eBash Video Game Zone @ Gen Con 2015 Recap

The 6000 square foot eBash Game Zon at Gen Con 2015.

The 6000 square foot eBash Game Zone at Gen Con 2015 was full almost the entire convention.

Setting up complete LAN centers inside of conventions was never in our wildest business plan ideas.  Anyone that has built a LAN center knows that it takes months of planning, purchasing, construction, assembly and testing to open your doors for customers.  However with a convention set-up we have a total of 2 days to do the same thing.

Just like any other project the more times you go through the process the better you get for the next time.  This year was not our first rodeo for Gen Con 2015 and the only way we pulled off what we did was because of our previous experience building LAN centers at conventions and our fantastic staff and volunteers.

All of our events had trophies for first place teams. Here is the top team from one of our Heroes of the Storm tournaments.

All of our events had trophies for first place teams. Here is the top team from one of our Heroes of the Storm tournaments.

Monday, July 27th we loaded our 24 foot enclosed trailer and our 26 foot rented Uhaul with equipment at our Terre Haute location and drove to our Indianapolis store.  At that store we finished loading all of the remaining equipment we needed and then drove downtown Indianapolis to stay the night near the convention center.  The next morning, Tuesday, we began unloading everything around 9 AM.

Through Tuesday until around 10 PM and then again starting at 8 AM on Wednesday morning we built the eBash Game Zone in just about 6000 square feet of space.  The final layout had over 100 PCs, 8 Xbox One, 8 PS4, 4 Wii U and 8 racing simulators to give us enough seating for just over 150 simultaneous players.

Surely enough playing room for 150 players at one time would be enough room right?  Wrong.

We opened our room Thursday morning at 8 AM about 2 hours before the Exhibit hall opened right next door.  We were extremely busy all day but we survived.  I remember then looking at the trends from 2014 at Gen Con for our room and realizing that Thursday was the slowest day of the four days for us.  That is when I started to realize we would be blowing away any kind of old attendance records.

Want to know exactly how busy Gen Con 2015 was? Here is what it looks like outside of our room every single morning before the Exhibit Hall opens.

Want to know exactly how busy Gen Con 2015 was? Here is what it looks like outside of our room every single morning before the Exhibit Hall opens.

Friday was insane.  I am not sure at what point during the day we were informed that our room was over capacity, but I feel like the entire day no one could hardly move.  While we had 60-70 players all of the time in the hourly area, we were packing in hundreds more for our tournaments.  My biggest mistake this year was scheduling a Hearthstone tournament at the exact same time as a Heroes of the Storm tournament.

Looking back I still have no idea how we pulled everything off.  There were nearly 100 players in just those two tournaments, while there were 48 players in a Smash tournament, 40+ players waiting for League of Legends Randoms and 20+ players in a Call of Duty tournament.  Top that off with hundreds more wanting to just watch the tournaments on our giant 50 foot projectors on the walls.

With Saturday being the busiest day of the four we had no choice but to have people posted at each doorway and only allowed players that were participating in the events into the room.  We had thousands of people turned away at the door that just wanted to walk through the room and check it out.  I felt bad for our partners in the zone such as Visions of Zosimos and Extra Life, but they were both always busy the entire time and couldn’t handle much more traffic either.

You can see why they were concerned with our room capacity limits. Most of the time players could hardly find their way to sit down.

You can see why they were concerned with our room capacity limits. Most of the time players could hardly find their way to sit down.

Gen Con is still processing all of our tickets and the final sales numbers are not calculated but we know that we nearly doubled our sales from 2014 and that was a really GOOD show.  Our estimate is that over 15,000 people came through our room and we had over 5,000 people play in our events.  We gave out over 150 trophies, over 200 medals and saw over 7500 hours played in just 4 days.

Our Extra Life Indy guild signed up over 150 new members in 4 days in the zone.  They were invaluable helping us at the front desk with hourly players, at the door answering questions and helping administrate tournaments.  The Visions of Zosimos team were fantastic and they told me that they had more new downloads during Gen Con weekend than the entire total of downloads in the first year of their alpha!

So what does the future hold for eBash at conventions like Gen Con?  In 2014 we set-up at two conventions.  This year in 2015 we set-up at three conventions.  Next year in 2016 we are going to look for 6-8 conventions to set-up.  Our potential partner and sponsor list has been growing from outside inquiries.  It seems like in the next few years we will be known throughout the Midwest as the premier video game event organization and perhaps even throughout the entire US.

Here is a big portion of our group this year. These guys were still working hard loading trucks late Sunday night when we grabbed this photo on the Gen Con announcement stage.

Here is a big portion of our group this year. These guys were still working hard loading trucks late Sunday night when we grabbed this photo on the Gen Con announcement stage.

Create and Play Summer Camps 2015 @ eBash

 

Create and Play Camps are video game design and themed camps teaching kids real-world technology skills such as programming, graphic design and app creation.

