It was about this time, sixteen years ago when I first had the idea for GameTruck. A few things happen this time of the year. One is baseball. The other is the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas. I was busy trying to figure out what I was going to do next in my career and I thought the idea would be to create video editing software for families. Like scrapbooking but with video clips. I was also researching everything about arcades, and the depressing reality of the entire arcade industry was settling in. This was an industry that cared about boxes. They did not see gamers as people, but sheeple that fed coins into their precious boxes.
My idealist dream of a new arcade where you could play the best games with your best friends was all but over. The people who cared about the players had gone into Local Area Network Store (LAN Center, or Gaming Center) businesses renting computers by the hour. This business has blown up (in a good way) in Korea and tried to come to the United States. However, a combination of cultural factors kept it from ever becoming successful here. One in particular is this. American parents want to teach their children to think for themselves, where in Asia, they are more likely to let children act by themselves often crossing the cities on trains unsupervised. In essence this created the type of ready consumer who could access the LAN Centers.
South Korea saw demand for gaming centers blossom overnight. In fact, the language of Star Craft by Blizzard-Interactive surged through Korean youth much like Fortnite has with today’s American Youth.
There were other complications as well. Computers were expensive and needed to be upgraded constantly. The software licenses had to be negotiated with each publisher and developer. And there was that old bugaboo, parents not wanting to pay for their children to play video games. Putting an annual pass on a credit card and forgetting about it is one thing, but in the early 2000s very few systems were in place to make that easy for retail locations. So the kids were expected to pay every time they played like at a regular arcade. As you might imagine, parental resistance to paying was pretty steep. That was not all however, news reports started to come out of young people (mostly men), dying at these centers by refusing to eat, sleep, or leave. They literally turned into zombies. As if parents don’t have enough to worry about.
A few businesses in the United states did make a go of it, but more often than not, they could barely earn enough money to pay for their equipment, staff, rent, insurance, and the loan they took out to buy the equipment in the first place. This left them virtually nothing to invest in new computer equipment and games. As a result, most centers lasted one generation of hardware then folded.
There’s another way
I was explaining to my old next door neighbor Al, when he said, “Why don’t you try Xbox.” I looked at him. Al is a super smart IT guy, amazing golfer and huge Nascar fan. I wasn’t expecting to hear him talk about Xbox. Al, also happened to be one heck of a halo player. He set up for me in a conference room, four Xboxes and four projector screens. Then we had 14 other friends come over and join. We setup a 16 player halo match that lasted for hours. I couldn’t believe it. Halo, of all games, supported not only local area network play, it also supported split screen network play. I had never seen anything like it.
“We have to show this to more people,” I told Al. He shrugged. “How?” He asked.
I wondered why I hadn’t seen this before, or even heard of it. As I studied that LAN stores, it dawned on me why not. They had a very PC – or personal computer centric frame of mind. Why would you ever split the screen if you could have a screen all to yourself. They would never share screens. Console gamers, for the most part at that time, did not think of playing much online. If they did, they treated the Xbox like a discount personal computer – one player per console.
What Al had showed me was a completely new way of thinking about the problem of playing together. But we just had to find a way to make it available to people.
The Living Room on Wheels Concept
I knew from making games, that most video games, including Halo were played in living rooms. What’s more, unlike standup arcade cabinets that were designed to eat quarters in 2-3 minute pick up and play experiences, console video games could take 20-30 minutes just to get into the meat of the play. People needed to be comfortable. I started to realize that the best way to present a sixteen player Halo party would be to create a living room… but how could I do that?
This is where my trip the NAB conference in April pivoted. Instead of searching out font libraries and motion clips and talking with people about licensing motion graphics for video editing, I started hunting down all the news vans, and trailers, and anything and everything I could find about mobile power and video electronics. I was shocked to learn how much equipment put into a news van is the same equipment used in the studio or elsewhere. It was not the equipment that was special, but the van. They designed the van to meet the needs of the gear it had to carry and power.
I left the show realizing that I could do that, but instead of a video broadcast station in a van… I could create my dream living room on wheels. Ultimately, this game theater went into a trailer, and we called the business GameTruck. Seeing Halo in 16 player system link set me thinking. I found out that Nintendo and Sony also had their own versions of system link. We even used Mario Kart Double Dash on the GameCube at our first ever GameTruck party.
It’s the Action, Not the Idea
I recently came across a quote attributed to Seth Godin. “Ideas are worthless. Action is everything.” Had I not gone to see Al’s Halo setup, had I not gone to Las Vegas to research vehicle based mobile power and electronics, I might not have ever founded GameTruck. However, I did take those small steps, and those steps let to more steps which eventually lead to founding a company that has entertained more than 10 million children.
