The Story of Gamer Zone: Book Excerpt (Chapter 1, Section 3)

Gamer Zone was not my idea.  Good God it was not my idea.  In fact, Gamer Zone was as far from my plans as you could get.  My wife at the time and I discussed some concepts for a restaurant that also was a gaming center, and went as far as planning it out.  We looked at properties, business models, etc.  But Gamer Zone?  Nope, not us.

The Skinny Geek showed up one day with some interesting news.  He was going to be hooking up with The Backer to salvage what was left of Gamer Quest and try again.

One of the misconceptions here is that Gamer Zone was basically Gamer Quest 2.  Not really.  There was very little in common.  Just some equipment that was salvaged from the old place.  That’s about it.

The Backer had gotten an offer for some space from a coin-op vendor who owned a piece of property.  At Harry and Broadway.  Now, for those reading who aren’t from Wichita, Kansas, Harry and Broadway is a borderline slum.  It’s not so bad that you have to worry about being robbed on a daily basis, but it’s also not a place with lots of money laying around in people’s pockets.  Disposable income in that area is rare.  Everything is run down – the only new thing in the area is a Walgreens, and about a mile away a Walmart.  Otherwise, everything around there just looks old and decrepit.

But it was cheap, and small.  Two things that were a plus.  Expenses were going to be much lower – a large building like Gamer Quest had required quite a bit of money to heat and cool, more money to furnish, and LOTS more money on rent.

On one side of the new Gamer Zone location was a junk shop.  We’ll refer to them as Junkies.  On the other side of Gamer Zone was the Methadone Treatment Clinic.  No, I’m not shitting you – there was a drug treatment center right beside someplace that kids were going to be playing video games.  I mean… you would just THINK this would cause some sort of problem.   Drug addicts… kids… drug addicts… kids.  The big surprise is during the whole time Gamer Zone was there, there was never a problem from them.  They were nice people, and the way the business operated, it rarely conflicted with the schedule of Gamer Zone.

The Skinny Geek invited me down to see the place with an agenda – my job would be PR guy.  I met with The Backer, and chatted with the two of them a while.  He explained the plan:  the goal isn’t to open a gaming center.  The goal is to start a Gaming Center Chain.  Thus the name was eventually expanded slightly to Gamer Zone Centers, plural, with the goal of multiple locations (the name change wasn’t used much in marketing, where it normally appeared as Gamer Zone, or GZ with the kick ass stylized logo that was designed by The Dude In The Hat, who appears latter in the story.)

I have a problem.  I can’t stand and watch people work really, especially if it’s not being done in a way I feel is right.  At first I stayed out of helping set up things.  But the deadline was getting closer for opening the store, so, I slowly got involved.  I built a counter.  Helped set up the tables and computers.  Just… stuff.  Eventually The Skinny Geek and I painted the building.

This, by the way, was the second thing that went right.  The first thing that went right was a small location with small overhead.  Always a great choice for starting out.  The second thing was painting the building green.  Usually referred to as Gamer Zone Green – we used green and black in our marketing materials and in the theme of our interior.  It was actually the color of green used on the original XBox logo, which made sense.  This made the building BOLD and identifiable.

How identifiable?  Well, if you mentioned Gamer Zone, people had no clue what it was.  If you mentioned the green building at Harry and Broadway, everyone knew where you were talking about.  It was tacky and gaudy, but man did was it some of the best advertising 6 gallons of cheap green paint could buy!

Signage was a bit of an issue – there was a sign created for it, and some banners.  The logo for the sign was… unimaginative.  It was a combination of Gamer in blockish lettering, and Zone done with Twilight Zone lettering.  It was a mutt of a logo.  But it worked, and we ran with it for a while.

On the inside, everything was painted black.  I mean, everything.  Except the cheap tables.

The place was broken down into three rooms – the east room held the computers, and was something like 12 feet wide by 30 foot long.  The West room held two 60″ TV’s with XBoxes & Playstation 2′s on them, both of which had a couch in front of them.  The West room was exactly the same size as the East room, and usually was referred to as the Console room.  There was a front door to the street in.  Unfortunately there was no street parking anywhere near by.  The front door was useless for the most part.  Both rooms also had giant bay windows.  The problem is, we needed to keep the place dark inside, so, some really really odd material was found that would cover the windows (this was some seriously odd stuff – black, but kind of like outdoor carpet.)

When they first started, the sign hadn’t been hung – that came a bit later.  Instead, they opted for having someone paint the signs in the window.  Which for some damned reason took forever to get done.  Better yet, it looked like crap when it was done.  Something is better than nothing in this case.

Since street access wasn’t much of an option for an entrance, there was a small room at the end that was shared between the two rooms that lead to a rear entrance and parking lot.  I’m probably describing it badly, but trust me, it wasn’t a great setup.  From the counter you could see… nothing.  You couldn’t view either room from there, so you had no idea what was going on in the place.  And if you were in one of those rooms, you couldn’t see the counter.  All things considered, it was the worst possible layout for a gaming center, but it was about all you could do with it.  The upside was the moment someone stepped through the door the first thing they saw was whoever was working the counter (I would have preferred if they saw computers first, or maybe big screens, but someone greeting you at the door isn’t a bad thing.)

So I helped the crew get things hooked up, set up, painted, etc.  I wasn’t doing it because it was my business, I was doing it to try and help The Skinny Geek get things rolling as fast as possible.  I wasn’t getting paid for it, but, I’m not shy about trying to help out a friend.  Plus it’s nice to get up from my computer and do something active.

The computers were… they were a thing to behold.  Really, they were awesome looking.  Black Chenboro Bomb cases with clear plastic sides, lots of neon and LED lighting inside.  Those were impressive.  Unfortunately, the rest of the room they were in wasn’t impressive – some of the tables were tabletops sat on cinder blocks with some chairs that had been scrounged up from somewhere.  The other tables were nice chrome wire rack setups (which looked nice, but had crap for functionality and ergonomics.)

The whole place was networked together, and put on a DSL line.  DSL.  In a bad neighborhood of town.  Crappy service was always part of the package there.  With poor bandwidth, there wasn’t much you could online – after about the forth online player, there was going to be problems.

Now I’ve told you the good and the bad, and it might seem like the bad outweighed the good.  It did.  The price was right though – the place opened with a minimum of expense, which was important.  The Backer was still hurt from his last experience, and had some things in the works to try and fix the cash problem.

The only thing left was a crew to man the place.

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