Create and Play Camps are video game design and themed camps teaching kids real-world technology skills such as programming, graphic design and app creation.

We are in our third year of running the Create and Play Summer Camps at our eBash stores and each year is more exciting than the last.  Our first year in 2013 we offered 7 weeks of classes in our Indianapolis store and 7 weeks of classes in our Terre Haute store and averaged 14 kids per week.

In 2014 we offered 7 weeks in Indianapolis, 2 weeks in our Evansville franchise location and 2 weeks in our Terre Haute store.  That year we hosted 18 campers each week on average.

This year in 2015 we only offered 6 weeks of classes in our Indianapolis store and 1 week of classes in our Terre Haute store.  It took us three years to figure out this model, but each week instead of featuring one or maybe two courses we featured 3 different courses for campers.  We averaged 27 kids each week at our camps this year!

Students for our camps range in age from 8-16 depending on the course material.  This group built their own mobile games during their week at camp!

Students for our camps range in age from 8-16 depending on the course material. This group built their own mobile games during their week at camp!

Thanks to our friends at Alienware we had enough systems to handle a larger number of attendees each week.  The campers took courses ranging from Intro to Video Game Design with Microsoft’s Project Spark to Modding in Minecraft where they learned basic Javascript methods and principles.  In the Video Games & Graphics class students got a taste of working with graphic design programs and the Mobile App Design class allowed kids to make their own mobile games using Construct 2.

We continue to also offer mobile classes throughout the year through partners at different locations such as the Terre Haute Children’s Museum.  These courses are set-up to be a single day class or an after school program.  Check out this cool story that the local news covered from one of our mobile camps:

http://wthitv.com/2014/10/13/childrens-museum-working-to-provide-fall-activities/

Overall we are extremely happy with our camp programs and love seeing some of the same kids return each year to continue learning real-world skills through their love of video games.  We hope to perhaps develop this program into something that can consistently run around the year and teach more advanced systems and techniques for the students that want to keep pursuing a career in video game design or other technology training.

eBash @ Indy PopCon 2015

Our gaming zone was always busy from 8 AM until late into the night.

Our gaming zone was always busy from 8 AM until late into the night at Indy PopCon 2015.

I am just finishing up 18 straight days of being on the road.  Some of the nights I was able to make it home to sleep in my bed and see the family, but many of them were in hotel rooms.  My wife and I have dubbed this year #Hustle2015 to make sure we work and play as hard as we can all year long and leave nothing on the table.  Looking back over the past 2+ weeks and I think I might be going overboard on that motto.

It has been a little over a month since Indy PopCon 2015 and it feels like it was years ago.  So much of the event is still fresh in my mind however so I wanted to get some of the details recorded here for my own future reference and the benefit of our partners and sponsors.

Here is how our rooms usually look right before we load everything into them and fill them with players shortly after.

Here is how our rooms usually look right before we load everything into them and fill them with players shortly after.

Indy PopCon started in 2014 and it was our very first convention.  It was underwhelming for both the convention owners and for eBash with small attendance numbers but we learned a lot.  I am good friends with the Indy PopCon team now and we can be blunt about that first year because this year things got much better.  Maybe a little too much better?

In 2015 Indy PopCon estimates they had over 23,000 attendees.  This was driven by their genius booking of some big YouTube players such as Markiplier (https://www.youtube.com/user/markiplierGAME) and some of his friends.  It created some new problems such as how to let thousands of fans meet their YouTube heroes when there was only time for half that many to see them, but overall the convention went great for eBash in our gaming zone.

We had 3 rooms just outside the exhibit hall opened up together for about a 5500 square foot giant room with our own entrances to control traffic and stay open late.  We had 1743 players play games in our space and overall nearly 7500 came through our room to participate or watch the events.  Players could choose to play for an hour in the open play zone and play anything they wanted or we ran structured events nearly every hour of the day for the following games:

– League of Legends (PC)
– Hearthstone (PC)
– Heroes of the Storm (PC)
– Super Smash Brothers 4 (Wii U)
– MarioKart 8 (Wii U)
– Racing Simulators
– Minecraft (PC)
– Smite (PC)
– Heroes of Newerth (PC)

Overall set-up in the zone:
– 100 gaming PCs from Alienware
– 4 Wii U stations (16 players)
– 4 Racing Simulators

Here is a link to our photo album from Indy PopCon 2015 on our Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.493057540870800.1073741838.164617063714851&type=3

The changes for eBash from 2014-2015 with our convention set-up is pretty amazing.  It also feels great to try and put together what we think players will enjoy and then seeing the room full during the convention with happy players.  While we still work on how these events work with our LAN Centers and our new competition software (www.ggCircuit.com) the one thing that I do know is that we seem to be in the right place at exactly the right time and that is VERY exciting.

