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Pinball Wizard: How I built a games room business in a digitally fixated consumer market

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The British are a nation of gamers. With the increasing availability of game-playing devices and faster internet more people are now able to play digitally. Recent Gaming Revolution research has shown that 33.5m (69 per cent) of the GB online audience have joined the digital gaming world in the last six months and they are spending at least six hours gaming a week.

In 2007, when I set up Home Leisure Direct, the market was dominated as much as it is now by digital games. But I wasn’t deterred. What it revealed to me is that we are a nation who love games, and that’s not restricted just to virtual games.

Long before the days of digital gaming the Victorian’s were happily engrossed in their parlours playing ‘Are you there Moriarty?’ and ‘The minister’s cat’. Mastery, excitement and fair play have been underpinned by a fiercely competitive character for generations of British gamers. After all, the Brits invented so many of the world’s greatest competitive sports and games including cricket, rugby, badminton (originally known as Battledore and Shuttlecock), football, rounders, tennis, table tennis, snooker and more. The online and digital gaming revolution is just a babe in arms compared to the seasoned history of non-digital game playing in this country.

The iconic and classic games room and bar games of the 50s, 60s and 70s were as much a part of popular culture as digital games are now. It’s little wonder these games have endured. Games like pinball, pool, table football and table tennis offer intrinsic rewards that are intensely motivating. The physical and tangible qualities of classic games like these are hugely compelling and something that digital versions will never be able to compete with. And although HLD products are not all strictly ‘non-digital’ (games since the 80s/90s have computer code driving them and many modern pinball machines have digital elements like dot matrix displays and LCD screens and animations) they are a big step away from the virtual world of computer simulation.

Great products market themselves

Even before I set up HLD I was a passionate gamer, from Golden Ages arcade games like Donkey Kong to the delights of the flipper and the metal ball bearing on a pinball playfield. I had set up a family gaming room at home, so I knew all about the wholesome pleasures of home entertainment and which machines and games manufacturers to look out for. Starting a business in this sector felt like a very organic step forward.

Ensuring we sell the best quality products is hugely important to the team at HLD, who are all knowledgeable and passionate gamers. We have to be confident in the products’ design, the materials and components used, as well as providing good value for money for our customers.

We research, trial, source and ultimately only invest in products that we know from experience are excellent. We look for good craftsmanship, design, style and durability. We stock products that are from reputable manufacturers, many of them established and well known producers. Our acid test is pretty simple – if we wouldn’t have the product in-house we won’t sell it. 

I closely analyse each potential suppliers offering and see how the products have been designed. Particularly for pool tables and pinball machines, appearance is critical, as our customers are buying for their homes. I visit the manufacturer to see their products and how they are made. And throughout our relationship we monitor the quality of the products and get feedback from our customers. If the service back-up is poor or if there are any problems we will simply cease to range that product.

It’s not just about quality either, we know the market and we know what people are looking for. We aim to give our customers what they want. For example the appeal of licensed themes on machines is huge, like Marvel characters such as Iron Man, Spiderman, X-Men, Avengers and films and TV programmes such as Star Trek, The Walking Dead, WWE Wrestling and bands and artists such as Metallica, AC-DC, Elvis, Dolly Parton – all popular with enthusiasts.

The perks of a home game

With the exponential increases on prices of food, alcohol, petrol and utilities as a result of the financial crisis, and the simultaneous slow wage growth, many people are looking at where and how they can make savings.

Horizons, the food service consultants, found that the average price of a three-course meal in a pub had risen 7.4 per cent from £17.38 to £18.67 during the past year and the price of a pint of lager has gone up 20-fold, or by 1,948 per cent, since 1973.

Read on to find out how he does this “old school revival”…

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