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PlayStation Community Update: Level Up Game Center

Paul Sullivan's Avatar + Posted by Paul Sullivan on Mar 22, 2013 // Community Manager, PlayStation Digital Platforms

In April of 2010, Robert Steele (PSN ID: rsteele), reached out to the PlayStation community through the Community Forums to get some feedback on his unique position. He was “presented with a business opportunity with unlimited possibilities,” and as should anyone with such an opportunity, Robert turned to his peers for advice.

The plea was simple; if I’m going to make a game lounge, what would other gamers want to see in such a creation? Gamers of all types hopped in the discussion and gave Robert some much needed guidance. In a few months, Robert had his lounge up and running. After a year he was hosting BBQs, gaming marathons and LAN tournaments. Now, almost three years since that first post, Level Up Gaming Center is as strong as ever.

PlayStation Community Update 3-22-2013PlayStation Community Update 3-22-2013

If you’re ever in the Augusta, GA area, be sure to drop by Robert’s lounge. If you can’t make it to Georgia, be sure to support your local game center. If you want to start your own, don’t forget to keep your gaming community in mind! Robert didn’t, and his dream is now a reality.

PlayStation Community Update 3-22-2013

Level Up Game Center is a brick-and-mortar gamer’s lounge in Augusta, GA. Founder Rick Steele turned to the PlayStation Community Forums back in 2010 to gather feedback on what would make a great lounge.

I set aside some time to talk to Robert now that his Lounge and gaming repair shop is a well-established business. Aside from being a great guy, he was also able to share some pretty cool insight. Here’s what he had to say:

Paul: What led you to choose a gaming lounge when you had the opportunity to launch a business?

Robert: Some family members wanted another family owned business to place at a location they owned that had a recent vacancy. We talked about several different business ideas including equipment rental and even a tanning salon. After several weeks of brainstorming and research a gaming lounge or LAN center was the one idea that everyone seemed to be interested in. I am very happy that we did not choose to put in a tanning salon. July of this year will be our 3rd anniversary.

Paul: Why did you choose to create a thread in the PlayStation forums looking for feedback, what did you gain from it?

Robert: I had never been to a LAN center or gaming lounge before and I had been a member of the PlayStation forums for a long time. I knew it was one place that we could get a response from gamers who would also be our target customer base. It helped in several ways, there were posts about similar existing businesses, which meant other people were doing what we wanted to do, and they were able to tell me directly what they liked or disliked about those places. Posting there helped us create a space and atmosphere that we knew gamers would love.

Paul: What was the greatest challenge you faced when launching this business, how did you overcome it?

Robert: The biggest challenge was and still is getting the word out that our business is here. Television, radio, and billboard advertising is very expensive so we went the route of social media and word of mouth advertising. I have worked with other video game stores in the area, pizza delivery places, and even larger retailer’s electronic departments helped spread the word about our business. Cross promotional deals with other businesses in the area are a great ways to advertise for very little cost.

Paul: What’s the typical demographic for your customer base (age, etc.)?

Robert: Our average customer is male between the ages of 18 and 24. Although I have had customers as old as 76 and as young as 5. The video game audience is much more diverse than most people realize. Ideally Level Up is a place where the whole family: mom, dad, brother, and sister can come and enjoy some aspect of what we have to offer and we do have several families that are frequent visitors.

Paul: About how many visitors do you have in a given month?

Robert: After almost 3 years in business I still see 80 to 100 new customers per month. I’ve had thousands of individuals come through and many of them hold tournaments, have their birthday parties, or attend other special events we hold on a regular basis.

Paul: What are the most popular games at your lounge, how has that evolved over the past couple years?

Robert: The Call of Duty series has always had an enormous following. We’ve held tournaments for Modern Warfare 2 as well as the first Black Ops. PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale has developed a really solid following and is a part of the regular tournaments we hold at our all night events. I have had customers that play through the entire story line of games like Uncharted 3 and God of War 3 in one sitting. Then others play Rock Band or Guitar Hero for hours at a time.