Summer of 2015 Madness

I am one of those guys that can never say “no” to a project, idea, event or possible sale.  It is not a good thing, as many times I agree for eBash to work really hard for no profit.  However I do like to work hard and I have a pretty nice superstar group of staff around me that stays right with me through these adventures.

Just for my own sanity, I thought I might put a post together of the number of unique events we are doing this summer so that viewers of my blog will know why I haven’t been able to post much lately.  Chronologically our summer (including a few completed events) looks like:

April 30 – Private event at Flat 12 Bierworks for Indy car driver James Hinchcliffe
May 8,9,10 – Angie’s List Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 15,16,17 – Qualifying weekend for the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 23,24 – Race weekend for Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
June 8 – First week of 7 straight weeks of Create and Play Summer Camps, 250+ kids
June 26-28 – Indy PopCon
July 17-19 – Achievement Fest
July 18 – Colby and Cate’s 13th Annual Birthday Bash
July 24,25,26 – Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
July 30,31 – Aug 1,2 – Gen Con
Aug 7,8,9 – Moto GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Keep in mind, these are events and activities that are ABOVE our normal store operations.  On top of that we are ramping up our community managers program and our goal is to have special events at our stores every single weekend.  Just this month we have tournaments for CS GO, Smash and Call of Duty while we are hosting a viewing party for Dota 2 and preparing for a League of Legends tournament.

New ggCircuit Client Releasing in Beta This Week

gg_lgWe are far into the thousands-of-hours in planning, development, programming and managing the new ggCircuit software system.  While ggCircuit has been around nearly 7 years running eSports events at LAN Centers, the concept of software to run everything was first mentioned in January 0f 2014.  Since that time we built the main system for tracking games and stats from scratch, tested it for 6 months in our eBash locations and then brought on 3 test centers last October.  At that point we realized that we had something very special started and we began reaching out to centers for a bigger test and a group of around 10 started in November and December 2014.

The first quarter of 2015 we have carefully grown to 21 locations running the software in the US, Europe, Middle East and Australia.  We have been testing and trying different things while we continue to evaluate the best direction for ggCircuit to be able to serve the majority of centers around the world.  The balance between the economy of the coins earned in the system for casual players and the high-end eSports competitions is not as easy as someone might think.

This week is a big milestone for ggCircuit.  We are releasing the beta of the new ggCircuit client.  In the past, centers joining us required some pretty disruptive changes to their systems to connect.  This has caused some centers that started 4 months ago to still be delayed in the final step of the set-up. With this new client we are crushing nearly every barrier and the start-up process is nearly automated.  Automation is our theme, we want things to happen automatically, regularly and effectively without any extra work or burden for LAN center owners or staff.

Take a look at what the new client is going to solve:

NEW ggCircuit CLIENT

Old Way Without Client

Works with multiple LAN Center (cyber cafe) software packages including Smartlaunch, Cyber Cafe Pro, Antamedia, Cyber Planet and more. Required only the latest version of Smartlaunch
Client automatically discovers the type of database and works with MS Access, MySQL and MS SQL Server Database had to be converted from MS Access default to MySQL
Client communicates through standard web port Required LAN Center to port forward to MySQL database and change firewall settings
Only the applicable data for features being used is transferred to ggCircuit servers online The only option was that the entire LAN Center database was replicated online
Built-in service to monitor and synchronize server time for all global LAN Centers No local synchronization for time on the LAN Center server causing data to be mismatched worldwide

Over the next week we will be moving all of our existing stores to this new client AND the past 30 days of centers waiting to join can get caught up.  April and May are big months for ggCircuit.  My goal was to have 100 locations on the system before the end of 2015 and things are looking like that is an achievable goal!

Email Bag – My Video Game LAN Center has been open a few months, how do I increase business?

I had an email from a newer center that is struggling to get over that first hump.  Here is some things I sent back to him and suggested from what has worked at eBash in the past:

