eBash 10.0 – 10 Years Later, Starting Over Again

Painting/Construction of the very first eBash location.  We learned the hard way!

Painting/Construction of the very first eBash location. We learned the hard way!

eBash is turning 10 years old this month.  The official date we opened was December 10th, 2004.  We will celebrate at our stores the weekend after that day since the 10th this year is a Wednesday.  However the real celebration for us is the fact that after 10 years we are looking to re-invent the LAN Center model worldwide.

There is still a real disconnect between “Why would I pay to play at a LAN Center” and the typical answer that all owners like myself immediately answer with: “Because it is more fun to play together in person”.  The problem is that there is not honestly a tangible reason for players to come to our stores.  Playing socially in the same physically space is not a REAL reason.

From 10 years of experience here is a REAL list of reasons players come to a LAN Center:

For a special event.  Celebrate a birthday, play in a tournament, try out a new game, relatives in town want something to do, etc.  This has always been true and is almost always the best way for finding new long term customers if you make the experience epic enough.
To get some independence from mom & dad (middle/high school age) or from spouse/kids (older adults).   Lots of gamers love our overnight events and lots of parents/spouses love that option also.  Mom and Dad want a night out?  Your wife going to an all-weekend event with her friends?  Your daughter having 3 screaming friends over to play Just Dance 3 all night?  All good reasons to head to the local LAN Center.
For the convenience of larger gatherings to play games on different systems.  Many players are all about bringing their systems to each other’s houses to play all weekend, but there is a break point of 2-3 friends when it becomes nearly impossible.  If you want to play League of Legends all weekend together with 4 other friends on your team the reality of 5 players having somewhere to all setup, the systems for all 5, the network/internet and somewhere they won’t bother other residents of the abode is very unlikely.
Lack of a good gaming set-up at home.  This is becoming even more rare, but we still even see customers show up that have been gone for years when their PC is on the fritz, or they forgot to pay their internet bill or they are fighting with their parents/spouse.

Those are all great reasons, but none of them really lend themselves to a reason to play at the center more than a few times each month other than a lack of a good gaming set-up at home.  And I still don’t seem many players ACTUALLY coming to play for the reason all game centers claim is the best, for the social experience.

A little over a year ago it came to me the idea of putting a REAL reason out there for gamers of all ages/skills to visit their local game center.  I wanted to use what I feel is our biggest asset to reach gamers all over the world.  We are LOCAL.

LAN stands for Local Area Network.  There is always things happening online for gamers, there is even big huge events happening in large cities periodically.  The one thing that we don’t have going for gamers is consistent and plentiful events somewhere nearby.  The two things lacking to do this in a LAN Center is that owners don’t have the time or the drive/desire.  I have plenty of drive/desire but I cannot even keep up.  Sadly beyond the time is that many LAN Center owners are gamers first and business owners second.  So the drive/desire is not even present.

Just quickly, let me clarify that “Events” is not just huge things like tournaments.  Events to me are things with a purpose and a scheduled specific happening.  LAN centers try to do this sometimes with a specific weeknight dedicated to a particular game.  We hold a “lock-in” every weekend that is not really more than us staying open all night, but we make it an event by “locking” the doors from the outside at midnight.

So what is holding us (LAN Centers) all back?  Time?  Nah, if my idea is correct and we can double sales in LAN Centers by running consistent events then we would just hire more people to handle the extra work/time.  I finally identified what I think is the main problem for all of us in the LAN Center Industry.

We need an automated system to promote, host and archive events of all kinds.

So here is just a little bit of what we are working on:

Here is a screenshot of one of the dashboard pages that players can use to track their progress.

Here is a screenshot of one of the dashboard pages that players can use to track their progress.

– 6 months ago we began development on a new software system which runs on top of our center management and POS (Point of Sale) software.  That system started in beta at our eBash stores with integration for RIOT’s popular game, League of Legends.  The entire purpose is to track what players are doing and reward them for accomplishments both in-game and in the local store.

– We added 4 stores in Sweden, owned by Good Game and Escape Gaming to the system in late October.  We wanted to test our formulas and architecture in the European environment.  We also added PC Gamerz out of Hawaii so we would have an additional North American partner as well as someone in about the latest possible time zone in the world.

– Now we are reaching out to add 40 more centers before the end of the year.  We have a dozen lined up just through word of mouth.  We will be doing some marketing and other outreach starting this week.

