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The Story of Gamer Zone: Book Excerpt (Chapter 1, section 1)

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”
– Closing Time, Matchbox 20

LAN Gaming Centers are an amazingly simple idea. Get a space, some computers and X Boxes, then charge people to play games. Unfortunately the reality is much more complex.

One of the first problems with the situation is gamer geeks are the ones who start gaming centers. They see the idea of making money doing something they love: playing video games. But since it’s geeks doing it, not businessmen, way too many things get overlooked. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

Before Gamer Zone there were two other gaming centers (and one that popped up and disappeared during Gamer Zones existence. NEOsystems and Gamer Quest.

I never saw NEOsystems, so I can’t comment on it. Gamer Quest on the other hand I got to see while it was operating and can comment on it a bit.  Only just a bit though – what I saw and what reality was may be two completely different things.  And I’m sure someone somewhere is gonna bitch “Oh, but that’s not how it happened!”  Screw ya, it’s my story, you write your own 20,000 word epic :-)

I had been in Gamer Quest twice. Both times I was in there it had the stench of business death in it. The building it’s self was huge. At one time is was a club, then a restaurant (geek themed – it failed), then it sat empty for quite a while, then it became another club (where there was a multiple homicide), then sat empty again.

I’m a bit superstitious about business. In particular, I have a thing I refer to as “Cursed Building Syndrome.” If a building has had a long standing tenant in it, and it goes outta business, a lot of times you’ll see the next three or four businesses that try to start up there fail within 6 months. I wouldn’t touch a building like that with a 10 foot pole and 6 months of free rent. It’s just not worth it – find someplace that hasn’t had a tenant like that. Look for a building where the last two tenants haven’t failed within the first year.

It’s got a main floor, two recessed sections below, and an upper deck. It’s also got an area for a kitchen. Except there’s no kitchen equipment in it – just… trash. And with all this space they had three XBoxes and 12 computers.

Best part is, they put the computers upstairs, so you don’t even see then when you walk in. Essentially, you walk into a large open area with some homemade tables in it.

So here’s your first business tip: First Impression Is Everything. If people walk in and see an empty business they have completely lost all possible excitement about the business. Now it’s going to be hard to sell them on the idea it’s the place they should be. There’s a lot that could have been done there with what they had (I would have killed for that same space, but at a lower rent level). But they didn’t.

They also spent a small fortune on a dragon sculpture on the outside of the building, and murals painted on the inside. I always scratched my head at that – what they were visually designing was a fantasy setting for a high tech place. That never struck me as a great idea, but hey – it’s not my business. I was only there at the request of a friend to take a look at the place. He was working there, and though I should see it and maybe give some comments.

Oddly enough I was invites to stop by and comment by a friend who worked there. So let’s come up with our first fake gamer name: The Skinny Geek. I had known The Skinny Geek for quite a few years from a gaming group that played together every weekend.

The Skinny Geek wasn’t real good at keeping a job. It’s always blamed on someone else, but the truth is he’s just one of those people who can’t get to work on time and whines about work. To quote another Gamer Zone character, he needed “to learn to be a man about things.”

This job he was passionate about – it was video games. It’s like the dream of gamer geeks everywhere to get paid to play video games. Unfortunately working at a gaming center is WORK. It’s not as intense as many other jobs, but the work is a hell of a lot more important than the games are. And oh dear God you will hear that problem over and over during the story.

Now for the second big business tip: people who own a business need to be passionate about business. Gamers are passionate about games. So when you have a business ran by gamers, they are passionate about games not business. This is a major problem. Battlefield 1942 doesn’t pay bills, but it’s fun. Going out and getting customers pays bills, but isn’t fun.

“Business geeks” is a term I started using to describe folks who are technology enabled (rather than disabled like the previous generation of businessmen), understand (and enjoy) business and it’s intricacies, and think about business the way some people think about video games.  No, I’m not saying they look at business as a game, but instead look at it like you might think of a game of Civilization:  Resource management, force control, appropriate responses to situations, strategic planning, etc.  In fact I’ve gotten to the point I recommend certain games for anyone who’s looking to get into business:  Civilization is great for the reasons I’ve already mentioned.  Warcraft II (and a number of other RTS games) are great for resource management under pressure.  Half Life 2 any many multiplayer FPS games are great for grace under fire.

OK, and it’s just damned fun.  But really – watch sometime.  Most of the best FPS players aren’t the ones who are screaming that they’re gonna kill you.  It’s the ones that calmly say “You’re dead, twit.” after putting a sniper round in your head, or do nothing more than quietly smile.  That last one – that’s me most of the time.  I don’t get pissed at problems most of the time – I try and solve the problem first.  THEN I’ll get pissed that it happened (if I get pissed at all.)  Shit happens.  Take it with as much grace as possible and fix the problem.

And yes, I’m a Business Geek.  I love all the little details of business, and am a gamer.  I won’t call myself a PERFECT business geek (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing the story of a business failure ;-)

Unfortunately, Gamer Quest didn’t have any Business Geeks on board.  I was really wishing it would all come together though – it would have been nice to see The Skinny Geek keep a job that made him that happy.

They did, however, have The Backer.  The Backer is an interesting guy – he’s an old school Entrepreneur.  He had previously had successful businesses.  In fact, very successful businesses.  He also lived through a savings and loan failure – and as you can guess, he was one of the guys who took it in the shorts because of it.

The LAN Gaming Center idea was very powerful to him – he saw great potential in the concept.   I’m not clear on all of the details, but somehow the other geeks and The Backer got together and created Gamer Quest.  Problem is… there was too large of a gap between the two groups.  The Backer didn’t have a firm understanding of the subject matter (video games), and the geeks didn’t have a firm enough understanding of business.  There was no common language between the two groups to work from.

It flopped.

I have a belief.  If you consider yourself and entrepreneur, and you’ve never had a business fail, you didn’t take enough risks.  I of course tell myself that partially as a consolation since I have had a massive failure.  But I really do believe it.  And I figure if the geek side of things ever try to do a business again, they will have learned a lot from Gamer Quest closing – an expensive set of lessons, but lessons that are hard to come by.  And I hope they do try something again.  There’s nothing quite as great as the feeling of accomplishment when things are going right in a business.  The pride, the joy, the fulfillment.  I recommend everyone have at least one business success in life 😉

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