Laser Tag and FECs – An Attraction Takes Hold in a Changing Market

Laser Tag has been a part of the family entertainment center experience for a number of years, but especially in the last five years that experience has changed dramatically.  Typically considered to be simply a “flavor” attraction, laser tag has proven its strength to FEC owners and has become an expected attraction in centers today.   Laser tag has also taken center stage in many venues as equipment improvements, operational changes and earning potential have been realized.
There are several trends that started several years back continuing through to today that have really changed laser tag’s place in the FEC world, and that will continue to bring it into an even more prominent position moving forward. These trends include very positive changes and improvement to equipment, changes in the play environment and even changes in the perception of the public towards laser tag.  Moving forward, these trends will definitely continue to push laser tag front and center in the ever-changing FEC market.
The greatest change in what has pushed laser tag to the forefront of FEC development has definitely been in the awareness that most customers now have regarding laser tag.  Initially viewed as a fad, laser tag has taken over the planet and can be found in every major city as well as many smaller cities worldwide.  The internet has also been very kind to laser tag, providing it an audience that might have otherwise never gotten to know it and are now demanding it.
Until the recent past, laser tag gear in FECs tended towards the low end, sometimes called “attraction level systems,” of the spectrum.  While this equipment worked fine it lacked the oomph, wow, and appeal that higher-end systems were bringing to the table in stand-alone centers.  As technology has gotten cheaper this higher-end gear has begun to slowly infiltrate and in many cases swap out these older “attraction level” systems.
Odyssey 1, located in Tacoma, Wash., has been in business for 15 years and is now on laser tag system number two.  Their initial foray into laser tag was with “attraction level” gear, “which caused a great deal of employee stress and did not make our customers very happy.”  Barry Maylor, owner, further commented: “We shopped around after about five years and found ourselves a manufacturer who we feel provides the highest quality equipment and customer experience.  Business went up, stress went down and we couldn’t be happier.”
A big factor in this has been the weight of the equipment.  Previously, the more “stuff” you crammed into a laser tag vest to make it do interesting things, the more it weighed.  Batteries were bulky and only added to this problem.  With surface mount electronics and lithium ion batteries, these formerly bulky vests have slimmed down and can now comfortably sit on a younger child’s shoulders.  Coupled with multi-color LEDs, longer battery life, and improved manufacturer stability with improved warranty systems, these systems have really moved into FECs quickly.
“Attraction level” systems have also benefitted from many of the before-mentioned changes and still have their place in the FEC market.  They are not packed with as much oomph that the big boys have, but the look and feel of some of the newly minted systems makes them the envy of even some of their more expensive counterparts.  Centers with less space to spare for a laser tag attraction can really take advantage of these systems.
Laser tag has also taken on a greater role in many centers as an anchor attraction.  The traditional FEC experience offered in years past changed dramatically with this new focus.  Gone are the days of laser tag arenas set up as dark boxes with a few barriers thrown in for flavor.  Newer and recently renovated centers bring bright colors, large props and some amazing effects to the table.  It is much tougher to debut this attraction without some serious “Wow” these days.  A brilliantly themed arena will brighten up the interior of the laser tag space and in many centers this theme carries over and infiltrates the entire center.
With 19 centers open currently and new projects on the way, the Incredible Pizza Company began adding laser tag into their attraction mix for new facilities as of 2007.  Robert Snelson commented “We re-examined laser tag a few years back and it looked like after taking a bit of a dip in popularity, it was coming back strong.  It was time for us to put laser tag into our new centers, as well as to renovate some older centers to add this attraction in.”  Looking at those centers now, he added “Laser Tag in those centers is providing the highest revenue per square foot against all of our other attractions.”
Theming in laser tag centers isn’t the only change seen to the environment.  Multi-level laser tag arenas have proven their worth in the long term as centers survive longer and outperform those with single level play.  Borrowing this trend from the stand-alone industry, centers are increasing their chances of success by incorporating this idea into their plans.
The same technologies that have improved laser tag equipment can also be found enhancing the environment in newer centers.  LED lights and effects with DMX controls are creating dynamic environments that can often be synced with the laser tag game.  LEDs can also be found providing ambience in standard can and strip fixtures as well.  These new technologies offer decreased electrical costs as well as greater options in how your arena looks and feels.
All of the changes in the industry haven’t just benefited new businesses: older centers are breathing new life into themselves as well by throwing laser tag into the mix. Laser tag simply “screams technology” and being technology focused causes laser tag to evoke a feeling of “now is the future” that other products simply cannot match. This attraction will attract new and younger faces into what may have been an aging center and allows marketing to a new generation of customers that otherwise may have considered a center to be “out of date.”
Steve and Brian Cote, who own and operate Hilltop Fun Center in Sommersworth, N.H., added laser tag into their fun center in 2007 after being in operation since 1986.  “We were looking for an attraction that would help us not only further diversify our mix of attractions, but would also allow us to be open during the winter months when we were previously closed,” said Brian.  “Laser Tag accomplished that goal and has not only made us profitable during those months but has boosted our income through the warmer months as well.”
In conclusion, laser tag today is even more amazing than the incarnation seen just a few years ago. Laser tag continues to be a strong earner that brings in more parties, boosts your income through arcade and food sale increases, and keeps them coming back year after year.  Simply put: laser tag is the attraction your FEC can’t do without.  Whether you are looking to add an attraction to an existing center or you are looking to build a new one, laser tag offers a synergy to your center that you would do well to have. –

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