What are some of the highlights of this system?  Here are some main things that I am the most excited about :

  • The ability for players at LAN Centers to “team up” with players from other LAN Centers around the region and world.  For example: The only reason there is not a good following of CS GO players at centers is that it takes a solid 10 players to get a match going.  We will have regional CS GO servers running for players to join that are only accessible from your local LAN Center.
  • Always-Running Challenges.  Wager matches are popular right now but very questionable.  The concept however is a solid one, put something on the line against other players and the winner-takes-all.  This system will allow players to queue up for a match anytime for a chance to win extra coins.
  • The Coin System.  This is the basis for everything.  No matter what you do at a LAN Center, you can earn virtual coins while you play.  These turn into currency that you can spend at the LAN Center for snacks, drinks or hours.  However the larger value is that national sponsors are coming on board to provide BIG prizes for players.  How about the latest and greatest Razer headset or mouse?  You can earn coins toward that prize doing what you would normally be doing, except that you cannot earn prizes like this just playing at home.
  • On the sponsored side, we can finally get more support for up-and-coming games.  Take Smite for example.  It is not close to the popularity of League of Legends or Dota 2, but it is getting some momentum.  We can feature Smite at hundreds of game centers around the world and TRACK automatically the number of games played and all of their in-game statistics.  An example of a Smite weekend at these stores would allow players to get an entry into a drawing for every Smite game they play AND an extra entry to the drawing for every 100 kills in the game.  Then every hour our system will randomly select a winner to receive some epic in-game prizes from Smite which is announced LIVE on display screens at every center AND on every single player’s screens at those centers.
  • Integration with nearly every game and system.  We are building this to reach as many games and systems as possible.  For example we want to integrate with Xbox Stats/Achievements and Playstation Stats/Trophies.  We plan on integrating this with Steam achievements also.  We want there to be something that appeals to all gamers at all levels.
  • The ability to not only run LOTS of events but to track everything within those events.  Hosting a League of Legends tournament is a LOT of work.  Not just marketing the event and running it, but there is so much administration that people take for granted.  However when we run these we always see a new batch of players coming out to try their hand at a more serious competition.  With our new system running these events will become so easy to administrate that there will be events every single weekend at every single LAN Center.
  • Pooling resources from LAN Centers supports the concept that the WHOLE group is greater than the sum of the parts.  Centers can utilize the space they have and put their players into events they would normally not be able to support.  $10,000 tournaments will become a regular thing each weekend and players will not have to travel farther than their local LAN Center to participate.

This is a big task.  Not only has eBash shouldered the burden of the initial development of this software (currently already in the tens of thousands of dollars) I am also personally making it my mission to unite a group of extremely independent owners around the world to play nice together.  However so far the response has been very good and over the years I have made some great friends in the LAN Center industry that are grabbing my hand to join in the push.  We will see what the next 6 weeks has in store for us.

It could very well be the biggest jump in our business since the day we opened 10 years ago and the biggest leap forward this industry has seen.

eBash Mailbag – Internship / Job Shadowing?

Another email this week from someone prompted me to spend some time with a more formal reply and a post here to my blog for future seekers.

****** Original Email *******

This is *******  and I wanted to inquire about an idea that my mother actually recommended. As you know I have always had a passion for gaming and have been around the gaming environment for a large majority of my life. I am currently studying computer science at Indiana State University. I really want to know what it takes to turn the dream of your company ebash into a living, working facility. What kind of knowledge base is good to have for this type of entrepreneurship? What does it take to get the business started? How can one keep the business afloat during hard times? What are some prime locations for this type of business? I really do enjoy computer science, but am completely willing to change majors in order to make this dream a reality. What kind of coursework should I look into? I was thinking something like information technology with business administration or management. I am able to accomplish endless possibilities right now at Indiana State because of all the benefits I have received and effort I have put in. The main question I have is are you able and willing to shape me into a formidable future asset of the company? I would really appreciate your feedback on this. Thank you for your time.


Lots of great questions.  You are on the right track researching and learning now while you finish school.  I can tell you that many, many things in business, just like life, come with time and experience.  Especially in our industry, things change faster than you can learn about how they are handled currently, so the ability to adapt and survive is something that is more crucial than any other skill you might need.
Currently we are extremely busy with building our new store location in Indianapolis and then heading into our busiest time of the year through the holidays.  I don’t want to disappoint you, but there is quite the long list of people who approach me to learn about the business and want help starting their own center.  Instead of trying to decide who to help, it is just easiest if I let everyone know that my focus is on my employees and those who are going to be with me inside of our company for years to come.
We don’t hold interviews or have people fill out applications.  Our business is grown from within.  We take our longest and most trusted customers and move them into volunteer positions at the stores.  Then we take the top volunteers and move them into part time employee roles.  The best of the part time employees then move into specific areas such as event planning or store management.
So if you are interested in knowing more, the best way is to just hang out at the stores and play.  Even being around our staff on a regular basis you can can gain knowledge and insight into the industry from a customer standpoint.  More than any other business in the world, we value our regular and consistent customers for the relationships more than the revenue.