Games are becoming more cinematic with larger worlds, more detailed character development, and more engaging story lines. I believe anyone can look at the differences between games like Borderlands 1 and Borderlands 2 and see that developers are going further and further with what they can offer the players in terms of entertainment and game play.

Paul: What’s YOUR favorite game and why?

Robert: It’s very difficult to pick just one game. Warhawk was my favorite and one of the first games I had on the PS3 and I played an absurd amount of time on that game. I also made a lot of lasting friendships and still have a lot of those people on my friends list today. So many games are just point and shoot, Warhawk allowed players to be effective that might not have been the best “shooters” but used communication, the map, strategy, and teamwork to compete against others with more “skill”.

Lately I’ve been playing Borderlands 2 and Tomb Raider. I also really enjoy PSN games like PAIN, Trash Panic, Dungeon Defenders, and Battle Tanks, I like these because they provide hours of quality enjoyment and are relatively cheap.

Paul: Do you plan on expanding the business, if so where?

Robert: I would love to expand and have a laser tag arena attached to the existing lounge. There is a chance that it could be in the same building or some property that is close by. The only issue with that is that I am the only full time employee at Level Up for the time being. I am constantly adding in more stations to keep up with the crowds that show up for our all night events. Currently we reach capacity (50-60 people depending on what they are playing) in about 20-30 minutes after opening the doors. I want to have enough space and as many stations as it takes to let everyone play here during those times!

Paul: What’s your greatest experience you’ve had while running the lounge?

Robert: Any time I can repair a system or console for a customer that is a great feeling. Taking something that’s dead and bringing it back to life is cool even if it’s just a video game console, for some people that might be their only form of entertainment. I also really enjoy introducing customers to games they have never played before, especially if they like the game I suggest.

We’ve done charity events, worked with the local military base, and other community organizations all of which were great experiences. I would have to say creating a community and a location where there are all different people can enjoy one common bond, video games, is by far the coolest thing we’ve done at Level Up.

Paul: What advice would you give to other gamer entrepreneurs?

Robert: Be creative. If you have an idea for a business there are plenty of ways you can make it happen. Chances are there is someone out there that’s willing to talk to you, give you a contact, or a resource that will help you more than you can imagine. The most important person in your plans will be you. You will be the one driving the idea. If you attempt something and it doesn’t work learn from it and try something different. Also networking with the right people will make everything easier. I’m in constant contact with other LAN/lounge owners who are currently operating or are looking to open something similar in their area via http://startalancenter.com.

If you’ve got an amazing story about how gamers and our communities have helped you, or how you’ve helped them, let us know. Post in the comments below, or reach out to me on the PlayStation Forums.

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18 Comments   1 Reply

1

+ rsteele on March 22nd, 2013 at 12:13 pm said:

I have to say this is very cool.


    Paul Sullivan's Avatar

     

    + Paul Sullivan on March 22nd, 2013 at 12:37 pm said:

    Thanks for sharing your time, Robert. It was great talking to you!


2

+ DeadSpider on March 22nd, 2013 at 12:18 pm said:

You’re the man rsteele!


3

+ XeahuleXolic on March 22nd, 2013 at 12:30 pm said:

This reminds me of my hangouts with all of my friends we all chill together and play PS3/Vita all night….good times \m/


4

+ lisatsunami on March 22nd, 2013 at 12:31 pm said:

Great story. Inspires me to make more progress on my own game cave.


5

+ JaredTequila on March 22nd, 2013 at 12:54 pm said:

This was very interesting. Maybe a video walkthrough with some customer opinions would be cool so we can see more about this lounge. Just a thought. Congrats on the success.


6

+ ZaGe-zAiKaNo on March 22nd, 2013 at 12:57 pm said:

Lounges are like the arcades now-a-days. I’ve gone to Boomers & Howies to play games i don’t own & it’s really fun, but they’re missing more rail shooters =/. I still enjoy playing The house of the dead games & it’d be awesome to see Resident Evil Chronicles be playable at places like these.

