What made GameTruck work however, what really made it take off were two parallel ideas. First, the configuration of equipment we brought – enough TV’s, consoles, controllers, and copies of the video games – were super hard for people to assemble themselves.
When I first started working on GameTruck in 2005, I focused on playing the best games with your best friends. As I have written about in many other places, it was my frustration with the “Family Entertainment Center” concepts that sparked my desire to do better. I wanted to recreate the fun and excitement I used to share with my friends at the arcade. In the 70’s and 80’s arcades held the latest in video game entertainment. What’s more, they were designed (most of them anyway) to be shared. When arcades died, much of gaming became about a personal, isolating experience.
With GameTruck, I focused on the best multiplayer games. Initially I wanted this to be a structured experience. Something the kids would have a hard time doing at home. I was concerned that people would look at video game consoles and think they could throw their own party at home. In truth, many still do. What made GameTruck work however, what really made it take off were two parallel ideas. First, the configuration of equipment we brought – enough TV’s, consoles, controllers, and copies of the video games – were super hard for people to assemble themselves. The very few people that invested in a set up like ours were “legendary” – meaning they were statistically irrelevant and not really our customer.
Most people would not spend that kind of money to invite over 15 friends once a year to play games. In fact, most of these “man caves” tend to focus on 3-4 people – everyone getting their own screen and console. Just showing up with everything 16 to 20 gamers needed to play turned out to be special. However, that wasn’t the only thing, let alone the most important thing.
What made a GameTruck party work was that we designed it for the parents. While the kids were connecting with their friends, the parents could do the same. As a recent AT&T ad joked, “word of mouth was what they did before advertising” – they could have easily said, “word of mouth is what saves entrepreneurs from not understanding marketing.” Mom’s told other mom’s how easy this party was to throw. I had been to just about every concept you can think of, and money aside, my biggest complaint – and the complaint of many of my friends? The mind-numbing amount of time you spent sitting around doing nothing.
American adults hate to waste time. A GameTruck party gave parents time. They could have their own party, or they could join their child in the trailer and play games. I recall one happy mother beaming because her son’s party gave her the two hours she needed to clean her house!
The gift of time for the parents, and a great experience for the players were enough to make GameTruck grow nationally into the company it is. However, over the last 5 years I have been watching and studying what makes for a great party. So many times, our talented Game Coaches and owners would say, “It’s the experience!” Well, there are lots of experiences. Someone running up and kicking you in the shin is an experience. Not one you want to have, but certainly it qualifies. What ever was happening for parents and players, it was remarkable for them. This summer, I think I got an insight into what is happening, and why our business has remained so strong for so long. Nathan Ullyot the Director of Parks and recreation pointed me to an amazing statistic. More kids are falling out of team sports at a younger age, faster than ever. In 2013, 45% of 15 year-olds had stopped playing team sports. In 2016, 70% of 13 year-olds had stopped playing team sports. According to the Aspen Institute, by 2020, 70% of 11 year-olds had stopped playing team sports.
Across the country, more kids are playing fewer sports at a younger age. What’s more, online gaming and social media can create the perception of an infinite supply of “disposable friends.” These are one-sided relationships that meet a specific need for a short period of time, but there is little to no expectation on the part of the child to reciprocate. What’s more, if the relationship becomes strained the children can “walk away” and find someone else to play with. With fewer and fewer children playing team sports, but nearly 90% playing video games – a GameTruck party takes on a whole new meaning.
Whole New Meaning
First and foremost, with a GameTruck party, nearly everything happens face to face and in-person. What is more, the Game Coach fills a very rare and special
role for the children. Video games are unique in that most adults have completely abandoned their kids to them. According to Jane McGonigal, 9 out of 10 parents will go watch a child play a sports game, but only 1 out of 10 parents will play a video game with their child. Children are crying out for mature adult leadership, recognition, and value in this area they are so passionate about. The Game Coach is not merely knowledgeable about the games, they are also an adult who cares about gaming. One of the top responsibilities of a coach is to help the players negotiate what games they are going to play together. The trailers only bring out multiplayer games. The kids will have to play together. What’s more, we have a policy of no lone wolves. Every child at a party is invited into a group and encouraged to play.
Of course, the environment encourages this type of behavior, but specifically it is the coach, their unique personality, compassion, and attention to the players that makes all the difference. Early on I recognized that when we hired Coaches, we wanted to seek out gamers with a “musician” personality. Musicians care about developing personal competence and skill, but they also hope to entertain others. Musicians also have another key skill. They are concerned with and focused on creating positive emotional experiences to share with others.
The combination of inclusion, recognition, and an emphasis on a positive emotional energy has made the GameTruck staff virtually legendary over the last 15 years. It is not uncommon for kids who attended a party to ask for a coach by name. Children remember for years who worked their party.
Think about that.
Can you even remember the name of the person who assisted you at the pizza-arcade near your house? In my experience the staff are hardly distinguishable from the equipment.
While GameTruck has delivered great parties for fifteen years, the shifting social dynamics of our children’s lives have never left them so isolated. I am firmly of the belief that friendships are made shoulder to shoulder, in the strive toward common interests that unite us. Through a long organic process, we have learned that our Coaches play an integral role in helping players unite interests and expand their friendships through play. We have so few opportunities to do this today, I for one, really appreciate the work of our dedicated owners and staff that care so deeply about making this happen for every child we throw a party for.