Once upon a time, if you wanted the opportunity to play video games with an advanced degree of graphic complexity, you needed to get a bunch of quarters, go somewhere that had the cabinets, and pay per-play to get your game on. Now, though, seemingly every kid in America has access to Minecraft or Angry Birds at his or her disposal at every moment, and can kill hours staring at the screen without leaving the home, for one fixed price.
Which would make a concept like Dave & Busters, the Dallas-based chain of casual dining restaurants whose hook is its massive arcade room, seem like one fated for the dustbin of history. But the company held its IPO last Thursday—at a bargain rate of $16 per share—and it’s managed to increase its value through the first week. As the Dallas Morning News reports:
After pricing its IPO at the low end of a $16-$18 range, Dallas-based Dave & Buster’s saw the market push the price up toward the high end of the range in debut trading Friday.
Late Thursday Dave & Buster’s, which is returning to the public markets, priced 5.9 million shares at $16 a share.
The stock was trading about $17.80 midday Friday. It is trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “PLAY”.
The stock has settled a bit in the following week—at press time, it’s sitting right at $17.00—and while that’s right in the middle of that $16 to 18 range, it’s nonetheless interesting to see that Wall Street considers a chain based on getting people to leave their living rooms in order to play games to be a viable commodity.
But there are still things that coin-operated games can do that home games—despite their ever-growing depth and complexity—can’t. Driving games, for example, never quite work at home. They can be fun, but they can’t simulate the experience of actually driving a race car, or piloting a fighter jet, or patrolling the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile.
This is where dedicated arcade games like those at Dave & Buster’s shine, though: A cabinet game like last year’s Batman can include a steering wheel designed to mimic what you might expect in the Batmobile, pedals to drive with your feet, and an array of lights that creates an immersive experience.
Games like the forthcoming Star Wars Battle Pod explain what makes coin-op games work in an era when you can still have a pretty good time playing games on a phone. According to video game blog Polygon, that game is designed to involve a player’s whole body and engage not just sight and sound, but also touch:
The massive machine features a 180-degree domed screen which works in conjunction with a seat that uses low-frequency vibrations to deliver the feel of impacts and explosions. Special fans are used to mimic the feeling of acceleration and speed when paired with vibrating controllers and 5.1 surround sound. The vibration, air blasts and sound turn the game into an incredible Star Wars “toy,” McKenzie said.
This is something we’ll probably see more of as virtual reality gaming becomes more and more advanced. For example, Oculus Rift, the virtual reality googles, can create a very authentic sight-and-sound experience, but in order to truly fool us into believing that we’re in a completely different environment than our living room, we need to engage on various other levels.
The “Ascend The Wall” Game Of Thrones-themed Oculus Rift demo at SXSW this year made that clear: to ride the elevator to the “Wall” at Castle Black from the hit HBO series, you didn’t just hear the creak of the chains or see the wilderness in front of you—you stood on a platform that moved, as fans blew you around, to make you feel like you were in this strange place, climbing a massive wall, to create an experience that was surprisingly emotionally engaging. (When the first arrow launched at my head, I instinctively ducked as though I were in danger.)
Generally speaking, the consensus about the future of gaming is that it lies in virtual reality. And the day will probably come when we all have a VR array that communicates with our A/C vents and the special chair that we sit in that can shake, rock or spin as necessary to properly disorient us, but that day may well be a ways off. Meanwhile, dedicated locations that are equipped to effectively involve touch—or smell, or taste—in gaming can fill in the gap.
That’s something that Chuck E. Cheese president Roger Cardinale understood when his company began incorporating Oculus Rift in some of its locations in Dallas, Orlando, and San Diego early in the summer. As he told TechCrunch:
“Kids today have unprecedented access to game consoles and tablets,” said Roger Cardinale, president of Chuck E. Cheese’s owner CEC Entertainment. “Our challenge is to deliver an experience not available at home, and there is no doubt virtual reality does just that. Oculus Rift technology is the next frontier in the gaming industry, and we’re thrilled to be able to say it’s part of the Chuck E. Cheese’s lineup.”
Someday, of course, high-quality VR will be available at home. But in the meantime, the prospect for immersive gaming as a destination-oriented activity—whether it’s through Batman and Star Wars games that have bigger screens and more accurate controls—or through VR arrays that work more senses than just the ones that you can engage through a headset make the future of a company like Dave & Busters seem less grim than it might seem at first glance.