**************************

Keep in mind that a LOT of success in this business (and most businesses) is surviving through the first two years.  It is a marathon, not a sprint.
When we opened 10 years ago, we attracted players because we had faster computers, faster internet, etc.  Then when HD came out in 2006-7 we got 32″ flat screens ($800 back then!) and players came because we had Xbox 360 and PS3 with HD.  Now that stuff is way cheaper and players have it at home.
So we have really focused on making sure we do a LOT of special events.  Not tournaments only, many players are “arm chair warriors” and don’t want to compete seriously.  Here are some of the things that are really big for us:
  • Birthday Parties – These really grow over time as more kids get invited they want to hold their party at the store
  • Lock-ins – We started doing one per month… then we started doing two per month… then finally we figured out that doing them every weekend was best because gamers and parents didn’t have to remember WHEN we were having them.  We went from having 20-30 players at one lock-in per month to 80-90 players every Friday night and 40-50 players every Saturday night.
  • Tournaments – We try to do serious ones that cost big $$ to join with big $$ prizes but we also do free events for fun prizes like game time and snacks.
For marketing, here are some things that have worked well for us:
  • Thursdays each week is Church Youth Night.  We let middle school and high school students with a bulletin/program from their church that week play for free from 4 PM until 10 PM.
  • We made business cards that give a person a free hour, printed like 5000 of them and took stacks to all of the local schools, elementary, middle and high schools.  We give each one around 50 or 100 cards and tell them to use them for rewards for attendance, grades or anything they want.  You can also give these out to anyone at the store anytime.  Drive around to local businesses and invite them, their kids, their friends to come by with those cards.
  • Get some press coverage.  Write up your own press release and email it to all of the local newspapers and televisions.  I am surprised when we do this how many times at least a few of them pick up the story and just put it on their website exactly as I wrote it. Write it from an outside perspective and put quotes from yourself in there.  I attached an example of one I recently wrote and sent out, feel free to use that template to write your own.
  • Dedicate a day/night each weekday to a couple of games.  That way players who like Call of Duty know when to come to meet other Call of Duty players.  You can even make it a discount to play ONLY that game ONLY on that day.  Easy way to make a cheaper product without lowering your main prices.
I hope some of those ideas can help!  It is all about making it through the first couple of years.  The ones that make it are the ones that never stop pushing their business.  The ones that fail usually are excited and work hard the first couple of months but then just get lazy and sit around.

Why are you in the Video Game LAN Center business?

QandAAs always the inquiries come in from many different places around the world for starting a LAN center.  Sometimes existing centers write to talk about closing their business, expanding it or even selling it.  All of those questions came to me today in an email from a center owner who has been around 10 years and is trying to decide if they should sell to an interested buyer.

I thought it would be a nice idea to share my thoughts on just why it is that we are all in the video game LAN center business.  I had a good friend years ago that told me over-and-over the reason a person should own a business is to someday sell the business.

Here is a list of questions that were posed to me by this owner about the future of our industry and my thoughts on if he should sell or keep running his business.

*******************************************************
(Note:  These questions come from a center in another country, so I am answering these with my best knowledge of running a LAN center here in the US)

1. Now a days people started to play games in laptops, moreover college events are running gaming tournament in laptops connected through WiFi networking. Will portable device or laptop can kill the lancenter ?  
To me the future of gaming is perhaps coming in the form of VR devices and other technology even beyond portable devices.  However I have noticed that even games on a mobile phone are more fun when playing with people from our LAN center.  I don’t think that the type of game or the device they are played on will ever change the overall desire for humans to find and interact with other humans interested in something similar.  Gamers that met at eBash 10 years ago who would have never even crossed paths became great friends which started with a common love of gaming.
 
2. How do you see the evaluation of LAN game center in future ? Will it exist in tomorrows technology? I can see some answers in igames forum but I am not convinced with that answers, may be partially……let me know your views
I can say this right now with the amazing strides we are making with ggCircuit AND with the added resurgence of potential new owners asking me for advice that 2015 is the year LAN centers will finally become relevant for gaming.  We have missed out for years because the technology didn’t exist, the games didn’t exist and the owners were all too independent.  Already this year I have hosted 3 potential new owners physically at my store and consulted with them about starting their own center.  I have not physically consulted with a potential new owner in about 3 years.
3. I can see game developers & publishers not supporting Video Game Center….is it correct?
This is actually changing right now with ggCircuit.  Now when I call developers and publishers representing 28 locations around the world and over 10,000 active gamers they are starting to support us.  They do not have to try and ship out products to 28 locations, they can make a deal and ship to ggCircuit who then gives them the exposure at all of the locations.  Even after 10 years at eBash we have had 25,000+ gamers in our system and they did not care about talking to us.  We were just in one state of the US.  Now we have centers together in North America, Europe, Middle East and Australia with talks in the Far East and also South America.
 
4. What happens to our field if everyone easily connected through wifi internet & have portable gaming device or portable computers ? 
I think we have to adapt as gaming adapts.  If the gaming industry moves to different platforms, we have to move to different platforms.  As much as I dislike maintaining consoles like the Xbox One or Playstation 4, I think they are necessary for eBash to have available to our gamers.  As they grow up, most of them move toward the PC.
 
5. Do you think am I pessimist to run the show?
Honestly I didn’t understand this question.  I think the translation from the native language was lost here.  Google Translate you failed me!  I believe that in his decision on whether to keep the LAN center going himself or to sell it he feels he is being negative about the industry.  I don’t think at all it is a problem to be realistic and search through every possible scenario when owning a business.  If you don’t prepare for the worst then you might not be prepared at all.
6. Will ggcircuit save us? i am serious in this because I can see the potential & scope…let me know your views. 
Obviously I am very biased towards saying yes to this question.  However I think that the fact is unless either one single company is able to open 100 stores OR something like ggCircuit unites the LAN industry then we will just continue to all struggle on our own.  Not only because of sponsorship opportunities, but because finally we are giving gamers a reason to play at a LAN center instead of the age old response of “because playing together is more social”.  Now, we give gamers an experience they cannot get anywhere else.
 
