By Kathryn Van Druff
Keeping equipment fresh and exciting at family entertainment centers helps to keep crowds coming through the doors. Laser tag facilities are embracing this key concept to appeal to both new and returning customers of all ages.
“Guests need to be kept entertained throughout the course of an event, so a variety of options and modes is important for my needs,” said Andrew Rodriguez, president of Laser Tag of Miami, a mobile laser tag company serving South Florida. “Due to the unique operational environment of my business, durability is very important. Our official motto is ‘Bringing laser tag to you,’ but I often joke that our true motto is ‘Children, electronics and humidity!’ It has to be fun, and it has to be tough.”
Rodriguez held true to his demand for durability in choosing a system he does not plan to replace anytime soon.
“The system I am invested in at the moment (Icombat) is very tough—I’ve been using the same laser tag equipment (with modifications) for seven years now. This is no small feat when considering the conditions the equipment works in most of the time (extreme heat and humidity, out of doors in children’s hands). Of course, like everything else, it needs maintenance, but if you pay close attention, you can head off 99 percent of problems guests would even notice. I am seriously considering adding equipment to enrich gameplay, but the phasers themselves I have no plans to shelve in the immediate future.”
He noted that a variety of game modes helps Laser Tag of Miami to stay on the cutting edge and he also pays keen attention to the appearance of the laser tag equipment. The fine line to walk lies between equipment that looks cool but not too realistic that it mirrors actual firearms.
At Arnold’s Family Fun Center in Oaks, Pa., the latest and greatest addition is a modular laser tag arena system that staff members can reconfigure at will. Arnold’s made upgrades just six months ago, introducing new guns, new vests, and a new arena with strobe lighting that goes to music like a laser show as well as fog.
“The modular units are the newest thing,” said Lorin Richter, sales and marketing manager. “Our old laser tag arena used to be half walls. The new ones are barrels that hook together—we can actually take the barrels apart and change the configuration of the arena. Now it’s more like a Lego type idea. If we get tired or customers get tired of the arena, you can literally go in overnight, take it apart, and reconfigure it. We want it to be a little more versatile so you don’t have to replace it as soon.”
Richter said one of the biggest things that comes up when choosing equipment is to ensure the ease of maintenance on the vests and guns. Flashiness and high-tech appearance come into play as well, not to mention innovation.
“We just put in new laser tag equipment with what was important to us,” Richter said. “Some of the new ones have a sensor in the center so if you go by the sensor, it can shoot at you. The laser tag can shoot you if you are near a sensor. So you are not only looking for the people but also don’t go in front of something that’s going to take part of life away.”
Scoring is also big for customers, she said. Arnold’s offers an advanced score display on a monitor in the staging area where customers suit up. The center also has an observatory where parents or others can go upstairs to watch the gameplay if they aren’t actively participating themselves.
Ultrazone in Bensalem, Pa. offers laser tag, a laser trap maze with its own laser field for guests to maneuver through, and an arcade. A multi-level arena includes innovative laser tag equipment and game formats like Hamburger Hill, Base Flags, Human Flags, Hot Potato, Tug of War, and more.
“We plan to replace our equipment when we find something that has a drastic change to what we currently use,” said Rob Stark, president of Ultrazone in Bensalem, Pa. “The equipment we use has always had the newest technology out there, which helps differentiate us from our competitors. It must be easy to use for our customers while at the same time continues to provide that next generation of fun.”
Stark said Ultrazone constantly looks for the newest equipment in trade magazines, online content, and examining it upfront and personally at trade shows.
“We’ve been around for 23 years and know what to look for when it comes to our customers,” Stark said.
New York’s Indoor Extreme Sports delivers an adrenaline-packed adventure indoors with options for paintball, archery tag, virtual reality games, escape rooms, and laser tag, among others. Two Indoor Extreme Sports locations—one in Long Island City, N.Y., and one in Staten Island, N.Y.—serve roughly 75,000 people each year in laser tag.
Peter Fermoselle, CEO of Indoor Extreme Sports, uniquely was involved with the evolution of the iCombat laser tag franchise. His company was a distributor for the iCombat products when they first came out. They used the products in schools and active shooter training, at West Point’s 2012 Wolf Pack Games competition, and that impetus created a push to use the equipment in New York City. Fermoselle and his staff rebranded the equipment to Black Ops Laser Tag™ (BOLT).
“ICombat offers full training,” Fermoselle shared. “Some operators skip on the maintenance. That’s a major mistake because the key to this system lasting so long and performing so well is the maintenance. It takes a good 20 hours a week to keep the systems up to par.”
The iCombat laser tag equipment at Indoor Extreme Sports simulates real guns and tactical vests in the style of law enforcement training. It’s durable and built to last, and it’s still the very same equipment they added in 2011 when laser tag was first offered.
“It’s an all-metal gun; there’s no plastic,” said Fermoselle. “All in all, it’s meant to replicate the weight of an M4. There’s CO2 so when you shoot, it goes ‘bang, bang, bang.’ Everybody wears tactical molle vests, the same as SWAT with sensors in the front and back. The gun talks to the vest, the vest talks to the computer, and everything is on a Wi-Fi system. Older systems like Steradians have wires sticking from a headband or vest, then the gun gets banged up because it’s made out of plastic.”
Fermoselle explained that the equipment speaks for itself. As a modular system, over the years Indoor Extreme Sports has been able to change out lots of different pieces without having to replace the whole system. If something breaks, they just replace that piece.
“For me, the only thing I would replace would be the vests,” said Fermoselle. “They take abuse after a while and start to rip and tear. As much as we may wash them, they may get to the point of replacing. We probably go through 20-30 vests every couple of months. It’s our biggest consumable other than parts. I can give you an estimate on parts—we spend around $2,000 on parts per month at two facilities. We break that down to a cost per player of a dollar or less—that’s what we factor in on each player. That includes the parts and the tech person that you pay $15 or more per hour at least 20 hours a week. And we use just one person, not multiple techs—it’s not something you want to be passing around.”
Dwayne Furlough, president and owner at Flipper McCoys in Virginia Beach, Va., places great importance on service after the fact when selecting new laser tag equipment. He values when the company stands behind their products as far as the actual customer service experience.
“You can buy all the equipment any day of the week and it’s great, but when it breaks, you need to call someone get it back on line and start producing revenue,” Furlough said. “That’s with any equipment we buy.”
The Flipper McCoys laser tag arena is less than a year old, coming into service in spring of 2018. Creative Works built the arena and the equipment comes from Delta Strike.
“We’re interactive, so in other words, you don’t just play against other opponents, you play against the computer too,” Furlough explained. “There’s targets throughout the arena that if you don’t tag them, they attack you.”