to point out that Tournaments are not the focus – fun social outings with friends, family, groups, and fellow guests are the focus. The Tournaments are just another layer or level of game play that our guests can experience as a participant, fan, or observer.

What’s the Goal?The goal is to create a high quality Social Gaming Experience that maximizes the social part for our guests while they play games, eat, drink, talk, and laugh with their friends, family, group, and fellow guests while enabling it ALL to occur at the same time in the same space.

Social Gaming vs ArcadeThe arcade was never designed to be a highly social experience where friends, families, groups, or fellow guests could gather together to play a multiplayer game. The focus was and still is on playing games and fitting as many as possible into the allocated space. 

Operating an arcade in an entertainment venue continues to make a lot of sense. It generates very strong revenue and profit per square foot. It’s a critical component in the success of many out-of-home entertainment venues. 

The key question is not about replacing the arcade – it’s about adding new and highly social gaming experiences that enable friends, family, groups, and fellow guests to gather together while playing, eating, drinking, and conversing in their own reserved space.

Important note: The gaming part of Social Gaming is critical to enhancing our guests’ social interactions with their friends, family, groups, and fellow guests. 

Making sure the gaming component is highly visible to the gathered guests is very important – especially when some of the guests may not be able or want to participate. The visibility of the game being played by everyone gathered in the area along with using the participating guests’ photos, names, or codenames and displaying them on the game’s display(s), is a key feature that helps break the ice for guests who are invited and may not know everyone’s name.The observing part of game play has to be entertaining and engaging for both the participants as well as the non-participants. Think about how professional sports franchises work very hard to make sure the fan experience is highly entertaining and informative. 

For our specific situation, the goal is to surround the gaming space with comfortable seating, tables, and gathering spaces that help to successfully integrate and entertain all the guests including those who are not participating, but still want to hangout with their friends, family, group, or fellow guests. 

Through creative game design, we can add other interactive ways for the guests who aren’t participating in a game to still be involved in the excitement of the game. 

For example, we can add gaming elements that let non-participating guests to activate cheering or booing sound effects, vote on the outcome of the game, and the success or failure of the next shot. This could even be done by guests who are just watching the game, but aren’t even a part of the group actually playing the game. In addition, the goal is to make it easy to onboard players to join the next game or even drop out to take a break, eat and drink, or just chat with members of their group who aren’t participating or who also want to take a breather. Flexible game play is critically important. 

These new socially designed gathering spaces with integrated games that are fun to play and watch can be reserved online or at our venues for 20, 30, 60, 90, or 120 minute increments. Guests can reserve different gaming areas and can move from one to another based on the order they booked their game times.

Once again, each individual gaming area is designed to encourage and enable the consumption of food and beverage with lots of face-to-face socializing, which includes; conversing, joking, smiling, raising eyebrows, laughing, eye rolling, head shaking, winking, smirking, high fiving, etc. It may seem odd that we listed all of these detailed descriptions of human conversations, expressions, and interactions, but these facial and physical expressions are critically important to creating highly positive human bonding experiences.

In summary, Social Gaming is here now, but our ability, as an industry, to accelerate the learning curve for how we can create the very best out-of-home social gaming experiences is going to be one of the keys to the long-term success of our out-of-home entertainment industry.Thanks for reading!

Jim Kessler


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