7. Can I have ggciruit in my centers from India?
Yes, of course!  We are already setting up centers in India currently! 🙂
8. Are you interested to hire any skilled developers for ggcircuit from India? because less expense for professional developers compared to your country ….I am interested in this (I earlier had this vision but never took a single step to execute it), at the end of the day cyber cafe programs wins & I am impressed with your works….I thought of some kind of contribution to the man who fights for our benefits.
We are hoping that many centers not only join us by putting ggCircuit in their center but we can use all kinds of help from centers with all types of skills.  Some centers are working on contacts with sponsors they know.  Most of them provide us all sorts of ideas and comments as we release new features.  The next big phase for us is deciding if we are going to support different cafe software packages or if we are going to create easy conversion tools for moving to use Smartlaunch.  Perhaps the conversion tools would be the best place for those with coding skills to jump in and help?
9.Are you running only ebash or you are running other couple of business ? if yes please let me know others……………..please don’t mean me interfering personally because I am seeing you as my role model in this field, so I would like to know how do you manage everything financially apart from micromanagement.
This has been heavy on my mind lately.  I worry that we do too many things good and not any single thing GREAT.  My problem is that I do not ever tell people “no”.  My background was starting a software company business websites in .ASP and .Net, followed by building my own Internet Service Provider (ISP).  Currently we still consult and work on some websites, build some apps, set-up mobile racing simulators, build gaming zones for conventions, run summer camps for kids and probably other things I am not thinking about currently.
The problem is that I need to just focus on one core business.  If I can start saying “no” to some of these items then I can start doing other things better.  I want to be great, not just good.
10. Have you ever felt from quitting this business at least once from the day one ? 
Many, many times.  Probably once a week since I graduated college in 1998 and started my first company.  I think the struggle for small business owners is very real.  There is always the thought in my mind that I am very marketable and would easily make great money working for a larger company and not have to worry about anything.  But I always come back to how happy I am being able to make my own decisions every single second of every single day.  My mistakes are my own fault, my success is a result of my own actions.  I can always live with that even when things are tough.
 
11. Have you felt negative about this business at least once from the day one ? 
Yes, for sure.  The LAN center industry is filled with owners who are gamers first, business people second.  That is why we have never really found a way to grow.  If a person likes cars, they can be a very successful car dealer, mechanic or salesman.  You can’t consume your time with a car.  But gaming consumes people.  They start making excuses and taking shortcuts.  First it is deciding to play games at the front counter.  Then they start letting their friends play for free so they have someone to play with.  Next thing you know they are going out of business because they didn’t pay attention to running the store.
The other big frustration from me has always been that the industry has never really grown as a group.  Too many centers go out of business and run out of energy to keep going.  We have never been able to have one voice to represent us and get games that are easier to run, deals that are exclusive or bulk buying discounts.
 
12. How do you still manage your negative thought & keep motivated even though if you see some dark side of our business even in terms of finance? 
The GOOD side of the fact that games can consume people is that for our customers this can mean more revenue for us.  It is bad for a LAN center owner to play games all of the time, but it is good for the customers to play games all of the time in our stores.  I have always held onto hope for our industry because I know that society is moving towards being 100% digital.  Just like the movie Wall-E from Disney, I think people will eventually just sit in front of a screen most of the time.  I just hope that LAN centers can get them out of their houses every now-and-then.
 
13. What about your family are they co-operative with your business? sorry for asking this because I can see few quite from this business because their family is not supporting …………I felt my family is exception to run this show till now.
My wife has always been 100% behind everything I have done.   We will celebrate 19 years of marriage in August of this year and we love the place we are at with the business.  The future is looking brighter and we are going to be so strong because of the hard times we have experienced in this business and others that I have ran in the past.  There is no question that if you don’t have the support of your family then you should not be in this business, nor any other small business.
14. Your advice/suggestion  for me to take the decision? whether to sell or expand? 
Right now, with what I am seeing, my advice would be to expand.  However that comes with a huge *BUT* next to it.  But the right investment partner is nearly impossible to find.  I have started many businesses in my life.  Some of sold, some of have failed and others are still yet to be seen.  For every great partner or investor I have had 5 that are not very great.

 

ggCircuit’s New LAN Center Software for Competition and Redemption

donut-chart

This chart is an example of the different ways players can earn coins inside of the ggCircuit system.  It is also a part of the player dashboard to help them track where their coins are coming from.

There have been quite a few questions about the new software we are developing so I wanted to take the time to elaborate a bit more on what we are trying to accomplish.  This software has a few different areas of focus, so I will concentrate on each of them individually even though the software itself handles all of these things at the same time.