Grand Theft Auto V in my Video Game LAN Center?

gta5I have always held a strong line to NOT carry the Grand Theft Auto series of games in our stores (along with a few other over-the-top titles). Our eBash partner store of which I do not have any ownership carries the games. This newest game would be a HUGE boost to our sales during the next few months and beyond and help us through our slower months. I don’t want to compromise my morals, but how do I skip a game that could mean so much potential income for my stores? I am thinking of perhaps requiring every single parent to physically come into the store and have us read to them the warning label on the game right at the front counter to their face. Something like this:

Me: “Hello mommy of Billy Gamer, are you wanting to allow him to play the newest Grand Theft Auto V game?”
Mommy: “Yes, that is fine. He plays games like that at home.”
Me: “Alright, I just need you to be aware that this game contains ALL of these items: Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Nudity, Mature Humor, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, and the Use of Drugs and Alcohol. You are fine with your 9 year old son being exposed to all of those things?”

Man, even typing that up I just get a bad feeling in my stomach. I know that all of these parents will say yes. Maybe I should require that they sit down and play the game with their kid for a minimum of one hour before they are allowed to give them permission to play the game?  Maybe seeing prostitution in action on the screen will make more of an impact than hearing the words “Nudity and Strong Sexual Content”?

I sometimes get the feeling that parents honestly think that the warning label on games (and maybe movies) are just *potential* things that could be in the game.  Almost like it is a general guideline for all M (Mature) rated games that *could* contain those things listed on the label.  At least that is what I hope is true.

However the items printed on that label are ACTUALLY found within that exact game.  So when GTAV says that it has Nudity and Strong Sexual Content the game itself has those items as something your child will experience while playing.

Maybe I just hope that is the case so that I can give parents a false excuse for not caring what their child puts into their brain.  I feel better thinking that parents are dumb and naive and not just doing a lazy and terrible job of raising their children.  I want to believe that parents are just too busy to take the time to monitor what their kid is playing, instead of probably the true reason they let them play these games.

Parents are selfish.

I know this is true because I am a parent and I am also selfish.  I want my time to myself.  We have 3 kids at home and right now my wife and I do not get any time to do what WE want to do.  At home and when parents drop their kids at my video game center these “guardians” are just looking for a break from being a parent.

I understand the feeling and I am not saying that having your kids play video games so that you can get a break is wrong.   It is not even wrong to have them play for a few hours in my opinion.  However it is not right to allow them to be exposed to such things that are in some of these games just so you can have some “me” time.

So, should I carry this newest game in our stores and just put a heavy burden on the parents to be the ones that decide if their child is exposed to the filth found inside?  Will that leave me a clear conscience?  I doubt it.

Achievement Fest 2013 & Guinness World Record Attempts for Xbox Gamerscore


These 21 gamers gathered in Terre Haute, IN last weekend to set two Guinness World Records.

Last weekend wrapped up the second annual Achievement Fest here in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Most people probably have no idea where Terre Haute is located and Achievement Fest is still just a new idea I had a few years ago.   However I am amazed again this year at how well the event came together through the help of the gaming community over at www.360voice.com.

We had players from 14 different states and one from Canada arrive between Thursday and Friday last weekend.  An entire section of the eBash Terre Haute store was dedicated to these gamers and their passion for obtaining achievements on the Xbox 360.  For the city of Terre Haute we sold almost 100 room nights at local hotels and they ate our local restaurants all weekend.  I treated them all to 12 dozen Square Donuts on Saturday morning to help kick off the record attempt in Terre Haute style!

Gathering in the hallway near the Square Donuts table!

Gathering in the hallway near the Square Donuts table!

For those new to achievements in general, let me give a quick breakdown of the beauty of Xbox 360 gamerscore.  Every single Xbox 360 game made contains available points to unlock by performing feats in the game itself.  Some are very simple like pressing the start button for the first time and some are more difficult such as playing over 1000 games online.  How the points are distributed are up to the game developer, but Microsoft has rules that they all have to follow and the biggest are:

– Each retail (sold on a disc or anything considered a FULL game) game must contain 1000 gamerscore points to start.  No more or no less.  An Xbox LIVE Arcade game previously started with 200 gamerscore points but more recently was bumped up to 400 gamerscore points.

