A recent conversation with Will Wilhem from Quantum X game center about headsets really got me thinking about how we have struggled over the years trying to find the perfect solution. A quick search of “headsets” on iGames forums had 741 matches while a search for “game sound” found 544 posts. I want to take a walk through some of the options we have used at eBash over the years and the positive and negatives that come along with each option.
I do want to mention that many centers take advantage of renting out headsets to cover the cost of maintenance and upkeep. Probably the pioneer of this type of policy was the guys out at Euphnet in Sunnyvale, CA.
First let’s look at PC Gaming sound. Obviously I don’t think I have EVER heard of anyone that uses external speakers instead of headsets except for Netheads in Indianapolis, IN. They use a very expensive product similar to the picture shown on the right made by Brown Innovations. 99.99999% of other centers (yes, I made up that percentage) use headsets of some kind for sound when it comes to PC gaming.
This is probably the most commonly used option at LAN centers because a headset integrates the microphone with the speakers. For me this is our #1 broken item/complaint in the store because it seems no matter how durable a headset appears, customers will find a way to break them. We have tried many products over the years ranging from inexpensive to moderately expensive. Currently the $6/pair behind the head models that have detachable microphones is what we are using at eBash (similar to THESE) and seems to hold up just as long and doesn’t make my blood boil when I find a pair that has been broken.
We went through a period where we tried many different products at a higher price level for a few different reasons. Originally eDimensional stepped up with a deal for iGames members which put their $100 retail headsets in the LAN centers for only $50 each (I think they were 6 headsets in a box for $300). We tried out a couple cases and of course had some sets broken. They replaced some initially and probably would have kept replacing them but it became tiresome.
Next we struck a deal with Turtle Beach to put both their Xbox headsets and PC headsets in our stores when we opened our 3rd location in Bloomington, IN. I worked out a deal directly with their promotions group to buy the headsets at a significant discount in non-retail packaging. We actually stocked the brand new store in Bloomington with 100% Turtle Beach headsets throughout. Honestly the PC headsets held up pretty good but our frustration with the Xbox headsets led us to look for other solutions.
Probably the best deal we have seen yet on the PC side was the one provided by Creative that had them match our purchases 1-1 with free units to use in the store. We didn’t like their behind-the-head style as they seemed to break easy but their Fatal1ty version was really nice except they hurt a bit when you wear them more than a few hours at a time.
Console Loudspeaker Sound
I am going to talk about my experience with chairs soon so I don’t want to talk too much about sound through gaming chairs. However those are by far my favorite option for external sound if you aren’t wearing headsets. There are a few other options for loudspeaker sound that I want to touch on and I will save the chair sound for a later blog.
TV sound is probably the most common for console sound. This isn’t bad at all, just a bit common since that is probably how the average gamer (not diehard) plays at home. Our first store had 27″ CRT TVs that sat on top of plywood boxes we built and each player just controlled their sound through the TV speakers. The major problem with sound out loud is that each player begins the “volume war” to turn their system just a bit louder to hear it over the others around them. Next thing you know the room is full of TVs blaring out at 90% of their total sound level.
In our current tournament rooms we have our XBox 360 systems running on VGA cables to 22″ Samsung monitors. This forced us to come up with a 3rd party sound option as the monitors do not have built-in sound. (*** Side note *** Most monitors I have tested with built-in sound is terrible anyway, so you might as well plan on external sound) We tried the Turtle Beach headsets which I will discuss more below but the longest standing solution is the Bose sound system pictured on the left that we buy at Sam’s Club. These little babies can really pump out the sound and make for some REALLY noisy rooms. However they have a headphone jack right on the front and they are simple with just a power cord, volume knob on the front and RCA inputs. By my count we have 24 sets of these still running at our Terre Haute store.
Console Headset Sound
This has to be the biggest area of headaches for our center when it comes to maintenance and upkeep. I have yet to find a great solution but I do feel like we have come up with some good solutions so far. The first thing we have done for 3-4 years now is simply rent out the cheap Microsoft voice headsets (that come with a new 360 or you can buy wholesale for around $10) . We just rent them for $1 and after they are used 40 or 50 times we have to pitch them and buy new ones. Gamers using TV sound, gaming chair sound or Bose Speaker system sound will all rent these so they can talk online.
I feel like that is the generic solution but after that honestly nothing is much better when it comes to LAN center solutions. Sure there are tons of other headset manufacturers that combine game sound and chat for Xbox 360 and (sometimes) PS3 but the cost of those units sure make it hard to swallow when a cord gets caught around a chair and torn in half.
To defend each of the manufacturers I do want to point out that Microsoft really screwed the pooch when it comes to their chat/voice set-up. Instead of just letting something work that plugs into the console they make you plug into the controller which adds more cables to get in the way. Most of the headsets are made so that a person on a couch can use their headset for the TV across the room so when it comes to a LAN center you don’t really want wireless for theft reasons NOR do you want 25 foot cables since the players are sitting right next to the screens.
Here are a few options we have tried:
Turtle Beach – These are just not built for the long haul from what we have experienced. The plastic breaks, the cords get pulled out and the microphone booms get broken off. Not to mention adapters get moved around and lost and the units just feel very light and dainty.
Tritton – We are currently using 6 of these in a room that we charge a premium to experience. This has made customers realize the value of the equipment and I honestly think they are more careful in the room. Secondly by charging for the room the cheaper customers just steer clear and the room is used probably 50% less. That leads to the only problem which is that the room generates less profit than the other rooms in our center.
Astro – Honestly I have never used a pair of these yet. Guys bring them to the store and spend 15 minutes hooking up all of the wires and players ooohhh and aahhhhh over their “ultimate pro gamer” experience but for a game center there is no way in the world I can drop $250 headsets at each station and feel good about it. Maybe if I was reselling the units and could get them to set-up a room for the store it would work but if I am shelling out my cash I will stick with the less expensive options.
In the end each game center has an opinion on what works best for them. The sad thing is that there is no real consensus on the best option even for the groups that will agree on headset vs. external sound. I am somewhat motivated to start testing out products specifically for LAN center use. Hmm… maybe testing new products each week can become a regular feature.