Laser tag remains among the most popular pastimes at many family entertainment centers. Around the country, traffic at laser tag arenas tends to be steady or growing — at least, in the facilities that have invested in state-of-the-art equipment, regular upgrades and the modern amenities that customers have come to expect.
“We have a lot of competition with the trampoline parks and other things that are opening up right now,” said Rob Stark, owner of Ultra Zone Laser Tag in Bensalem, Pa. In a saturated entertainment market, Stark keeps his business strong with a proactive, customer-first approach. “We try to do as much painting as possible; we try to change it up and move items around,” noted Stark, whose facility sees approximately 40,000 laser tag players annually.
When it comes to entertainment, “kids nowadays need a lot of variety,” observed Areli Dominguez, a manager at Sportime USA in Elmsford, N.Y. Even as absolute visitation numbers wax and wane over the years, laser tag remains the facility’s most popular attraction and the main draw for birthday party packages, Dominguez added.
In Allentown, Pa., Paul Prekopa credits a strong economy for the steady visitation growth at Lehigh Valley Laser Tag, where he is the general manager. “Over the past 10 years, people seem to have more disposable income,” he said. Prekopa added that laser tag has succeeded by keeping up with changing tastes. “Arenas are much bigger, more modern, more up-to-date, thanks to technology, so that’s helped the game quite a bit as well,” he said. “When we opened this arena in 2010, it was a big jump up from anything else in the area.”
Prekopa also pointed out that Barney, a major character in the TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” was into laser tag, a fact which also helped popularize the game — inserting what had been a niche pastime into everyday vocabulary.
State-of-the-art equipment and a hip, New York City-themed arena are among the features that keep laser tag a favorite at Kidoolo Play Club in Springfield, N.J. “Our laser tag business continues to grow and attract repeat and new players,” said Co-Owner Trish Stephens. “We are always looking for exciting new additions.”
The 6,000-square-foot facility — of which roughly half is the laser tag arena — also features an adventure maze, two towers, upbeat music, and a variety of rotating game formats. “And this fall, we will introduce more theming and more new game formats as we continue to enhance the complete experience,” Stephens added.
The New Jersey entertainment veteran reflected that style and design are only part of the game’s allure, at least among her health-conscious Northeastern clientele. “With the continued goal of healthy living, families really enjoy laser tag because it is a great way to be active while having fun,” Stephens observed.
But laser tag centers that don’t constantly upgrade risk seeing their audiences migrate to newer, shinier attractions, warned Seth Anderson, manager at Loveland Laser Tag in Colorado. “Many centers don’t change for 20 years, and then they decline,” he noted.
Loveland Laser Tag, in contrast, has kept its business steady over the years with regular upgrades to both decor and technology. In addition to the trilevel, 5,700-square-foot laser tag arena, the facility features escape rooms, a virtual reality arcade, an indoor ropes course, bumper cars, a 4-D motion theatre, a laser maze, a climbing wall, and an arcade.
“We just updated our equipment last September, with a new computer system,” Anderson said. Loveland added touch screens and additional game modes; upgraded its paint job with brighter, more modern colors; and switched out black lighting “to make it look cool,” Anderson explained.
Loveland Laser Tag is a full-service facility, with new arcade games and a brisk party business. “We do get quite a few people in, and it’s definitely steady,” the manager said.
As laser tag has become a more ubiquitous and permanent feature of the American entertainment landscape, audiences have gotten comfortable with the shooting aspect of play. Rob Stark recalls some initial parental concerns about weaponry when he opened Ultra Zone Laser Tag back in 1995. “It used to come up when we first opened, but not anymore,” he said.
Language is a big part of that shift: Industry veterans say patrons are more comfortable with less militant, more neutral vocabulary to describe the game. “At Loveland Laser Tag, we tried to keep it family-friendly, and just call it tag,” said Manager Seth Anderson.
In Allentown, Lehigh Valley Laser Tag players use phasers, “which don’t look as much like guns,” explained general manager Paul Prekopa. So while he’s heard of some parents having an issue with the weaponry, it hasn’t been an issue at the Allentown facility, he added.
At Sportime USA in Elmsford, N.Y., Manager Areli Dominguez has also noticed that “parents don’t like the word gun.” Concerns have been minimal, she added. “But people definitely prefer terms like laser beam.”