– The achievements cannot force the user to buy anything additional for the achievement itself.  This is sometimes a gray area with publishers adding additional points to a game with DLC (down load content) but for the most part all achievements can be obtained within the game once you buy the game itself.

When playing through a game the achievement is “unlocked” by completing the predetermined task (which is the same for every person who plays the same game).  At that time a little sound is made on the screen and a long oblong gray bar appears on the screen saying “Achievement Unlocked” with a brief name of the particular achievement.

The collection of these achievements has gone way beyond an obsession for many people.  I can remember when the Xbox 360 was released I tried to get 10,000 gamerscore from achievements on the Xbox 360 before a friend of mine at eBash leveled a character in World of Warcraft from 1 to 40.  The winner got a steak dinner.  I think I might have gotten 6000 points but he easily beat me and back then leveling in WoW took a VERY long time.

Now however there are websites dedicated to obtaining these achievements and competitions between individuals and teams to see who can obtain the most points.  If you want more information here are a few sites that I use on a regular basis:


Enough of the background, let’s cut to the chase.  A gamer that plays a ton of games but one that doesn’t try to get all of the achievements in the games might sit around 10,000 or 20,000 gamerscore.  Remember a single retail game has only 1000 available points total, so that would be 10-20 games completed to 100% of the objectives.

The group of players that attended Achievement Fest this past weekend are each in the hundreds of thousands on their gamerscore.  Personally I am sitting at 266,282 gamerscore.  Many of these players in the top 3 of their states here in the US if not the number one player already.

We decided two years ago to hold an event where we could all meet in person.  Last year on the same weekend in July we had 29 gamers from 17 states and Canada descend on little Terre Haute, IN and not only game all weekend but put up an attempt at two world records through Guinness.

During the Guinness attempt, dotting every "t" and crossing every "i".

During the Guinness attempt, dotting every “t” and crossing every “i”.

However last year we had a Guinness representative assigned to our attempts that told us things that later we found out (when they quit and we were assigned a new representative AFTER our attempt) were not allowed by Guinness.  So fast forward to this year and we had two guys, John Merson (fafhrdd) and Michael Oliver (futiles), who sat out of the competition so they could be officially non-partial witnesses and officiate the attempt.  John especially went overboard for weeks beforehand getting everything set-up with Guinness and his work continues these next few weeks as he submits the evidence for approval.

Thomas Ash (Mr pTart) again attempted the individual record for most gamerscore in 24 hours (which he broke last year but it didn’t count) and again surpassed the previous record of 13,290 (*source*) this time by putting up 14,419 points.  He even took a 1 hour nap during the attempt once he knew he had it in the bag!

The rest of us are creating a new record for the  most gamerscore in 24 hours by a group.  The only caveat was that we needed to surpass the amount of the individual record (it should be easier for a group of people to do something instead of a single player) and once the group hit 16,661 we decided to stop for various nerdy reasons.

Here are links to the Xbox LIVE pages for the two record setting gamertags:

AchieveFest2013 Group Gamertag
Mr pTart Individual Gamertag

Here is a video of the news coverage we recently had of the Guinness record attempt:

Off the Beaten Path: Gaming Gurus

As a special thank you, here is a list of the attendees and a little something about each of them from my own perspective in their seating order for AF this year:

