By Sara Hodon
Laser tag is exciting by itself, but having a theme for your arena can take customers’ excitement to a new level. If you’re looking to give customers more fun when they enter your venue, theming is one way to do it.
“Arena theme is 60 percent of the laser tag experience, with the remaining 20 percent going to guest service and 20 percent to laser tag equipment. It’s the first thing your players see as they enter the arena. It’s the mood setter for the whole game and their experience,” said Natalia Teaca, co-owner of Blast City Laser Tag in Oak Park, Calif. “If your players are just playing in a dark building that does not have a flow and a story, their game will not be memorable and they won’t be coming back. When playing laser tag you want to be completely immersed in the game and forget you just came from a world filled with stress and worries. You can’t do that without a visually stimulating theme.” Blast City opened in October 2016 and had 2,200 plays in two months; in 2017 they ran over 19,000 games, “which accounts for slowdowns in spring and fall when players are in school,” Teaca explains. Charles Catanzaro, owner of Laser Planet in Waterbury, Conn., said although the theme enhances the entire experience, players are really interested in the size of the arena. “Our arena has multiple levels, a big open area in the main floor, and walkways through the upper level. Kids are able to tag players below them—they’re fifteen feet in the air when they’re on the upper level.” Laser Planet had approximately 52,000 visitors in 2017.
Choosing a theme for your laser tag arena requires planning and research. Terry Gonzalez, group sales and marketing manager and spokesperson for Funtasticks Family Fun Park in Tucson, Ariz., said the best arena themes are “mysterious and interesting to keep guests on their toes. The theme creates the atmosphere while entering the arena to begin a game.” Funtasticks’ arena has a Lost City of Atlantis theme; their facility had 55,000 guests in 2017 (down from 2016). Brainstorm ideas and work with professionals who can turn your ideas into reality based on your facility’s layout, resources, and budget. “Work with a top reputable theming company that knows the industry and will provide a quality arena as well as support,” Teaca suggested. “Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you have an idea that you have never seen in a laser tag arena before, map it out and ask your target market what they think of it. It might be exactly what the market is looking for. Cool and unique factors are what will get players through the door. Go with a theme that will withstand time. You don’t want to go with what’s trending this year and then retheme the arena, unless that’s your plan.”
Teaca said they worked with their creative team—Creative Works and Smart Laser Tag—to come up with a completely unique venue. “We looked at what arenas were in the L.A. vicinity, what the market has to offer, and what would make us different. The end result is the first arena in the United States with interactive Arena X gameplay where you as a player can complete mission assignments and play against the arena itself.”
Terri Rowell of Safari Quest Family Fun Center in Hammond, La., said they chose their arena’s theme to coincide with their sister venue, Adventure Quest. “That [venue] had an ‘Indiana Jones/Raiders of the Lost Ark’ theme,” she explained. “[For this venue] we wanted to keep the ‘Quest.’ It started as Jungle Quest but eventually became Safari Quest.” Rowell said their attendance in 2017 and 2016 was about status quo, but in 2017 the venue did offer more summer camps. Cool lighting enhances the overall experience, she noted. “We recently added a variety of black light effects and the walls really pop now,” she said.
Catanzaro said once their venue’s name was chosen—Laser Planet—their outer space theme was an obvious choice. “People are coming to a different world when they come here. Everything is in 3-D with black lights, so things pop out more. We used to give out 3-D glasses. People love the theme—Star Wars and outer space is so popular.” He explained they recently added an area for toddlers, or, as they’re called at the venue, the “Little Dippers”. “It’s not laser tag—it’s more of a playroom and party area—a big matted area with a lot of interactive games,” Catanzaro explained. At Safari Quest they’ve incorporated relevant décor to set the tone for the game right from the start: “We have neon footprints of different animals on the floors leading the way through the arena maze. And we have animal eyes on some of the walls,” Rowell said. “We also call our arena the Lion’s Den—we have a local college whose mascot is a lion!”
If possible, tie the theme into the games themselves. “With current technology most laser tag facilities offer more than one game choice and games can be designed specifically to incorporate the arena theme,” Teaca explained. Catanzaro also carries their theme into the game. “We do a briefing first and the players are told ‘You’re leaving Earth and traveling to Laser Planet’. Then the players get gear on; are told how to play, how to use equipment. Then they move into the dressing room where we break them into teams and they get their equipment on. When you go into the main arena there are pictures of aliens and spaceships on the walls,” he explained. “The names of the games are names of the planets, and we have a wall with pictures of movie aliens on it. It’s great because the kids and parents are all looking at the aliens and trying to guess which movie they’re from.”
But not all operators are in favor of themed arenas. “Theming can limit the types of games you play,” said Peter Murphy, general manager of Laser-Flash in Carmel, Ind. “Maybe you want to conduct a structured team building program for a business outing, or play a zombie-style game or dodgeball-style game. It may seem odd to customers if the game style does not match the theme which cannot easily change.” Murphy explained the layout of the arena directly impacts how the game is played. “Using a heavily themed arena may limit the variety of game styles. It is more important for the arena to be balanced and fair for the customers. This means being symmetrical front-to-back and left-to-right. And a multilevel arena is a must to be competitive,” he said. “These design considerations give the most flexibility to style of games whether it is for a structured team building for a business outing, or competitive team-based play, or just some fun for many diverse groups playing together. The various game styles and formats dictate how the players will interact with each other.”
Whether you choose a theme for your arena or not, operators agree providing top-notch games in a spacious arena are two of the biggest factors for a successful laser tag business. “Don’t just build an arena—build an experience,” Teaca advised. “Current players have grown up in a world filled with X-Boxes and Minecraft—they can’t be impressed with fancy equipment alone.”