Now that the spring is here, and optimism like the Phoenix seems to be rising from the ashes, what ideas have you had that might inspire you to take one small exploratory step? Grab a controller, plop down on the coach, and let’s play some Halo while you tell me about it.
- Jenkins, J. (2013, June 21). 5 Differences Between Japanese and Western Parenting. An Epic Education. https://www.anepiceducation.com/japanese-western-parenting/
- Inc, S. (n.d.). Is the age of LAN parties dead? The Spiceworks Community. Retrieved April 4, 2021, from https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/230569-is-the-age-of-lan-parties-dead
- May 26, H. C. & 2006. (n.d.). Gaming heaven for Southern California residents—Howie’s Game Shack. Tom’s Hardware. Retrieved April 4, 2021, from https://www.tomshardware.com/news/howies-game-shack,2827.html
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One) Co-Op Information. (n.d.). Co-Optimus. Retrieved April 4, 2021, from https://www.co-optimus.com/game/3476/xbox-one/halo-the-master-chief-collection.html
Spring Into GameTruck History
It is a funny thing when you first act on an idea. So many people ask, “where do you get your ideas?” Robert Kyosaki, of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame, said something to the effect that “ideas are easy.” I recently came across a blog post from a game designer who said, “Ideas are worthless. Execution,” he said, “is everything.” It is not until an idea is acted upon that it starts to manifest value.
What most people don’t realize is that moment you try to pull an idea out of the ether of your imagination and instantiate it in the world – strange things happen. You learn things you did not know before. Information, previously hidden, masked, or simply unavailable to you becomes clear. It could also be that you lacked the requisite experience to see this information. Probably one of the questions I have asked so often in my entrepreneurial journey is, “How was I supposed to know that!?”
By getting in motion. By working on my idea. Only then did I get access to the information I needed to go to the next step.
I formed my first LLC on Cinco De Mayo 2006. I had been working on my idea for GameTruck for more than a year. I had gone so far as to create drawings, sketches, talk about it with friends. But it suddenly became very real when I ordered that first trailer. (Which is still in operation in Houston Texas! Thank you Luis!).
I received my trailer in June of 2006. It was just a shell really. If you know anything about the weather in Phoenix, June is when most people are headed out of town, not out to their driveway to build a business. For the next 8 weeks, my brother Chris and slaved over converting a car hauler into that first video game trailer. We literally sweated over the thing. We did not start working until 10PM at night when the weather had cooled down to a balmy 99 degrees. We worked until dawn then crash.
My number one concern in those days was, “how am I going to handle the heat?” Our first party on the books was scheduled for August 22nd. It is really strange how myopic you can get when you start a business. I was so focused. I was pouring our life savings into this thing. I had no income. What was I doing? There were a million things I should have been thinking about. Yet, the one thing I was obsessing over was how to make damn sure the kids were comfortable in that box during the Arizona summer.
That single minded focus probably saved our company. In building a box that could handle the heat, it could also handle the cold. Had I built the box for the spring, it might have never lasted a single summer or winter. Because I would not have insulated it the way I did. It was almost a year after I build that first trailer that I got to experience first hand the magic of a Spring GameTruck party.
Ah, the spring…
Why GameTruck And Spring?
Spring is just a magical time of year almost anywhere. The kids are in school, so all their friends are around. The weather is turning. The snow is melting. The first buds of new life appear on tree branches. Grass pokes up through the black soil. You can feel it in your bones. The world is changing and summer, beautiful sunny summer, is just a few more weeks away.
The spring is probably the best time of the year to hold a party of any kind, but especially a celebration. Something within us shucks off that dowdy winter coat and screams, “Let’s Gooooo!” Life, growth, optimism is coming. With the spring weather we can open the vendor doors on the trailer. With the spring weather we can leave the front and back door of the trailer open so a refreshing breeze blows through the trailer.
In San Diego you can feel the ocean everywhere in town. In New York, cherry blossoms seem to materialize out of nowhere, their pink petals fluttering on the wind. In New Jersey, you can smell the grass. In Florida, the heat and humidity stay at bay and the Orange Blossoms perfume the air. Every part of the country is alive with growth, energy, and promise.
These are the times when we want to play, to connect, to create new memories with friends both old and new. By this time of year, the heavy work of school is starting to ease up. Sure, there may be finals ahead, but in most states the standardized testing is complete, and people are looking forward not back. This is the time to feel alive.
Tips and Tricks for Spring GameTruck Parties
Over the last decade and a half, we have seen some people do some fun things. Here are a few oldies but goodies.
- Book a laser tag event to get the gamers out of the house. Having them moving around the yard getting loaded up with fresh air is a blast.
