Game Truck: Video Party On Wheels In Arizona
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
An Arizona business is bucking the recession by offering to take kids off parents' hands for a few hours. GameTruck is a mobile video arcade that offers high-tech parties in the back of air-conditioned trailers that come to your home. And this summer, business is hot. Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris Kohl reports.
GILLIAN FERRIS KOHL: Timbo Roter(ph) is celebrating his 11th birthday with 16 friends in a fierce game of "Halo 3."
(SOUNDBITE OF YELLING)
U: Why, when they're two of you on me? That is not fair.
FERRIS KOHL: The boys sprawl out on a long, leather sofa under blue LED party lights, game controllers in hand. They are completely sucked in to the alien shootout and heavy metal music blasting from four enormous TVs in front of them. Eleven- year-old partygoer Quinton Zapatas(ph) explains the game the boys are playing.
M: "Halo" is about the Spartans and Elites. The Spartans are not friends of the Elites. They have to team up to defeat the Halo, which wiped out every last Spartan except for one.
FERRIS KOHL: Today, Quinton's excited to be the last Spartan standing, but he's even more excited about playing "Halo 3" for the first time with more than one other person, which is how he plays it at home.
M: It's awesome.
FERRIS KOHL: And it's cold inside the 50-foot GameTruck, which is one of the business's selling perks, especially on a day like today, where it's 115 degrees in the shade at the Roter family home in Tempe.
M: I sometimes describe it like your dream living room on wheels.
FERRIS KOHL: That's 43-year-old Scott Novis, founder of GameTruck. A longtime video game designer and arcade lover, Novis says the idea for the business came to him in a flash at a friend's party.
M: It was a 36-year-old friend of mine dragging an Xbox off to a LAN party in a garage. The hassle of setting all that up to sit in a garage where we can play the game, and it was like light bulb. What if we made that effortless for people? What if we made it, all you had to do was show up and play?
FERRIS KOHL: So Novis designed a custom, air-conditioned trailer that he could pull with his pickup truck, and decked it out with the latest video game technology. His initial investment in 2006 was about $100,000 for one truck. Since then, GameTruck has turned into a multi-truck, multi-state franchise, with each rig pulling in about $10,000 a month. A two-hour party like Timbo's costs about $300.
M: We call it a mobile video game theater. We've got the best sound, the best controllers, the best TVs. There's just never an excuse not to play.
FERRIS KOHL: But since the average American kid indulges in about seven hours of screen time every day, this new business begs the question: Is it OK to make money by putting kids on their rear ends for another few hours? Scott Novis says absolutely.
M: What we really focus on is what we call social video gaming. The energy level inside the truck is fantastic. The kids are jumping around. They're interacting.
FERRIS KOHL: There's definitely excitement at Timbo Roter's GameTruck party, but there isn't really too much physical activity to speak of. From his spot in the middle of the leather couch, Timbo says he actually wanted a sportier type birthday.
M: My original idea was paintball, but then it was too expensive, so I went with GameTruck.
FERRIS KOHL: It's also too hot for paintball. Imagine what shape Timbo's party guests would be in after running around the desert at high noon in full, military-style gear. As it is, Timbo says he's already wiped out from too much pizza and soda.
M: I feel like sitting on the couch and watching TV.
FERRIS KOHL: For NPR News, I'm Gillian Ferris Kohl in Tempe.
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