Local Competitive Play

This feature I am mostly excited about from the gamer’s perspective.  This is also the point that many LAN Centers feel is irrelevant but I think perhaps they are looking at it differently, in the old school sense of LAN parties and local servers.

When I talk about local competitive play there are few examples I want to use.  The first is looking back to when Gears of War came out on the 360.  That was perhaps our most popular competitive game for local play we have had in 10 years of business.  There were plenty of options for playing and ranking up online, but our store even on slow days had 10-20 players sitting in rooms just joining system link games to play.  Four players would form a team in one room and challenge four players in another room.  There were open lobbies for players to jump in and players would then search the store to find out who the user “treehugger” was that kept killing them.  2v2, 4v4 and all sorts of variants controlled by the players.

Another example is today I watch these competitive teams always looking for private matches on social media.  Games like Call of Duty Advanced Warfare and Halo have excellent matchmaking services, pre-formed teams and all players ever need.  Then why in the world are teams going on Twitter asking for wager matches, custom matches and other set-ups?  They don’t earn rewards in-game for those things and in most cases those matches are not even archived by the game producer.  There is no control for the players of online matchmaking games and they are looking for people with similar play styles to play with and against.

At Gen Con 2014 there was always a line for our League of Legends 5v5 Random events putting 10 strangers on two teams head-to-head.

At Gen Con 2014 there was always a line for our League of Legends 5v5 Random events putting 10 strangers on two teams head-to-head.

The final example I want to use is what we stumbled upon at Gen Con this past year by creating an hourly event we just called 5v5 Randoms for League of Legends.  Once we had 10 people in line, we randomly split them up into two teams and they played head-to-head.  We recorded if they won or lost and if a player managed to get three wins we gave them a medal.

What we want to do is similar to what you would do at a golf course or at a bowling alley.  Of course anytime you can show up and just pay to play.  Play however you want.  But in our case while you play we are going to track what you are doing and collect your stats and reward you.

If you like bowling and want to take it a step further, you can join a league.  Or if your business supports a charity event, you might play in a golf scramble.  If you are real serious you could even join the city championship or pursue more structured events.  With video games all of that needs to be available for these players at our stores.  What do they like about those things versus just playing online?  They like the idea of a structured event being more “official” than just grinding away in online servers.  Specific goals, specific objectives and the thought of real people playing, not just an online gamertag.

Using a bowling alley as my example, I haven’t seen one, but are any of them technologically advanced enough to have leaderboards inside the alley?  Today’s top scores, top bowler right now?  Join an event?  What if you could show up to play a game of bowling and your score was put against other scores at the same time at bowling alleys around the world?  Of course not everyone would care, some just want to go on a date and giggle while they flirt and have fun.  Some just take their kids for something to do.  But others would like the ability to join a structured event on a Tuesday even if there isn’t enough bowlers in your town to support a full league.

The problem for all LAN centers is that running events is so irrelevant because attendance is sporadic.  During the busiest times on the weekends there are plenty of people around to play, but they all might like to play different things and play them in different ways.  We have to take that LAN environment, automate it and create a WAN party for gamers at LAN Centers all over.

Want to play a “LAN” match in League of Legends but it just you and your buddy?  Then queue up and we will find 3 players from other LAN Centers to be on your team and 5 other players to play against you.  It is all automated, the players just form the party, play the match and our system gets the results automatically.  We record the player’s stats, give them rewards and they start “ranking up” inside of our WAN world.

Are you showing up on League of Legends Wednesday with your 4 buddies to play as a team?  Awesome!  Create your team and play against teams from your local center and centers all around your region.  Our system will assign matches, players play them and at the end of the night the team with the most wins gets the king of the hill prize.  Work for the LAN Center during this process?  Zero.

Counterstrike Global Offensive is a very popular LAN Center game and used to be HUGE for local play.  Let's bring it back in a WAN environment.

Counterstrike Global Offensive is a very popular LAN Center game and used to be HUGE for local play. Let’s bring it back in a WAN environment.

Now with CS GO things get even better.  “Why would players want to play in our private servers instead of playing in the already awesome online ranked CS GO servers?”  Well our servers will be running 24/7 regionally and rotating through different maps and game types.  Players will quickly learn to associate the other players with their local center tags which I think creates a different competitive atmosphere instead of just random people online.  The system will automatically handicap player’s coin earnings with their current ggCircuit rank during every match.  If you are new and you get a headshot on one of the top ggCircuit players, boom 250 coin bonus.  Are you the best in the server, your objectives are worth less so you might instead focus on getting to 100 knife kills which gives you a 500 coin bonus.

One of the coolest things for CS GO will also be the complete automation of creating servers for players and centers.  If you have a team of 5 from your center and you want to challenge another center to a wager match and they accept here is the process:  Both teams will automatically be charged a 500 coin wager from their balance.  A private server will fire up only allowing those 10 players access.  The server tracks all stats during the match and depending on the wagers automatically pays out to the players once the match is finished.