- Open the garage, setup a folding table and chairs. Never let the kids in your house. They will play in the trailer and can bounce back and forth between the game theater and the garage. Super easy clean up.
- Invite your favorite adult friends to join you for pizza and beer or wine in the house. The party within a party is a parent favorite. A phenomenal game I recommend is Grandpa Beck’s Cover Your Assets. It’s quick, easy to understand and lively.
- If you have a GameTruck @ Home party, have the kids play outside and setup a Nintendo Switch inside the house for you and your friends – there are great fun games and you are never too old to play.
- If your game trailer comes equipped with outside screens, setup lawn chairs and snacks and kick back and watch the kiddo’s play. Or jump in and join them! Don’t forget to video the fun to share with family and friends on social media.
- Theme your party. There are amazing resources for Minecraft, Mario, and Fortnite. You don’t even need to spend a lot. Green and black cray paper rolls, and paper plates make it a Minecraft party. (Spray paint some amazon boxes green and black and you have “blocks!”). Purple and gold are good for Fortnite, and just about anything white and red works for Mario.
- Jump in and play yourself! You’d be surprised how many parents grab a couch in the trailer, join in on the fun. I’m hearing the Nintendo Switches are just as popular with adults as kids. Have you tried Animal Crossing with friends? Give that a try for your next neighborhood coffee! You’re never too old to play. There is something about the spring that brings out the child in all of us.
- Have a “pre-birthday” party. If your child’s birthday is in the summer after school is out, April and May are a great time to have a celebration while all their friends are still around. You’d be surprised how many families “pull in” a birthday to celebrate with classmates.
The main thing about the spring is that you can be outside and move freely. You do not have to keep the doors closed to keep out the cold (or the heat). If your game trailer comes equipped with outside screens, the Spring is the ideal time to move and game!
GameTruck Spring Dates Wont Last Forever
Spring might be my favorite time of year to host a party. And I am not alone. If there is one caveat about spring, this is perhaps our busiest time of the year, so you are going to want to book early. And if you see a time that works for you on the Calendar. Grab it. This might sound like marketing hype but it’s not. You want a late December or January party, you can have your pick of the litter. August and September are also months where you can take your time to mull it over. Not the spring, however. Demand surges every spring and hesitation usually results in a missed opportunity (and some sad kiddos).
I should point out one thing. What about COVID? As of the time I am writing this, virtually all school children in all of our markets have returned to class. Our most vulnerable citizens and first responders have been vaccinated and in the state of Arizona the vaccinations have been open to all adults. Families from coast to coast are ready to celebrate and the spring is the perfect time to do it. Of course we will keep a focus on health and safety for you and your family, our staff, and our franchise partners. However, it really feels like we are beginning to come out of this long, protracted isolation and spending time with good friends has never been a higher priority for most Americans.
We would love to help you celebrate and to be honest, there has never been a better time (or time of the year) to do it.
When my kids were little I used to lay on the floor and play the Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of time with them. Okay, technically, I played while they watched, but very often they directed me, telling me where to go and what to do. While I may have held the controller, it was definitely a collaborative effort. The game was important to me because it was released in November of 1998 a few months before I entered the video game industry. Zelda Swept the Game Awards and virtually everyone at E3 was talking about it. I had to play the game. I was playing that game half a decade later with my kids.
I bring it up because Matthew would go into the backyard and make “potions” with empty bottles his mother gave him. When we went to the renaissance festival, we bought wooden, “Master Swords” and a “Hyrulian Shield”. I always thought that video games could be a fun way to explore experiences that might be too dangerous to try in person (vis Motocross), but I was surprised and impressed that a video game could spark such imaginative play.
That was the first time I had an inkling that interactive entertainment was fundamentally different than passive consumption. My kids grew up in the era where we would park them in front of a TV and watch Nickelodeon or anything from Disney and Pixar. I can still recite some lines to my favorite Sponge Bob episodes such as, “Too bad Sponge Bob is not here to enjoy Sponge Bob not being here.” Despite the many hours of TV watched, video games brought out something else from them.
The question: Are games better than TV?
Recently, Patrick Coleman the managing editor at Fatherly wrote an article making the case that video games are better than watching TV. He is not the first to make this case. Jane McGonigal is famous for promoting the virtues of playing video games in her 2010 Ted Talk. She expanded upon her ideas in her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. But Dr. McGonigal was writing mostly about adults. What Patrick Coleman was touching on is the standard parental fear. He refers to the American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines for Screen Time. And he makes an interesting observation. The guidelines do not differentiate between engaged screen time, and passive screen time.
Active Screen Time vs Passive Screen Time
Is there a difference? Some researchers are beginning to believe so. In 2017, researchers Paul J. C. Adachi from University of Rochester, and Teena Willoughby from the Brock University in Canada reviewed video game literature looking for a connection between video gaming and positive youth outcomes. Adachi & Willoughby discovered that children who play games often experience feelings of mastery, autonomy, and relatedness.
