What is STOPPING US from Creating New and Dramatically Better Social Gaming Experiences? 

What is STOPPING US from Creating New and Dramatically Better Social Gaming Experiences? 

At the end of this article, I’m going to outline eight ideas that can help us create better social gaming experiences. However, talking about these ideas won’t help much if we don’t talk about the elephant in the room, which is our brain’s default setting to say NO to anything new and, especially, the new and unfamiliar.

By providing a list of ideas that could help us create better Social Gaming experiences, our brains will automatically focus on identifying the reasons why each one will NOT work. This is why most of our new and possibly game changing ideas never see the light of day – our own negative thoughts kill them before we even attempt to try them in the real world.

Again, our brain’s predisposition to focus on the negative, as opposed to the positive (what might work) is what makes it more likely that we will never try a new and unfamiliar BIG, medium, or even small idea per year! 

Let’s face the facts – it’s way easier to just wait and reserve the ability to say, “I told you it wasn’t going to work!” This quote is also why we don’t try new things, because we don’t want to hear our friends, family, team members, community, or enemies say, “Hah! I told you it wasn’t going to work!” 

If we are honest with ourselves, our worst enemy is our own negative thoughts that stop us from attempting to develop new and better ways to succeed.

The reality is that most people wait until someone else proves that a new idea is a winner. Unfortunately, it can take one, two, or multiple years before a new idea becomes a perennial success. 

Waiting can be an okay strategy. 

At LASERTRON, we have used the waiting strategy multiple times. In fact, we used it for Axe Throwing. We waited for over two years before starting the design process of creating our high-end version of Axe Throwing. 

One of our main reasons for waiting was worrying about how safely Axe Throwing could be operated. Our other concern was whether or not Axe Throwing had the legs to be a long-term money earner.

Ultimately, the success of any social gaming attraction comes down to its ability to become a perennial favorite – one that our guests want to experience again and again with their friends, family, or coworkers, which is the only way it can become a long-term money earner. 

Unfortunately, watching a new social gaming experience evolve from the sidelines is a horrible way to learn what is actually required to make it a success. 

Only after installing and operating our first (8) lanes of Axe Throwing did we really begin to learn what is and is not important to it’s short, medium, and hopefully long-term success. 

As we watched our guests participate in our Axe Throwing attraction, we could finally see what was working and what was not or at least not working very well. It’s important to note that trying too many ideas at once can make it extremely difficult to figure out which tweaks improved, hurt, or did nothing to make our social gaming experience better. In addition, adding a new feature that does not improve our social gaming experience in any noticeable way is usually a negative add-on

Now that we are operating Axe Throwing at both of our venues, we are at the beginning of a never-ending process of tweaking and testing new ideas and features with the goal of discovering which ones make it better, worse, or don’t seem to have any effect. Part of this process is improving our existing games as well as creating new and hopefully perennial games that our guests will love and want to play again and again.

The two key questions we have to keep asking every single day are: “Why did this new feature, game, or modification have this effect – positive or negative?” And just as important, “Why did it have no identifiable effect?” 

There’s a reason why most entrepreneurs only attempt one or two big ideas in their lifetime and that reason is the amount of resources, both time and money, required to make a new and hopefully big idea work. It can also be a huge mental drain on the team. Another reason, which we mentioned earlier, is because it’s much easier to buy or copy a new idea once it has proven to be a long-term success.

Unfortunately, without actively working to understand why and how something works – the quick buy or copy almost always produces a mediocre result. Only by actively working to figure out why it works, can we begin to imagine how we could make it work even better.

We have to recognize that we can’t avoid the pain of having to deal with new and unfamiliar ideas that will eventually challenge and sooner or later obsolete our current business model. 

It’s important to note that the challenges we face provide us with the opportunity to take action and discover new ways to improve what we currently offer as well as helping us to identify the new things we can introduce in our venues. The goal is to use the challenges to accelerate the continued evolution of our venues

By implementing at least one big or at least one medium new and unfamiliar idea per year, we begin the process of building our proactive mental muscles that help us to figure out how to make our new ideas work as well as testing new ways to make them work even better. Lastly, we must learn to live with all the unknowns as we go through this never-ending process.

Saying NO is just as important as saying YES!

When we decide to create or add a big, new and unfamiliar idea or attraction, we need to say NO to almost everything else, because it’s often the distractions that keep us from spending the time and resources required to make it work. 

Now, with the above in mind, here are some ideas to help us create dramatically better social gaming experiences:

1. Perennial Interactive Team Based Games that Maximize Socialization

What does this look like?

Since the beginning of our species, our survival depended on our ability to work together with other humans to survive and hopefully thrive – this instinct is never going to go away. 

