Can a Video Game Pub Work?

On my show recently, talking to Mr Maynard of Gamehounds and The Unknown Gamers of Saint Louis we started discussing the demise of the arcade and how it might be brought back. The prospect of a gamers pub was broached and a kernel of an idea began to hatch in my head. The response to that part of the show has been pretty positive.


SeijinAxeman: Arcade / Pub!! Awesome idea!! Except there should be an entrance fee and the games are free. And instead of just arcade machines there can be rows of PS3’s and Xbox 360’s for local LAN play. Call it Pubcade or something.

Daryl Sellick: The idea of the pub and the arcade is brilliant and it should make the games more competitve as people drink more

Steven Jones: Am I the only one thinking competitive game play, alcohol and people who don’t know each other all happing in the same place being a bad idea?

Bowlby: There is a perfect point while drinking where your mind and body become synched to the game. Unfortunately, everything after that is downhill from there.

Now these are all fine points and I’ve looked into some local places in my area that tried something like this and failed miserably. I’d really like to look at why, because frankly if there was a place like this nearby, I’d honestly go out more. Here are some of the obvious pitfalls of putting together a business like this.

Firstly a huge demographic of gamers are kids. Kids have very little money of their own (that they will part with for something they could essentially get for free) so if you kept a place like this open all day and charged for entry, they might pay a small fee and stay all day asking for free glasses of water every now and then. Net profit to you; zero. You also can’t serve alcohol in an establishment that mainly attracts kids. Well Pizza Hut manages it, but you’re asking for trouble from the parents.

What most of these places offer is an extension of a LAN party; an organized gathering of like-minded gamers who play communally and buy drinks from the bar. Most of us can get that for free at home, just on a smaller scale, so you have to really push the community aspect of it, which takes a lot of setup and is probably why most establishments go under. If folks get too drunk they behave like asses and will likely not respect the peripherals, consoles or other players. Also if you want to make steady money you have to cater to a wide audience, including people who may only play games communally a few times a year at a friends house and might not respect the unspoken rules of the regular patrons. They will come in for the novelty and probably won’t have the best time.

Now here’s my idea. Not a pub, but a club; in the truest sense of the word. You sign up in advance, provide ID and get membership. Your details are stored on an internal system and you get an Xbox Live style player ID, contained on a membership card you wear on a lanyard when in the club. This automatically should make you more responsible because you’ve invested something already.

You pay a nominal fee for yearly membership and let’s say $6 at the door every night you go. Drinks are the usual bar prices, which should generate decent revenue from tap-beer and post-mix soft drinks. You may or may not know this but those large sodas you get at the movies and pay far out the ass for cost the theatre pennies for a dash of syrup and carbonated water. There’s also bar food and lots of hand-wipes so the pads don’t get all grungy.

The décor is similar to a large living room, couches everywhere, many TV’s (second-hand LCD screens are dirt cheap these days) 360’s, Wii’s and PS3’s are one console per TV. Classic, multiple-game arcade machines (including a Neo Geo) line the walls. There’s also a small stage with a Rock Band kit and it’s own TV. I’m thinking 100 folks max to keep the atmosphere fun but not chaotic. There’s house music until the Rock Band, Guitar Hero or Singstar starts and then entertainment is provided by anyone who wants to take the stage. There’s also a retro corner with many classic machines and old CRT TV’s. No handhelds would be provided unless someone can tell me a good way to ensure they don’t get pinched, but every member would be encouraged to being their own for any waiting periods or link-up games. There will be some rules and a code of conduct so that everybody respects other players, waits their turn and signs up for the karaoke sessions.

Here are the two things that might make this different from other places that didn’t do so well.

  1. Persistent gamer profile. Every time you win a game, it gets logged on our servers, along with your high scores. In the same way that we become points-whores for Microsoft or trophy-trolls for Sony I’m hoping the folks who hang out at my club regularly would want to keep working on their profile and comparing it with their friends, who as opposed to XBL would be right there to be bought pints of beer.
  2. Drinking while gaming, just as Bowlby said, will get you to the point of absolute nirvana, when your skills are the most fly and you are indeed having the best time. After that, yes, you might become an animal and start smashing shit up, falling down and puking, which is why we’d encourage folks to find that point and stay there as long as possible with soft drinks and food, rather than go over the line. Hence the name of the establishment, and I’m proud of this one; “Ape-X”

I’d like some feedback from you readers. If you’ve been to a place like this that actually works, tell me how. If you have any suggestions, let me know below. Clearly this is a hypothetical and obviously I have no idea how to actually run a club, but I’d like to take a look at the logistics of this, because frankly I miss the arcades and while there may not be a place for them any more (in England for sure), by God I’d go to this place in a shot.

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  • I don’t know, dude. I think it sounds good, but one of the main attractions for a club or bar is the ladies. I’m not sure you will see many in an establishment like this other than girlfriends dragged there against their will. Introduce some type of singles night the mix and you might have something.

  • Dave and Busters and gameworks all have games and drinks.

    At Dave and busters there is even toggle switches on the arcade machines which calls the waitresses to you

  • See that was the concept steve.. but instead of having a restaurant, cut it out and only keep the bar.

  • You guys have stumbled upon a wholly original idea that I have certainly never been to.

  • Raffaele

    Great idea, i’m thinking about it here in Italy. Could be a nice and funny business.