These are not any random emotions. These emotions form the underpinning of Self Determination Theory (SDT). Most people are familiar with Carrot and Stick motivators, but as Dan Pink wrote about so eloquently in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, human beings are much more effective if our motivation comes from within. In a nutshell, threat and incentive – are external or extrinsic motivators. They come from outside of us and therefore they are limited in their ability to unlock our greatest potential.
Engagement Comes from Inside Us
Feelings of mastery, having a strong internal locus of control (autonomy), and connectedness – those come from within, therefore they are intrinsic motivators. The psychology theory put forward by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in their 1985 book Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. Now here’s the thing about their book. Most people think of SDT as a motivational tool.
However, as you can see in the title, Deci and Ryan connected intrinsic motivation to development and to wellness. Even more surprising, in 2017 ago, Researchers Maria Lera and Shadi Abualkibash students and discovered that cultivating self-determination in school age children increased their resiliency. In fact, it is part of meeting a child’s Basic Psychological Needs.
Can Video Games Make A Child Resilient?
Am I trying to tell you that a video game can make a child more resilient? No. What I am trying to tell you is that there is a connection between children experiencing feelings of mastery, autonomy, and relatedness that help then develop resiliency. It stands to reason that if video games can produce these feelings, they can be a part of helping our children have more positive experiences.
Coleman focused on a balanced approach that video games, in fact all screen time should be placed on a spectrum. From completely passive, to completely engaged and active (with physical activity being the best). Personally, I think that is a brilliant approach. After all, children didn’t just play the video game, they also went outside and played creatively and imaginatively as well. What I can tell you is that Video games were a part of developing our children’s basic psychological needs. And the research would seem to support that a video game can help children develop these feelings.
Here’s the interesting thing. I can find no corresponding research for passive video consumption. In fact, what I do find is that not only TV, but also social media, seem to be having the opposite effect, shortening our attention span, fracturing focus and concentration, and depleting dopamine (our reward hormone) with endless triggers rendering most other normally rewarding human interactions dull in comparison.
I also tend to agree with Mr. Coleman. I do not see a future without screens in it. Therefore It would seem to make sense that if we are going to have screens, that we try to as Ray Dalio said in Principles: (I paraphrase)
Maximize the benefit while minimizing the risk
No one is advocating unlimited unsupervised screen time. However, a growing number of voices – not the least of which are children who grew up gamers, and who now find themselves as parents (surprise! the oldest millennials will be entering their 40s in the 2020s) are looking for a more rational less fear driven approach to gaming. I find Colemans argument compelling.
Of course, you agree- you invented GameTruck!
Now I get it, you’re saying, “but you’re the founder of GameTruck, what else are you going to say?” But if you go back and look at my articles (I’ll link them below) – I never advocate gaming alone. GameTruck is about playing video games with your friends. My other two companies, in fact, focus on creating experiences where people play games together (with people they know) in a time limited way. A GameTruck party lasts between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Bravous Esports Video game tournaments also last only a few hours (less than 5% exceed 3 hours). Compare that to your average block buster motion picture which pushes three and a half hours or a day of binge-watching Netflix and you can see we play games a lot less than most people watch TV.
So while you might be thinking, “of course” the GameTruck guy agrees games are better than TV, the specific distinction I want to make is that I was not convinced believe that solo game playing is better than TV. That is, I was not convinced until I dug into the research myself and checked the sources.
Video Games Are Better than TV
While I might be convinced, the real question is are you because at the end of the day that is all that matters. The reality is that most parents are staring at an enormous economic challenge when it comes to raising their children and time is the perhaps the one thing parents feel intense pressure to optimize for grades so their children can get a good education (hopefully with tuition assistance in the form of academic scholarships).
So the question is not really one of unlimited screen time, but much more about what would be the most effective use of the time your children are on their screens?
My kids grew up where video games were an equal choice to watching TV, not banned, or constrained separate and apart from watching videos. That worked for our family.
Hopefully, I have given you enough information for you to be able to make the best choice for your family.
- McGonigal, J. (n.d.). Gaming can make a better world. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world
- McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (1st edition). Penguin Books.
- Where We Stand: Screen Time. (n.d.). HealthyChildren.Org. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx
- Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books.
- Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness (1st edition). The Guilford Press.
- Visions for 2020: Key trends shaping the digital marketing landscape. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://blogs.oracle.com/advertising/post/visions-for-2020-key-trends-shaping-the-digital-marketing-landscape
- Dalio, R. (2017). Principles: Life and Work (Illustrated edition). Simon & Schuster.