2013: The Year of eBash!

It had been 4 years since we opened our Evansville location as a franchise store when we finally opened another locations in Charleston, IL in November of last year.  This was something new we are trying, with two great guys from the Charleston area who own the store completely and just pay us a monthly fee to use the eBash name and piggyback on all of our events and marketing programs.  They are doing really good, December ramped up very nicely for them and the future is looking bright.  We are in talks with 3 other prospective owners around this US to start new stores with this same program in 2013.

Toward the end of last year I found out that my long-time friend in the industry, Eric Osar, was shutting down his game center (Crazy Penguins Gaming) at the end of the year.  Within that same week I also saw a post that a gaming center I had visited before I started eBash over in Indianapolis had closed down and the owner, Bill Noel, was looking to sell the store and equipment.

The timing was not by chance for these events.  I had finished meeting with my accountant a week before and he and I agreed that either I had to start expanding eBash again or I needed to go out and get another job completely.  It wasn’t fair to my family for me to live on the salary of a single store manager especially with our third child on the way in April.  It is hard to watch my fellow Rose-Hulman graduates work their way into 6 figure salaries, but I doubt any of them love their jobs as much as I do.

So I called Eric and asked what he thought about having me take over their store, basically buying him out.  We have been working on the details for the past 3 weeks and are very close to finalizing the deal.  I have at the same time been talking with Bill about doing the same thing with his center, (Netheads), over in Carmel, IN.  Again, a few details remain but we are also close to finalizing the deal.

If/When all of this happens, it appears that by the end of this month we will own 3 stores again and the Charleston, IL store will give us 4 total under the eBash banner.  The Evansville store struggled a few years ago and the previous owner had to quickly sell the assets to get out of financial obligations.  The new owners admittedly do not know anything about running a game center, they just had kids who loved going to the store.  I have thought about offering to take back over the operation of that store also and bail them out of a bad situation, which would give us 5 stores total.

The reason that this prospect is so exciting is that FINALLY we will be able to do so many things that we have wanted over the years but just did not have enough locations.  My list of things we will be pursuing in 2013:

  • Summer Camp Programs – Netheads has started a summer program for players to learn basic video game design.  They have a solid curriculum that teaches design on a computer that gives them the ability to create their own game during the week and compile and play test it using Xbox controllers plugged into the USB ports of the computer.  We want to expand this into after-school programs and extend the offerings to adults with classes in Photoshop, Word Press Design and even some corporate training.
  • High School Gaming Events – With 5 stores in those locations we will reach about 50 area high schools.  I want those schools to put together teams to represent their schools in different games and we will host leagues and tournaments for those players.  These kind of events creates extremely level playing fields between teams because of the geographic restrictions of playing with teammates all from the same high school.
  • Sponsorship deals and promotions – These 5 stores in the past have served over 100,000 gamers in their locations.   The store locations themselves can reach a potential 4,000,000 people with almost half a million of them being our demographic of ages 13-24 and who love gaming and technology.
  • Bigger tournaments and leagues – With 5 stores, we can offer a $1000 payout or higher tournament almost every weekend for different games.  Not only can we offer larger payouts, but we can attract 5 times as many teams because gamers won’t have to travel.  Each store can attract 8 teams of 4 or 5 players, bringing up to 200 gamers together for a tournament that takes place at their local game center.
  • Weekly lock-ins with events – We run lock-ins every single Friday and Saturday at our Terre Haute and Charleston stores now.  However by adding 2 or 3 more locations doing the same thing will give us the ability to run Black Ops  2 or Halo 4 FFA events during the night on Friday nights, or maybe Madden 13 or League of Legends events on Saturday night for the 16+ crowd.  How about a Minecraft contest that runs for 10 hours during one of the lock-ins on our private servers?  With an average of 50 players per lock-in, that gives us over 250 players each lock-in to split up and run events.  Which store is best overall?  Which gamer is best overall?  Video Game Olympics?

There are still plenty of “t”s to cross and “i”s to dot before it is all final, but we are getting close enough that I felt like sharing a little bit of what is going on right now so that everyone else can start getting as excited as I am for “2013: The Year of eBash! 🙂

Seven Xbox 360 Kinect Playing Tips and Tricks from the Number One #1 Kinect Player in the World

I love the Kinect and have been playing it non-stop for years now.  I don’t have any plans of stopping and I get very frustrated when I hear that people “hate” games on the Kinect.  Unless you are just extremely lazy there is no reason to not give the Kinect a chance.  I don’t want a bad experience to turn you off from a great option for gamers getting off their behinds and being active.  As the #1 Kinect player in the world and also playing in multiple environments I thought it might be helpful to create a list with things that have made my Kinect experience so successful.