The need to belong to a team, group, or tribe is deeply embedded in all of us. So much so, that we fear going to places where we won’t know anyone. Why? Because we fear we won’t be liked or even accepted by the people who are there. 

Playing a game where players are organized into teams, makes it much easier for our guests to socialize. Each player’s efforts contribute to their team’s success and the game itself gives all the players something to talk about.

Gaming is the ultimate icebreaker when it comes to maximizing socialization. 

Key point: If we provide our guests with the best perennial team-based social gaming experiences, we will be able to attract them back more often and they will bring even more friends and family to our venues.

What types of games DO NOT work when it comes to maximizing socialization?

Games like VR, eSports, and even some arcade games are inherently antisocial based on how they are designed and played. These types of games immerse each player into their own little bubble – these games fail to maximize human interaction and connection. 

For bonding purposes, it’s important for players to see their teammates’ facial expressions, which are often very subtle. Facial expressions, along with tone of voice, body posture, high fives, and more, are the indicators or cues our guests use to gauge how successfully they are interacting, contributing, and bonding with their fellow teammates as well as the other players they are competing against. 

Again, the key is maximizing all aspects of our social gaming experiences to make it easier for our guests to hangout and bond with their friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers they are meeting for the very first time. 

2. Guests get to Choose from a Variety of Familiar Games

Giving our guests the ability to choose from a variety of their favorite games and the ability to try new games that look familiar is the key to maintaining both the longevity and newness of our social gaming experiences and, most importantly, making them perennial favorites.

It’s critical that new games look familiar, because the same negative thought process that we talked about earlier holds true for games. 

For example, if we try to get our family or friends to play a new game that looks or sounds unfamiliar, the first question they are going to ask is “What’s it like?” If we can’t come up with a description that sounds familiar, they are likely to go negative on the new and unfamiliar game and they will try to convince the rest of the group to play an old familiar one.

Axe Throwing is a new type of game in which an axe is used to hit a target or multiple targets when playing. Throwing something at a target is a familiar type of game, but in this game we are throwing an axe instead of a ball, bean bag, dart, etc. 

If we want to create a new Axe Throwing game that is different from the standard bullseye game, then we need to start by developing one that looks familiar. 

For example, if throwing and sticking an axe in one of nine squares (3 per row and 3 rows high) and putting an X or an O in the square sounds like a familiar game, that’s because it is and you probably guessed that it’s Tic-Tac-Toe. 

New and familiar is always the best way to go when designing a new game.  

3. Integrated Social Spaces to Gather while Playing Games

It’s critical that the gathering spaces that face, surround, or partially surround the gaming experience are fully integrated to maximize the experience for the guests who are playing, watching, eating, drinking, and conversing about the game or simply talking and hanging out with their friends, family, or fellow coworkers. 

There’s a lot we have to consider when it comes to designing and integrating the gathering spaces that are a part of the gaming experience. The style of seating, table sizes and configurations, as well as many other aspects that are critical to enhancing the social gaming experience. Think about the best or worst bowling seating layouts or how Top Golf designed their lounge seating so that it is located right behind their tee boxes, which makes the person in the tee box the focal point. These are the things we need to think deeply about when designing the best social gaming experiences

We say this often, but the best seating for social gaming is comfortable bar height booths, barstools, and bar height tables. Bar height allows our guests to either sit or stand and have comfortable conversations with their fellow guests. In addition, if guests are constantly getting up to take their turn to play the game, then bar height seating makes it much easier for our guests to get up quickly when compared to low level seating, which requires a lot more effort to stand up. 

4. Our Guests’ Mobile Devices are Integrated into the Social Gaming Experience, Food and Beverage Service, and overall Guest Service

The vast majority of our guests have in their possession very versatile mobile devices. We must continue to integrate these devices in multiple ways to help enhance our guests’ social gaming experience. 

Too often, our guests get pulled away from all the fun when they need more food, drinks, need a bathroom break, want to extend gameplay, want to move to a new gaming experience, or just need some help. Our software and hardware systems have to be designed to enhance our guests’ experience by minimizing or eliminating the distractions that can keep them from having their best possible social experience with their friends, family, and coworkers.

This can be accomplished and that’s why we have spent 20+ years developing our Center Manager Pro system. We continue to develop the software and hardware that is required to raise the bar for all aspects of operating our own venues as well as our clients’ venues. 

Fast Casual food & beverage service along with additional guest enhancement software and hardware features is Key to maximizing the entire social gaming experience. Our newest food, beverage, and guest service software update is called Guest Service 360. If you are curious and would like to learn more about our Center Manager Pro system, you can send me an email and we will set up a presentation for you to learn more. 