fshguy (Florida) – Thanks for all of the work at 360voice you do.  AF would not be the same if we couldn’t look into the Kinect room and see you playing a kids dancing game with your tongue out like Jordan.
Tandar1 (Indiana) – Fellow Hoosier, somehow providing material for many jokes at your expense and never getting mad.  Don’t worry about the chair, we have plenty.
Elem3ntal80 (Wisconsin) – Missed our Sunday talk this year, but super thanks for organizing and making sure badges were made and also for picking up Hitchman on your way down.  Someday there will be an eBash in Wisconsin.  Someday we will be able to mountain bike together.
pTartTx (Michigan) – Thanks for helping our EEO quota for females.  You are a great part of our online community and an even better part of our real-life community.  Plus you bring with you…..
Mr pTart (Michigan) – Grats on your second record this year!  Hopefully it will count this time.  Maybe next year you won’t sit behind us and act like you know how to play a game that you hadn’t really played before.
THE DREN (Texas) – Where to start.  Thanks for….. being…. “the dren”.  Great interview on TV this year and thank your wife for letting you travel on your anniversary!
griffey95 (Florida) – Dude, you are like a game encyclopedia.  I think you remember everything about every game you have played or even just read about.  Thanks for playing Heavy Spear with me.
streakleader (South Carolina) – Thorton’s sent me a $100 gift card in your name.  They said something about you set a Guinness record for most ounces of soda consumed in 3 days.  Always happy you could leave the courtroom for a few days to visit again this year.
SG Steelhead (Pennsylvania) – Sorry about the sugar glider!  I had fun playing that terrible game, Shattered Rain, with you.  Glad you weren’t in the hospital this year!
nescaughtfire33 (Wyoming) – Hmmm… where to start with you?  Hopefully you made it home?  You were the devil on the shoulder of AF this year and you gave us MANY stories to share in future years.  So glad you guys found us and you both need to add us on LIVE!
MissFourtune (Wyoming)- Dustin says HI!  Glad you came with the “devil” above to help keep her out of too much trouble.  Hopefully you managed to get her on the plane, we haven’t heard anything on the news otherwise so we are assuming you made it.
fafhrdd (Maryland) – John you were a trooper this year bulldogging the Guinness information and you are still going strong to get everything approved.  I forgive you for wearing a sticker with my face on it all weekend!  Also thanks for playing Shattered Storm with me this year.
Hitchman1 (Illinois) – Thanks for bringing your JP console to add to the event.  Also thanks for cleaning out your wallet the first night and giving us some interesting stories for the next 3 days of AF.
JB330 (Indiana) – My Hoosier teammate in so many competitions.  I am not sure why you don’t like me, but maybe you can hang out with me more in our new Castleton store?  Thanks for playing Heavy Spatula with me.
futiles (Kansas) – Thanks for taking over updating the website (hopefully you will continue!) and helping John with the Guinness attempt.  Next year we are getting you on the books!  Your actual presence is so much bigger than your mass and thank you for that boost to the energy at AF.
LibrarianBeth (Kansas) – Thanks for helping keep everyone going with the items that 18 other males don’t think about.  We all will continue to pray for you putting up with futiles another year before we see you again.
Buckswana (Ontario) – Thanks for bringing the entire cool factor up a notch each year.  Sorry we didn’t get your news reporter back again.
HotdogMcGee (Nevada) – Thanks for the constant tomfoolery running rampant at AF each year.  Also thanks for taking care of making sure the Real Buffet Challenge Part 2 took place.  Next year I promise not to pick you up from the airport in a van full of fish in coolers.
CKinAL (Alabama) – Glad you didn’t have to drive through the night alone this year. 🙂  There are not many cool girls hanging with this group of dudes, but we are lucky that you are one of them.
dacoto (Alabama) – Thanks for again bringing swag to give away even though it was a weird year with how busy I have been.  Next year we are turning you loose and there will be epic prizes to be had by all.  Also thanks for admitting you were framing Tandar all along.

Also a special thanks to the Terre Haute Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (David, Amy and Jeanne) and the staff at eBash who helped set-up for AF and then also helped put everything back together again (Dustin, Eric, Fred, , Lloyd, Mark, Romie).

Why Do Video Game LAN Centers (or any small businesses) Fail?

Usually after a year or two, you will find this at your local LAN Center.

Usually after a year or two, you will find this at your local Video Game LAN Center.

This December we will celebrate our 9th year anniversary for eBash Video Game Centers.  We have had our ups-and-downs over the years.   There have been times when I wasn’t sure if we would be around and other times when I was sure we would have 100+ stores by our 10th anniversary.

I have started almost 10 different companies since I graduated college in 1998 and I can say with confidence that I have plenty of real world experience owning and operating a small business. I get frustrated with our industry time-and-time again because I see so many owners following the same path of destruction.

Back in my software days I would also see other small businesses struggling with the same problems.  Would you like to know what I believe most small businesses fail?

You cannot be one of the biggest consumers of your own product.

What do I mean by that statement?  Look at it from this perspective:  Could an alcoholic be a successful bar owner?

I have been very, very close to many game center owners over the years and it seems that most people get into this business because they love to play video games.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that you have to be passionate about what you do for a living to have a satisfying career, even if you are not the business owner and just an employee.

But I think as the owner/manager you have to be able to recognize the priority of being the engine driving the train instead of one of the box cars just getting pulled along for the ride.

Is there ever a voice in the back of your head telling you there is something else you should be doing?