  • First of all, it is worth spending some time moving some furniture around for your Kinect session(s). At my house and at the store I have the sensor on top of 52″ televisions (size of the TV doesn’t matter) and directly at my eyesight level (on top of the TV).  I have played with the sensors below the TV and it SUCKS TERRIBLE.  If you are ever playing with a sensor below the TV you will NOT have as good of a time.
  • Secondly make sure you are about 8-10 feet away from the screen. This might seem like a chore in smaller spaces, but the trick is that you can put your TV in the corner of the room facing out diagonally. I did that in our house and it made a huge difference. The farther from the TV the better, but honestly at the store when you get past 10 feet away the sensor also gets mad, so the perfect range seems to be between 8 and 10 feet.
  • Lighting is the third VERY important set-up. I have actually messed with this A TON at work, moving the florescent lights around the room and found that the light sources need to be above and in front of you. At home I have can lights in the ceiling in the corner of the room above the TV and that will be the only lights I have on in the room when I want the perfect experience. If you have to, move a desk lamp up on a desk or something and point it at you like a spot light, or two desk lamps. Having lights off behind you seems to also help a ton.
  • I almost always reset the tracking on the sensor when I start a game. For some reason many times the sensor either A) Decides to cut off right above my head and arm motions above me are not seen or B) It cuts off my feet at the knee and it can’t see my feet movement correctly. When you start go to the Kinect guide, let it “adjust tracking” on its own (which never seems to work), then choose to adjust tracking manually. Move the sensor up/down until you can see at least 1 foot above your head and a bit below your feet. When the sensor is at eye level it will seem like it is pointing down more than it should, but you can watch your image as you adjust it and it will be obvious when you get it positioned correctly.
  • Dress for success. Believe it or not it matters quite a bit getting the sensor to see all of your body correctly. The biggest thing I have found is to wear white socks, no socks or white shoes. When I wear black shoes or black socks the sensor seems to loose track of my feet quite a bit. Now it could just be that I have darker floors so in the rare case that you have white floors, I would assume that darker shoes would be better. Also the same goes for the rest of your clothing. If you are in front of a dark couch, wear lighter clothes. If you are in front of a light colored wall wear darker clothing.
  • Stand on a blanket.  This isn’t necessary if you have a solid color floor, but at home I have a patterned rug in our living room where the Kinect is played and on some occasions I find the sensor won’t read my feet correctly.  I put a solid colored blanket down and all is better again.  It also is nice when you are playing at night to dampen the sound of you jumping around the house when the kids are asleep. 🙂
  • The final tip is more of an observation of sorts. After all of the Kinect I have played, the trick is not necessarily figuring out what to do by following instructions in the game. The trick is figuring out what you can do with your body to get the Kinect to see what it wants to see.  Sometimes figuring out how to get a motion of your body to register correctly on the screen is the game, not the game itself.  I have done bizarre stuff facing an opposite direction, taking my shirt off, tucking in my shirt, pulled my shorts up to my chest, standing on a chair, etc.

Some of these might seem irrelevant, but I can assure you that each item above needs to be addressed if you want to play Kinect games and have fun.  Sure, not every game works perfectly and you might run into some that are just bad games.  Don’t blame the Kinect itself and don’t group all Kinect games together if you have one or two bad gaming sessions.  The Kinect is awesome and I am standing by it to the end! 🙂

My Xbox 360 Achievement Obsession

Most of you who know me very well recognize that I sort of enjoy unlocking Xbox 360 achievements.  Alright, fine, I admit it.  I REALLY like unlocking Xbox 360 Achievements.  I am an active member of a great site at http://www.360voice.com where I am almost always playing in 3-4 different achievement based competitions.  Here are a few of the challenges I am playing in over at 360v:

Mini-site:  http://terrehaute.ebash.com/skyline/2012
Forums:  http://360voice.gamerdna.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=25353
Description:  Randomly formed teams try to build the biggest “skyline” throughout this 3-4 month long competition.  One player from each team daily must build at least 1 level higher than his current tower by unlocking that number of achievements.  We started out with 14 teams and there are now only 9 remaining.  My team is the “Fantastic Four” and I have met 3 great new players that will remain on my friends list forever.
Current Standing:  Top 9

Challenge Page: http://360voice.gamerdna.com/ccs/2012Buffet
Forum: http://360voice.gamerdna.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=25597
Description:  I never have much of a chance on this one because I just really don’t enjoy certain genres of games.  However I usually can maintain a respectable top 20 and usually push into the top 10 by the end of the competition.
Current Standing: 20th

Windows 7 Phone Challenge
Challenge Page: http://360voice.gamerdna.com/ccs/WP2012
Description:  This one is a new challenge for 2012 for only achievements unlocked on our Windows 7 phones.  The rule is that games only count if they are released in 2012.  I am holding my own on this one in the top 3.  I could push a bit harder, but I try to wait until the newer games go on sale before I purchase them.  Unless of course I can use the achievements on the same day I have a Skyline build and get twice the benefit.
Current Standing: 3rd

Another site I enjoy is trueachievements.com which doesn’t really have challenges on the site itself, but others created challenges based on games “True Achievement” scores.  The TA score is based on how many gamers have actually unlocked that particular achievement.  This is a WAY better indication of value because of the weighted nature of the points.  Everyone can unlock easy achievements so they should not be worth as much as the more difficult unlocks.