5. Spontaneous Selfie Opportunities 

The key to having our guests take a lot of spontaneous selfies, and sharing them with their friends, family, and coworkers, can only happen when we provide them with truly unique, high-end, fun & competitive, highly social, and truly memorable social gaming experiences. 

When we provide our guests with the best of the best social gaming experiences, spontaneous selfies will happen automatically and in great numbers.

6. Designed for Casual Players First, Second, and Always

The goal is NOT to design our social gaming experiences for the most skilled players – it’s always about providing social gaming experiences that are fun and easy to play for the majority of Casual Players with a big focus on maximizing the social side of the gaming experience. 

This means our games are semi-easy to play, look familiar, have simple rules, and the basic skill level to play each game can be learned in a short period of time

In addition, it’s important to have beginner and intermediate rules and levels of play. Having expert levels is not the priority, but it can be an option. 

We have to always remember – it’s the Casual Players who pay 99% of our bills

7. 80/20 Rule

Approximately 20% of our guests are responsible for 80% of our revenues. It’s not that these guests are paying 80% of the revenues we generate – what they are doing is promoting and bringing their friends, family, groups, and coworkers to visit our venues, which makes up the other 80% of our revenues. 

The problem with all of our entertainment venues is that we don’t know who those 20 percenters are or at best only a small fraction of them. 

The key opportunity for all of us is figuring out how to identify the 20 percenters! Then we must create and develop the best ways to communicate with them directly. 

It’s important to note that the tools we use to communicate with the 20 percenters and all of our guests, must be FULLY Controlled by US. We do not control Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snap, Google, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, etc. 

We must continually develop and integrate the best mechanisms to grow our guest database and, most importantly, to collect the most relevant information that enables us to provide our guests with the best out-of-home experiences. 

We must integrate mechanisms to continually collect bits of guest data – such as first and last names, emails, phone numbers, zip codes, guests they hangout with the most, codenames, age, most & least favorite attractions and games, most & least favorite food and beverage, and whatever else we need to learn to provide our guests with their very best visits. 

We also provide our guests with tools that make it easier for them to make reservations and most importantly to invite their friends, family, groups, and coworkers to come back more often. 

We also need to provide them with valuable incentives and the tools to promote what we offer to even more of their friends, family, groups, and coworkers. 

8. Triggers and Incentives that Enable and Reinforce Habit Formation 

We can no longer accept our industry’s most horrific statistic, which is the fact that the average guest only visits our venues one, two or, if we are lucky, three times per year.

It’s critical that we build into our social gaming offers a significant bonus that triggers a return visit within 30 days. The bonus has to be BIG enough to successfully trigger our guests’ desire to come back to have even more fun with their friends, family, and coworkers. And it’s likely, when they return, they will bring back new guests to join them. The key is that the bonus value we provide must expire within a month of their initial purchase. They must use it within 30 days or lose it!

In addition, we need to provide our 20 percenters, as well as new and returning guests, with incentives that encourage them to invite even more of their friends, family, groups, and coworkers more frequently. 

We have been experimenting with various methods utilizing our Center Manager Pro system. Slowly but surely we are getting to the core of what works. We will continue to iterate and test new methods in order to figure out the best ways to maximize the frequency of our guests’ visits. A higher frequency of visits along with more guests per visit will significantly improve our revenues. 

Again, the best way to help habit formation to occur is to design offers that provide our guests with significant bonus value along with utilizing our automated email software to remind them to use their remaining bonus value before it expires in (x) days. The bonus value is an important trigger that encourages our guests to come back to have even more fun and hangout with their friends, family, and coworkers in our venues. 

In conclusion, designing Social Gaming experiences is complicated. It requires us to combine the elements of gaming, socializing, food, beverage, and even bathroom breaks in a highly synergistic way. 

It requires a different mindset and operating approach, which includes training and providing our staff members with the tools and systems they need to enhance and maximize the combination of all the ideas listed above and other ideas we still need to figure out and implement. 

As social creatures, people need places where they can gather and bond. It’s our job to provide great ways for our guests to come together in the same space to play, socialize, and bond.

In order to achieve the above, we have to focus all of our efforts on continuously thinking proactively about how we can achieve it, because as we already know, our brains are on autopilot when it comes to reminding us of all the reasons why new and unfamiliar things will not work. 

We must all try really hard to make something new and unfamiliar work and work better in 2022!

Thanks for reading!

Jim Kessler

PS: The best way to fully comprehend the scope of what we provide our clients is to see it in person.

Our next free, Operators’ Conference will be held March 1-2 at our Entertainment Center in Rochester, NY. Click here to register for the event.

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