Players at your store getting super competitive?  Allow them to fire up their own clan server and host matches and whatever game type you want.  Slow Tuesday night at your store?  Create a CS GO night, fire up your own LAN Center server and give out bonus coins for objectives all night long.  Not enough players locally, then send out a challenge to all of the ggCircuit centers in your region.

Redemption/Reward System

Here is a screenshot of the player dashboard to monitor their coin progress in the LAN center.

Here is a screenshot of the player dashboard to monitor their coin progress in the LAN center.

This is the best feature that nearly every LAN center owner understands and agrees is valuable.  Just allowing players to earn coins for playing, being logged into Smartlaunch, creates a loyalty program that most small businesses would die for.  The ability to add in the skill side by giving out more coins for in-game accomplishments takes it to another level.  Sure you can get a free coffee at the gas station with their rewards card when you buy 5 coffees, but can you get a free coffee for being able to make the best coffee and drink it like a champion?

Players will accumulate coins and be able to “spend” those right in your store.  Each LAN Center has their own prize vault as well as items that ggCircuit will provide for players nationally and globally.  You decide your own local exchange rate.  Gamers all over the world will earn coins 50 per hour for being logged into their local center.  However you decide if you want a Mt. Dew in your store to be in your prize vault for 500, 1000 or 1337 coins.

One big feature I want to touch on here is also the ability for players to quickly realize the street market value of those coins and give them “discounts” on prizes that are given to us by sponsors.  For example, when Razer provides us a $99 gaming mouse as a prize, we can put that in our prize vault for a perceived coin value of $50.  Not only is the gamer able to redeem coins for a cool prize like a gaming mouse, but they are getting it for 50% off the retail value.  They will learn this quickly from the price of your regular items such as a Mt. Dew.  If your Mt. Dew is normally $1 and you also make it available in your prize vault for 100 coins, you just made every 100 coins worth $1 in your store  Then when the see the Razer mouse is only 5000 coins in the prize vault, they realize they are only “spending” $50 in coins to get a $100 gaming mouse.

Some features that LAN center owners might not realize is that we are also creating a badge system to go along with just the standard coin features.  For an example, here are a couple of badge examples we will be implementing:

“Playing at Different Stations” Minimum 1 Hour Per Station Coins
3 Stations Finding Your Place 100
5 Stations A.D.D. Much? 250
10 Stations Taking a Trip 500
20 Stations Nomad 750
30 Stations Nomad Master 1000
40 Stations Nomad Platinum 1500
50 Stations Nomad Elite 2500
Hours Per Single Game Name Coins
1 Hour Gave it a Try 100
5 Hours Starting to Like it 250
10 Hours Solid Test 500
25 Hours Getting into It 1000
50 Hours Love this Game 2500
100 Hours Getting Addicted 5000
250 Hours Game Master 7500
500 Hours Game Master Platinum 10000
1000 Hours Game Master Elite 25000

As you can see, these are things that are just rewarding players for accomplishing things that are already tracked in Smartlaunch.  We are just putting a value to what they are doing and recognizing their accomplishments when they do so.  There are other big opportunities as well with rewarding players for trying new games that a developer will pay the LAN Center to feature.  Why would they pay you to feature their game?  Because at the end of the week/month/year you can show them exactly how many hours the game was played and prove that game centers are a great place for promotions, especially in this gaming world that is going 100% digital soon.

Bigger, Serious eSports Events

The biggest complaints from LAN centers owners against running tournaments is that almost all of the participants displace regular customers and the prize pools eat up any profits.  The underlying problem of eSports is that there is a big gap between traveling around the country to play in high dollar events or playing in some online event.  In-person events are just more legit.  This is where we need to take advantage of our local presence with gamers as well as the ability to give some legitimacy to a large scale event that runs online but is not from someone’s bedroom.

Over 140 players showed up for one of our Gears tournaments!

Over 140 players showed up for one of our Gears tournaments!

ggCircuit started 6 years ago for that sole purpose.  Giving LAN Centers the ability to host a larger payout event at their store without needing the space to hold hundreds of players.  In two weekends we will host a League of Legends tournament that at the time of this blog is taking place at 11 LAN centers around North America.  Saturday teams play locally until there is only two teams left and then Sunday the teams return to their local LAN center to play online against the other stores.  The prize pool is currently $2000 + Riot is supplying Riot Points and skins for the top teams.

With our new system, we can automate things to allow centers to hold a league or ladders over a longer period of time building up to the big championship online event.  Instead of filling up their stores on a busy Saturday, maybe only the top 4 teams who have qualified in the previous 4 weeks are invited to play that day.  Again, these types of things are normally nightmares to create, promote, register, administrate and just “put up with” for owners.  Marketing materials and administration can happen at the ggCircuit level taking the burden off the local stores.

