How Technology Has Shaped the Laser Tag Experience

When you think about laser tag, one of the first things to come to mind is technology. Looking at the history of laser tag, it’s easy to see how far those technological advancements have shaped laser tag into what it is today.
Few other attractions offer the futuristic feel that laser tag can. Many attractions like bowling and roller skating have been around for a very long time and were marketed to generations past, so they still have that classic feel to them. It’s not to say that those attractions haven’t made advancements through the years or that they aren’t exciting, but laser tag was originally marketed as the sport of the future.
In the mid 1980s, laser tag was born. Modeled after the blaster fights from the original Star Wars, one would think all of our ongoing conflicts would be handled in space by now. While the world hasn’t changed that much since 1984, the technology used to simulate our space battles has actually become much more economical and efficient.
In fact, what you would have paid for 20 Photon packs when they originally came out is about the same price you’d pay to start a 40-player system today. What other attraction or industry can say that?
The earliest systems in laser tag included clunky, bulky and often times heavy packs with awkward helmets, battery packs and thick cables. The original Photon pack weighed approximately 22 pounds! Later things slimmed down to about 10 pounds to about 7 and a half. Fast forward to today and if a vest and phaser weighs more than five and a half pounds, your company might be in trouble.
But getting slim and sexy isn’t the only improvement to the sport. Many laser tag systems added features that are very commonplace today. The biggest and most noticeable factors are the bright and colorful lights that bring the vests to life. Whether dancing, flickering, changing or blinding, the lights are generally the targets for players to tag and even those have come a long way.
Originally, the lights on a laser tag were mounted to boards and usually stayed one color (generally white, red or green). Today, companies are using LED lights that can change almost any color you can think of. In fact, some systems have game formats that will change your packs’ colors for any variety of reasons. Imagine playing on a team with your friends and suddenly everyone’s pack color (and team) changes randomly and everyone is now your enemy. Let’s see bowling do that (we still love bowling, by the way)!
Today, your pack displays more information than ever before. Originally, players would have to look at a scoreboard to see how their team was doing. Now we have real time scoring located somewhere on the pack or phaser. This screen can even tell you who just tagged you and which sensor they hit, which power-up you just received, or that you’re thirsty and need to buy a soda. My sources tell me the suppliers are still working on that last one.
Vibrators in the sensor areas of the pack let a player know where they’ve been tagged or when a dynamic of the game has changed.
Another factor to consider is pack durability. Making sure your gear will survive a caked-out group of 10 year olds is high on your manufacturer’s list of deliverables. Our industry is always ready to prove it’s indestructibility by having their sales team jump up and down on their equipment and smacking phasers on tables to throwing packs off of buildings and having them run over by Humvees (I wish I was making that up). So minus a nuclear holocaust, your packs will survive your next birthday party.
As a former Game Marshal, one improvement I can appreciate is battery and charging technology. Early on, your staff would have to open all your packs (sometimes multiple times per day) to change and charge batteries that would last only a few hours. From personal experience, I can tell you this is very exhausting.
Now with battery technology, packs can run all day on a single charge and they can either be plugged in with simple and easily accessible cords, by simply touching a connector plate on the inside of the pack, or now even wirelessly through the vesting racks!
There’s also a new opponent for your customers to face: your arena. Arena targets and bases are common, but some of these innocent looking blinking mechanisms fight back! In fact, some companies are making dynamic targets that can be set up to change game formats and bonuses for team objectives.
One important advancement in laser tag is the ability to go outdoors. While newer to the market than its indoor cousin, outdoor laser tag equipment opens the door to all kinds of strategic scenarios. Outdoor laser tag can be played in wooded terrain and often provides a great alternative to paintball or other sports too hardcore for your younger market. Some of these phasers can tag hundreds of feet away even in broad daylight!
The hardware is only half the equation though. Software features are becoming a major selling point in laser tag systems. Laser tag software isn’t just for keeping score anymore. These programs are very versatile, providing control systems like managing the music that plays in your arena to giving out power-up abilities to players in the arena. Some can shut down misbehaving players with a push of a button.
With the options afforded them, operators can run countless scenarios for their hardcore players if they want to change things up or keep things as simple as they like for their birthday party market. Most games are fully customizable and preset when your game computer arrives at your facility for installation.
Working with radio technology, the changes you desire can come at the push of a button. Some of these software advancements can even have your pack singing “Happy Birthday” to your party children before the game starts. How’s that for memorable parties?
So as you can see, throughout the years, laser tag has evolved from a space age dream to a true “trapped-in-the-videogame” scenario. As the technological side has been updated, so has your customers experience and ultimately expectations. It’s important to know how high to set the bar against your competition when you are opening a laser tag facility, so playing the different types of gear will show you not just what is available, but also what is expected.
Which laser tag products have which features? Ask the manufacturers and they will be happy to show you. At the ILTA, we’re wowed as much as the laser tag entrepreneur when these advancements are unveiled and we can’t wait to see what the future will look like… in the future.
(Eric Gaizat has been the Director of Membership Services for the International Laser Tag Association, Inc. since 2005)

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