Nonetheless, that is pretty cool & glad you have a small community for Playstation All-Stars there.


7

+ jeffsmither on March 22nd, 2013 at 1:10 pm said:

Why Hasnt anyone said anything about the ps3 system update that happen tuesday? the 4.40 one.


8

+ SpecDotSign on March 22nd, 2013 at 1:23 pm said:

The article mentioned something very important: Support your local Game Center! In my case we have Next Level Arcade here in Brooklyn, NY. Good stuff though! I love reading stories like this.


9

+ Nitrosonic0 on March 22nd, 2013 at 3:28 pm said:

@8

That update might lead to PSone and PS2 classics getting trophies. Check IGN.com


10

+ Nitrosonic0 on March 22nd, 2013 at 3:29 pm said:

@8

Sorry, I meant @7


11

+ rsteele on March 22nd, 2013 at 7:23 pm said:

I’m willing to answer any questions any one else might have either here, on our fb, or through our email. I think it’s very cool that Paul and the PS blog took the time to focus on our store! I know I appreciate it as do all of our customers!


12

+ TaMpA_bLaCk on March 23rd, 2013 at 9:37 am said:

Robert I have a few questions… Can people bring their own games to play or do you provide everything there? Do you have a PS3, 360, PC, Wii at every station or their own sections? How much it is to game there? Hourly fee or membership etc? Very kool and nice job! I do not live too far & would like to check it out one day.


13

+ rsteele on March 23rd, 2013 at 10:32 am said:

Tampa:

We have a wide selection of over 700 titles in the store. But people are always welcome to bring their own titles because we obviously can’t purchase every new title that comes out.

We have individual stations for the PS3 and 360 (10 each) then we have two 60″ screens with a PS3, 360, and Wii. For movement based games, rockband, fighters, anything 2 or more people can play.

We start at $3 per hour the more time you purchase at once the cheaper it gets.
We also have a VIP membership program that’s $20 per year and gets the customer hourly and day pass discounts, all night event discounts, and after 5 day passes or all night purchases they get the 6th day pass for free.

If anyone comes by and mentions this blog post I’ll throw them a couple of free hours. Just be sure to call first we book a lot of private events. Today alone I have 3 parties that last until 8PM then we have an all night event until 8AM Sunday morning.


14

+ OneMoreVillain on March 23rd, 2013 at 1:34 pm said:

Your two photo’s made me chuckle, you can tell how great the social aspect is in gaming beside someone, In your first photo they are all on separate monitors looking serious, you look at photo #2 the ones playing PSABR you have 3 smiling and another grabbing his chin like “Who’s going to win this time?”

Very informing and interesting interview about the business Robert/rsteele. I am a little to far to come by a support it myself.(East Canada) but thanks for sharing this with the community and best of luck on your continuous success.


15

+ Mini_Sal on March 24th, 2013 at 11:18 pm said:

Just saw this. Really cool Steele. Miss you and the community. Hope all is well! @Rsteele


16

+ rsteele on March 25th, 2013 at 11:31 am said:

@Mini_Sal

Awe shucks maybe one day there will be another awesome game that we can all play together?


17

+ rsteele on March 25th, 2013 at 12:15 pm said:

I also want to thank everyone for the friend and game invites. I’m not often able to play for more than a few minutes at a time so if you see me in a game invite me to join if it’s the same title you are playing!

Also I will try to fit everyone on my friends list that sends me invites but I have a lot on there already and try to keep anyone who is active!

Thanks again guys!

I’ve received dozens of messages since the blog has posted!


18

+ MX117 on March 27th, 2013 at 3:46 pm said:

This is very cool. Congrats Robert.

@JaredTequila I live in Augusta and I been to Level Up quite a few times just for random gaming, to shoot pool, or for a Halo tournament and every time I have been it was a good experience. Everything is put together really well and Robert actually knows he games and will talk gaming with you. If any of y’all ever come to Augusta, check it out.


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