What does this give the players?  The chance to play in really large national events by just visiting their local LAN center.  What does this give the centers?  The ability to take advantage of the growing eSports scene in their smaller stores with minimal effort.

Sponsorship Opportunities

Here you can see in the highlighted box our ggCircuit widget running stats and the header featuring Razer's headsets we are giving away as prizes.

Here you can see in the highlighted box our ggCircuit widget running stats and the header featuring Razer’s headsets we are giving away as prizes.

The final thing I want to touch on briefly is the opportunity of sponsorship from a multitude of different companies.  Of course in the LAN center business everyone thinks of gaming companies.  One of our best partners kicking this off is Razer and we are super grateful for their support so far.  You can see in the screenshot to the right that we are giving the a dominant space on our website and every center participating for free Razer prizes will do the same.

Beyond the game companies the market of 18-24 year old male is a pretty lucrative one.  Advertisers are really crazy to get their name or product in front of young men that they believe can become brand loyalists for life.  This makes what we are building valuable to an entire different group of companies.  Insurance companies for example know that getting a customer on board early in life could be a 25+ year client.

The key metric into what we can give these companies goes way beyond an ad on a website.  Our system will have leaderboards displayed on every screen in the LAN center, with sponsor’s names and logos on the headers.  Want to join the Axe Body Spray challenge this week where they are giving away $1000?  Just jump into this CS GO server and every shotgun kill (get it? body spray?) will give you one entry into the daily and weekly drawing for these great prizes.  On the CS GO server a PSA comes through the screen every 10 minutes and reminds players if they want hot girls to like them they need to use Axe Body Spray.

The other big benefit to sponsors is that we will be able to give them solid, real-time data of their brand advertisements in progress.  How many screens are showing this right now, this week or this month?  How many players are in the server while your advertisement is posted? How many players around the world can you reach through 200 game center’s websites?

Wrap-Up

Hopefully this will answer some of the questions from LAN center owners on what exactly we are planning with the software and how many possibilities exist to use it for all of our benefit and growth.  At the least, it gives me a page to share with potential centers in the future about ggCircuit and the software we have developed.

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.

Email Bag #1 – Answering Start-up Questions

mailboxWhen I answer emails for those thinking about starting a Video Game LAN Center this is a way I can archive them and try to help answer questions for others without saying the same things each time.  Here is a list of questions asked from me this week with my answers.

What financial problems did you meet while starting out the business that you didn’t plan on accounting for?
What problems do all businesses face when starting up?  We were under-capitalized, naive, young, unprepared and we didn’t have control over what the economy was going to do in 2007-2008.  The biggest thing that we still face is the ability to sock away funds for the next upgrade, which in this business happens very regularly.  The one thing we did right (by accident) when we started was leasing our computers.  That isn’t easy to do today, but by leasing them we paid for them very quickly, sold them while they were still valuable, and then started a new lease.  This kept our technology up-to-date AND gave us all kinds of fun and excitement at the store.  We don’t do that now, but perhaps we should go back and look at it again.

What size of venue would be ideal for an average center? (Looking at 30 PC’s, consoles, tournament area, lounge, snack bar, etc).
Well, I still stand by my strong opinion that building a LAN Center with just what you can afford to start is a bad idea.  If you start too small then you are destined to fail.  I love to compare us to movie theaters.  Why do they build 8, 10, 12 and 20 screen theater complexes?  You show up on a random Tuesday and you can have a theater all to yourself.  However on opening weekend for major releases those 200+ rooms are sold out.  You make all of your money during your busiest times.

Do you see that running a gaming center profitable?
No.  Honestly still after 10 years we are not “profitable”.  Do I get paid to do this? Yes.  Do we pay the bills for running it? Yes.  But is it profitable as a business with standard accounting principles?  Heck no, not even close.  In our case we have had some investors through the years that have come in and tried some things that have opened doors that they are not benefiting from today.  This industry is still infant, but the winds are changing…..

When you started out, did you start too big or too small?
By complete accident we started about just right.  We had 14 computers and 18 Xbox stations in our first store.  Within 3 months we added 8 more computers.  18 months after we opened using about 2000 sq. ft. we renovated a building and moved into 4000 sq. ft.  Everything was stressful and hard our first 2 years but it all worked out for a purpose in the end.

What did finding the right location do for you? What made it the right location?
This is actually something that is very black and white for me.  We started in a warehouse about 200 yards off the busiest road in our little city.  That store did about $7k per month in sales the first year.  When we moved, we moved from 2115 S. 3rd to 2303 S. 3rd which is actually less than a block.  However the new building was very close to the same road (55,000 cars per day).  Our sales the FIRST month we moved went up $5k/month.  Our increased rent was only $2k/month.  You get what you pay for.  Real estate is generally priced for the exposure and traffic you will receive.

How long did it take for your business to get out of the negative and start profiting?
We are just turning 10 years old.  Hopefully I will be able to say that in our 11th year we started showing a profit. 🙂