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.
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.
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:
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.
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