Is there ever a voice in the back of your head telling you there is something else you should be doing?

Many of you that know me, know that I have a great love of achievements on the Xbox 360.  Over the years I have played in many competitions for Gamerscore that tempts my competitive spirit and makes me push way beyond the normal realms of competitive gaming.  Currently I am still the #2 player in the world on Kinect and I haven’t touched a game in almost 4 months.

But that has caused me problems in the past when I would just perform the bare minimum tasks for the business so that I could concentrate on my gaming.  Instead of putting 50-60 hours per week into growing the business, pushing events, working for partnerships and staying up with technology I would find myself gaming for 6-8 hours each day. Luckily for me, eBash was established enough during these lapses in judgment that the company didn’t die.  I also am surrounded by a great set of employees that could help pick up the slack in the areas that I was neglecting.

That was not the case in the past for our first and only official franchise store. The owner of that store became consumed with a certain game.  If you ever wanted to find him, he was probably at the store sitting at a computer playing.  His attitude followed his success in the game.  He actually threw customers out of his store for playing poorly on his team, threatened to fire employees who refused to play with him and the business itself quickly went from an upward trend to a quick descent into disaster.

In the end he had his back against the wall with creditors and vendors and had to sell the assets of the store to pay a debt with the IRS so that he wouldn’t go to jail. Currently I am considering buying back that location at the corporate level from the current owner just so that we don’t see another store in our industry close down for good.  It will stretch me to my limits, but if we are successful I have potential investors ready to help us build more stores over the next 5 years.

At the same time I am worried about our newest partner store as well.  So much so that I am considering removing the partner program completely and only focusing on building out our own stores.  We are already seeing them choose not to participate with us in events that are going on at all of the other eBash stores and I am hearing reports that they have a gaming machine at the front counter so that they can play while they are “working”.

If you are a video game LAN center owner and you are reading this I would challenge you to answer these questions for yourself truthfully:

1.  Do you game more than 10 hours per week?
2.  Are you struggling to grow your business?
3.  Do you feel you are doing everything you can for your business to succeed?
4.  If you have employees, I challenge you to ask them if they think there is more you can be doing for the business.

I would love to hear from some of you other owners (of any small business) in the comments below if you have similar observations or even opposing ones.

I never try to be the person who only complains or points out things that are wrong, so I am using this subject to start a new series to share some of the things we do for eBash to grow and promote the business that cost little to nothing but require a good work ethic and consistent follow-through.  Subscribe to my blog on the right of the page to receive an email each time I add a new blog.

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! 🙂

New eBash Video Game Center Opening This Fall

It has been 4 years since our last store opened in Evansville, Indiana as a franchise.  At the time we had two company owned stores in Terre Haute and Bloomington here in Indiana as well.  We had just finished filing all of our franchise documentation with the state of Indiana and at that time franchising seemed to be the best way for us to continue to expand.

Since that time a lot has happened.  Obviously the biggest change was that the recession came to the Midwest in full force.  Everyone lost so much of their net worth as stocks plummeted and 401k retirement savings shrank.  It just seemed everyone went into hibernation to wait and see how and if the economy would recover.

The biggest changes since that time has been in the ownership of eBash at the corporate level.  In 2006, myself and my partner Shawn Wells were approached by an investment group that we allowed to buy a majority of the company to help us with expansion plans.  Over the next 4 years that group invested over $1 million, many times at their own discretion.  Many different things were tried including a different store design in our Bloomington location and of course franchising.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but circumstances and the recession forced the investment group’s partners to move out of the area and in 2010 Shawn and I bought back the Terre Haute location.  We continued to negotiate the rights to the overall eBash name and all assets company wide and a few months ago we became the sole owners again of the name eBash and all associated goodwill.

During this time I have always received 5-10 inquiries per month from potential new game center owners asking for advice, consulting and start-up assistance.  I try to help as much as I can in an honest, no-nonsense way that hopefully paints a realistic picture of our industry and business strategies.  Until we controlled the rights to the eBash name I could not really offer anything other than ideas and suggestions.  However when I met Derek Rankin and Harry Kim from Charleston, Illinois the time was almost perfect to start our new program in conjunction with their plans to open a new video game center.

The great news now is that we are launching a new plan to allow centers to operate under the eBash “umbrella”.  In talks over the years with publishers, developers and manufacturers we know that until we have around 10 stores operating as eBash in a diverse geographic area we won’t be able to get any kind of benefits upstream in the video game industry.  This new partnership agreement gives us the ability to help new and existing centers grow their business AND allows those stores to operate under the name eBash.