A couple challenges based on TA score that I am playing in currently:

Great True Achievement Score Challenge
Website: http://www.gtasc.net/
Description:  This might be my favorite.  A year long competition in which the bottom 2 teams are eliminated each week.  I put together a team of all Indiana-based players, so naturally we are the Hoosiers.  Kyle is a long time eBash customer, employee and close friend, JB330 was randomly put on my team last year in the Skyline and we have become good friends and the other two I didn’t know at all, just picked them from the Indiana leaderboards over at xboxamerica.com and sent them a message.  They are both great and our team is doing extremely well so far.
Current Standing: 70 teams remaining

Gamerscore Super Pwnaggeddon Marathon
Website: http://www.gspmarathon.net/
Description:  This is a 3 player competition and I have teamed up with 2 players that I have played with in the past but never have teamed up with them before:  Roku750 and MarvzMitts.  Our team is Boku Mittz and we just need to maintain above 75th place before September and then push through the end of the year.
Current Standings:  54th

Honestly I am not sure I would be into the achievements that much without these challenges and competitions.  I am a competitive guy and love plowing through Xbox games earning points to take out another individual or team.  Just like at the old arcades in the malls of america, it isn’t that cool to be good at Pacman unless there is a high-score leaderboard to show your initials on top of the rest.

July 2010 – A Fresh Start

4 years ago on July 1st, 2006 we moved our first eBash store into a new building which started a whole new chapter of our story.  After being in a dimly lit warehouse setting for 2 years we moved to a prime retail location and business immediately started to pick-up.  During that same time I was going through personal bankruptcy while shutting down another business of mine that had failed.  It was stressful to say the least but luckily for me Shawn Wells was there to help share the load (intentional LOTR reference to Samwise Gamgee).

Shawn invested into the company so that we could afford the renovations during our move and he took over (and still to this day continues to run) our PC side of the business.  Almost immediately after this 2 more investors approached us and made an offer we couldn’t refuse to purchase the company. We would stay involved and they would finance the growth and expansion of the business.  I always wondered if Shawn and I would have been able to make it work together.

Now we will find out.

As of July 1st, 2010 we are once again the sole owners of eBash Terre Haute.  Shawn and I have already started some well overdue renovations and improvements and plan on continuing to work on the store heavily through the end of the year.  Those of you in the store may have already seen Shawn’s new Sony Bravia 3D LED set-up on the Sony Playstation 3 replacing the old DDR machine.  I probably will slip up over the next few weeks and let everyone in on more of our plans but for now it will be fun for everyone to just anticipate what we might be doing.

For me this is a fresh start in an industry that I have been very active with in the past but have fallen out of the past year or more because of the recession.  As a store we have not invested in *new* technology in 3 years.  Our “Operation Platypus” events in the past that were $10k investments in the store have turned into scattered maintenance replacements as our investments were put towards franchising and new stores in other cities.

The focus for Shawn and I now is now 100% eBash Terre Haute and the exciting part is that many of my old friends are jumping right back to help out again.  I think many of you will be excited to see what things people like Chad Killion, Fred Strohm and Jason McIntosh are able to do now that their efforts are personal and not professional.

So moving forward with my blog I really don’t want to make it a commercial effort at all.  I am hoping to use this each morning to put down my ideas for the industry moving forward, get some feedback, brainstorm and talk about other game centers and technology that will affect our store.  It is good to be back.

Turning 36…..

The past few weeks I have determined that starting a daily blog will be one way of organizing my thoughts and actions throughout each day.  I have been looking forward to today, February 1st, on my 36th birthday to get started.  I am no where near familiar with WordPress enough yet to make this look good, but I will move forward daily and make adjustments as I go.

Last night we completed the 21 day gamerscore challenge to benefit Get Well Gamers.  My team, CFL, consisting of my long-time eBash friends Dustin Dudley, Kyle McCormick and Mark Repollet gathered over 50,000 achievement points on the Xbox 360 console.  A tournament like this seems to be the most interesting and is one of the goals I have for revolutionizing competitive gaming.  Getting the publishers behind competitions will only happen if the competitions themselves promote new games.  Gone are the days of wishful thinking that you can play Halo 3 or CS 1.6 for the rest of your life as a “professional gamer”.

Tomorrow is the pre-season start to our first ggCircuit week night league.  Modern Warfare 2 should draw in 20-30 teams from around the US and over the next 6 weeks I hope to fine-tune the program.  Halo 3: ODST league starts in 2 weeks and it should also draw plenty of teams.  I just hope there isn’t a pathetic amount of crying and whining from the teams about how everyone is cheating and there is too much lag.  There is nothing more I hate than complainers.