As the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell knew something about fun and games. It wasn’t a huge leap, then, that while transitioning out of that company during the video game explosion, he envisioned an amazing new place where families could play and celebrate life, all under the watchful eyes of a smiling mouse. No, not THAT mouse. I’m talking about Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater. This place was an epiphany at the time. Food, video games, music, laughter…all fueled by the first wave of baby boomers’ kids. Believe me, I was there…
Following not far behind, two guys from Dallas, TX realized that it wasn’t just the kids who needed a place to play. They realized they could draw in adults with a variety of games, a touch more sophistication, sports viewing, and a decent drink menu, thus Dave & Buster’s was thrust into the world ushering in a new era in Family Entertainment Centers.
An array of different FECs, trampoline parks, and arcades continued to fill the void in choices between a day-long outing at a theme park or sitting at home playing Pitfall. Paintball leagues popped up and then escape rooms joined in, both adding physical action to the entertainment space. But there was still an opportunity in the marketplace for an entrepreneur to appeal to the desire for a combination of food, drink, play, and physical activity. That was when America discovered Top Golf. Or should I say, Top Golf discovered America.
While already operating for five years in Europe, Top Golf gained huge popularity in the U.S. as the social aspect of play and party validated a business model appealing to small groups of people going out for a few hours and willing to spend big-ish money. There was friendly competition, but it wasn’t like playing “real” golf. It was a huge success, and it was, and still is, fun!
Left Photo: Margaretville Bowl, a 1960s-era bowling alley that still sports its original chrome-and-pink lanes, lockers, and mechanical pin-setters. Photo by Watershed Post. Photo license. Center Photo: Munch's Make Believe Band at Chuck E. Cheese's. Photo by Steven Miller. Photo license. Right Photo: Top Golf. Photo by Mark Walker. Photo license.
How does this evolve then? What is next? We asked ourselves those questions here at Falcon’s Creative Group and dedicated time to building the answer.
Let me back up a minute and correct myself. We didn’t just ask those two questions. We looked deep into what the evolution of guest expectations were, how gameplay has evolved, what different social aspects were important. These and other topics were the basis to answer those and other questions properly.
“Playing” is going through a huge paradigm shift right now. According to an ESPN study in 20191, on average, kids quit playing sports by age 11. And according to a McKinsey report2, among 18-34 year-old viewers, the League of Legends, a multi-player online video game, is now the third most popular professional sports league after the NBA and NFL. What does that tell us? If we want to plan entertainment for the next 2-5-10 years and beyond, we need to think more like Ninja and PewDiePie. With each generation, from X to Millennial to Z, this becomes truer.
Not only is it the type of games that have changed, but who we are with when engaging in those games and activities. Again, back in the “old days,” it would either be a few friends or a family who went bowling or to the game or the park; we were directly and only “with” those people. Then it was squads squaring off in paintball and posting their victories; we were “with” our Facebook friends. Now, at a bare minimum, instant social media postings of every highlight are required, meaning we are “with” friends of friends of friends. And now, if you don’t know what Twitch is, well, welcome to the new age: streaming your gaming life to the world.
So, what does all of this add up to? Falcon’s put together a list of requirements that this “Future Entertainment Center” should have.
Using these as design filters, the research and development team at Falcon’s X-Lab developed the GameSuite™ networked gameplay ecosystem. Fitting into a variety of location-based entertainment centers, the GameSuite™ system includes a gaming bay and a lounge area, and multiples of these can be bunched together just like at a bowling alley. It’s an evolution of the old bowling alley, but without the extra depth requirement.
Two people can walk into the game bay where high-resolution media fills the walls in front, to the sides and the floor, immersing the players. Also, with interactive screens placed just outside the bays in the lounge area, two more players can play along at the same time, in different roles! This asymmetrical gaming system provides a variety of different experiences that keep players involved and invested in playing a wider variety of roles. It also harkens back to one of Nolan Bushnell’s old rules, that a game should be “easy to learn and difficult to master.”
We’ve taken all the cues we’ve seen along the development path to produce our GameSuite™ system. We’ve connected it to the social media machines and hooked it up to the digital F&B ordering platforms. And we developed a range of games to get things started. As these roll out across the land to different venues, we can’t wait to see the response. And of course, we can’t wait to start planning for the next shift in technology, play, and fun. Let’s play!
VP of Global Licensing/Business Development