As we move forward in Charleston I plan on sharing our progress here on my blog that will continue to help many prospective and existing game centers with their own planning and expansions.  I also plan on releasing the details on how centers can purchase access to all of our planning and financial data as well as become partners under the eBash name.  If you would like more information just comment here on my blog or contact me : http://terrehaute.ebash.com/index.php/info/contact-info-store-hours/

Starting a Video Game LAN Center: How Many Stations?

Recently a thread in the private section of the lancenters.com forums prompted me to respond with the post I will share below.  In the past few weeks I have had quite a few potential new owners contact me for advice and consulting.  As we are in our 8th year of business obviously we have done something right.

The initial post was a new start-up asking if 4 PC stations were a good number to start with for their primarily console oriented center.  After many centers responded with “No way!  Don’t do that few”, “At least 10 or don’t add PCs”, etc. the poster just blew off the advice and said they wanted to start with 4 and “If they paid for themselves they would add more later”.  Ugh… no wonder our industry continues to see so much turnover.

Here was my response:

Seriously, why do so many start-ups come to the forums, ask for advice, and then still just do whatever they want.

Someone should go back and take all of those posts over the past 10 years and list our advice, then the number of months before the centers close.

Think about this scenario… 4 awesome PCs, sitting there on Friday morning… ready for 4 awesome customers to show up and play on them. Doors open, first guy in the door is a 38 year old bearded Magic the Gathering player who talks ALL OF THE TIME. He tells you all about his 4 different computers that are better than yours, talks about winning the national Pokemon tournament back in the day, then sits down at the 2nd computer in your row of 4 for the night. Booyah! One seat sold, only 3 to go.

Next walks in 3 guys who play League of Legends and are curious if you plan on holding any tournaments? They give you their ELO rankings and then sit down to play a game on the other 3 computers. They try to talk to each other around the Bearded Pokemon Master who is sitting in the middle, but then he starts talking to them about Pokemon. They roll their eyes at each other, but this dude won’t stop talking.

Next, in walks a dad with his son. He plays WoW and his son loves Minecraft. While they are waiting for a PC to open up you are stalling them trying to get them to play Xbox. The 3 LoL players are getting worked up and drop 3-4 explicit words and the dad’s eyebrows raise a bit. After playing free on the Xbox for a bit because you don’t have PC seats for them they take off and tell you they will come back another time.

Guess what? I hope you love the Bearded Pokemon Master because that is the only person you are going to see again. Word will get out about how small you are and groups of friends will never show up again.

Rule #1 – Don’t open a store with less than 40 stations. If you can’t fill 40 stations with players you shouldn’t be in this business anyway. We had a store with 36 stations in a city of 4000 population, entire county population of 10,000 and it was full every weekend.

Rule #2 – Don’t put less than 10, I wouldn’t do less than 20 of any particular system. Our main store has 54 Xbox, 34 PC and just 3 PS3 and 2 Wii for the parties and fan boys.

Rule #3 (more general rule for everything about starting a game center) – Don’t get caught up in your desire to open a game center if you can’t afford it. If you cut corners because your budget is too small then that should be a HUGE sign that something is wrong.

Dealing with Maintenance and Broken Equipment in a LAN Center

Gaming peripherals are a big headache when running a game center.

You would think that after all of this time operating eBash we would have everything figured out right?  Wrong.  There are still some things that continue to rear their ugly head and this week I am really struggling with one of them.

We have always fought a battle trying to maintain our gaming peripherals.  A peripheral is a device that plugs into our computers and consoles such as headsets, keyboards, mice, controllers, etc.  Some of these items we really nailed down after years of trial-and-error.  Things like our Saitek Eclipse keyboards and our Logitech MX-518 mice.  Those things are rock solid and we RARELY have to replace or repair them.

While winning a battle on one front, we are totally losing the war on many others.  PC headsets have always been a problem.  We have tried many different avenues.  We partnered with Turtle Beach at one point and put $150 headsets in every seat that they sold to us at $50 each for us to be exclusive with their company.  It didn’t take long before they started showing up broken and we had to send batches of them back for repair/replacement.

We tried the $2 cheap-o headsets (which is what we currently use).  There is no warranty and honestly it almost isn’t worth trying to ship and maintain equipment through warranties anyway.  If we can get 3 months from a $6 headset then we feel we are coming out “ahead”…hehehe.

For the Xbox stations we don’t even provide Xbox LIVE headsets anymore.  We tried renting them out for $1 or $2 and they still just showed up broken or walked out the door.  I actually found a source from Hong Kong to buy them for $3.10 each including shipping which is a great deal.  We buy them and then sell them for $5 each which has seemed to work the best.  We make a little on the headset and the players are responsible for not losing or breaking them.  As a matter-of-fact… I need to order more now so off to eBay I go…. $3.10 Xbox LIVE Headsets.

One of our employees actually caught a kid eating the stick at one point like a person nervously chewing their fingernails. Yuck.

Which brings us to my biggest headache right now.  Xbox 360 controllers.  While the PC headsets and Xbox LIVE headsets can be somewhat of a luxury, the controller is necessary to be able to play the games so we almost have to include them without an extra charge.  As you can see from the picture on the left these suckers take all kinds of INTENTIONAL abuse.

About 4 months ago we started working with John over at 360tuneup.com to repair our controllers.  He is able to replace broken RB and LB buttons, solder on new stick sensors, put on new joysticks, repair shorted wires and just about anything.  We have I believe 12 of them in the store he has repaired.  One of them is the picture on the left that didn’t even make it 3 months before being eaten.

I want to figure out how to charge for peripherals just like the bowling alley charges for shoe rental or the skating rink charges for skate rental.  If you are a pro bowler or skater you bring your own equipment.  Those of us who are not pro are just as happy to use the rental equipment, but we pay a SEPARATE price for those items which is different from the facility rental.

Why can’t we figure out a way to do this more effectively?  The problem for us is that on a busy Friday and Saturday we will see over 200 players in-and-out of the store.  Many times we have 80+ players in the store at one time.  It just isn’t easy to keep track of handing out all of these items.

I am leaning towards putting super generic equipment on every station.  Just like rental skates at the skating rink they won’t be top-0f-the-line.  You aren’t probably going to win your bowling league or dominate the shoot-the-duck competition while skating with rental equipment.   If you are a picky player and you think the joystick is making you lean to the left or is always pushing up, then you can rent a high-end controller OR better yet bring your own from home.

The same with PC headsets I think maybe?  We can keep putting the $2 units out there, but also have a nicer option available to rent for $5.   We will have to put some extensions for the sound and USB ports from the PC cases down to the tabletop so that players are not always pulling and pushing on the actual computer and pulling them off the wall.

I am always up for suggestions, so if any of you readers out there have some ideas I would love to hear them!

Sometimes You Need to Hang Up on a Grandma

My team in the Mega is starting to feel the burn. ee Speirs has car trouble and is still trying to plug away around work and extra work time. ProtipsLoL is busy with not having a job, sleeping all day and making out with his new GF.

JB330 and I are grinding away. I am having *fun* with the new Japanese titles. They are very humorous since you can make up your own story line without being able to read Japanese. I usually have 2-3 people standing around me while I am playing them at the store just amazed at what I will do for achievements.

The store was slow Wednesday and consistent but not busy Thursday. A sort of lull after spring break last week and the calm before the big monthly lock-in tonight.

I had a grandmother call to complain about something this week and I hung up on her. She was trying to explain to me that she brings her grandkids to the store to play all the time but last weekend her son brought them and he said they were not allowed to come back because the store “smelled too bad”. Seriously? We clean the store top-to-bottom every day and it starts sparkle fresh but on a weekend day we get 200+ people in the store and some are hyper stinky teenage boys and men. I am not sure if she wanted a handout or what but I just wasn’t in the mood to play the customer service rep of the year game.

If you notice something wrong and honestly want to “help us out” by pointing out problems then do it immediately so we can address the problem and fix it. How the heck are we supposed to figure out who was sitting next to her grandkids and tell them to go home and take a shower if we have no idea who it was when they called to complain 5 days later?

I was pumped to finally finish X-men and WWE Legends to a full 1000 this week. During a big challenge I usually don’t grind out the last few achievements in games but for some reason I just wanted to check off a few games from my “sometime I would like to finish that game” list.

Heard Around eBash:
Instead of a fun quote/story from the store this week I thought I would share something funny that happened with my son and I yesterday morning when he was getting ready for school. (Zander is 10 and in 4th grade for those who don’t know me as well)

As he is getting dressed and ready he says to me: “Dad I have an idea for how to build a vehicle that goes on air, land and sea.” He then explains this to me in rich and full detail, using hand motions and being very animated. I then look at him and notice that he has put his jeans on backwards and was ready to head out the door for school.