Technology and Serendipity
A Happy Accident at Autobahn Indoor Speedway
by Andre Lawless, Lawless Marketing
Necessity is often the mother of invention and that certainly proved to be the case for Autobahn Indoor Speedway, a chain of 10 family entertainment centers across the U.S. The locations feature high-speed electric go-karts, a full array of food and beverage, video game arcades and a range of attractions from axe throwing to virtual reality in several locations.
Like most amusement locations worldwide, Autobahn had to close all of its venues upon the onset of Covid-19 in March of 2020. However, despite the numerous pandemic-born challenges, Managing Partner David Larson found that one area of his business – VR – experienced unexpected revenue increases when they adapted operations to address the industry-changing crisis. The reason for this boost was advance online booking, something they hadn’t done before.
Larson has embraced location-based VR as an addition to this entertainment mix, noting that he’s “always looking for an edge through technology.” For this, Larson and his team at Autobahn chose Minority Media’s Chaos Jump VR arenas for their Jacksonville, Fla., track as well as the Chicago-area location (which operates as Accelerate Indoor Speedway).
Of the choice of VR attractions, Larson explained, “We really like Minority Media as a company. They give such great support and we like their smaller footprint arena better than the competition. It’s got amazing curb appeal and awesome gameplay.”
Even before Covid-19, Larson observed that location-based “VR works best when it is actively played by guests and promoted by staff. When a VR attraction isn’t staffed, it just isn’t played as much.” Operators should be aware that most VR arenas –– even today when the attractions are more prevalent –– still require consumers to overcome awkwardness or unfamiliarity with VR. Remember, it wasn’t until unattended VR solutions began to appear, that a player could just walk up and play VR without getting help from a location team member.
Many FECs are cautious about their overhead and help can be inconsistent, so the result can be that potential first-time VR players encounter an empty arena without players or staff onsite. If they are lucky enough to encounter an arena already in use by players, they can see them having fun, a live dynamic that can turn spectators into players.
While, before the pandemic, Autobahn didn’t have online reservations on their website, it was something Larson said he “always knew we wanted to do in the future.” The issue was that he’d been unable to find a solution that integrated with their POS.” (They had been using Clubspeed for race timing, scheduling and POS since 2013.) As government orders first closed down the facilities, and then loosened to necessitate capacity constraints, he said the “timing was perfect” to make some changes.
For readers unfamiliar with Clubspeed, it’s an FEC management software platform offering integrated online booking, gamification, customer profiles and advanced CRM and marketing, and does so for 500 customers in 41 countries. Clubspeed started with timing for karting and evolved its platform to help indoor karting centers. It was initially just software but then moved into POS, employee scheduling, and more. In addition, consumers could manage timing, scores, gift cards. Like so many companies, it was forced to pivot due to the pandemic.
At first, Clubspeed stopped many of the business offerings that account for “normal” day-to-day use (customer portals, leaderboards and so on). They then accelerated their development of and focus on adding online bookings and payments, as well as other features designed so consumers spend less time in line and in the registering process. The goal was to get players in and out with scheduling and POS working together. While the company already added online booking in 2019, it wasn’t until the pandemic that they built payment processing into the system.
All of this was great for Autobahn, explained Larson. “Clubspeed sent an email about integration and we asked for a demo. We thought online booking would be especially useful because of Covid and the resulting limited capacity in facilities. We felt people would more likely want to book in advance so they could maintain control and stay safe.”
Noted Clubspeed’s COO Tim Gentry, “Our relationship with Autobahn is about helping them drive revenue, streamline operations and enhance the guest experience.” He said it’s a mutually beneficial relationship with both companies providing input about the guest experience.
Autobahn promoted the availability of advance online booking through their ads on Facebook and Google and they added a big button on their website. Karting package bookings were the first to be added to their website and then they moved on to axe throwing, and finally VR, which was initially packaged with races and later as standalone entertainment. In short, the results have surprised Larson.
“We’ve seen more than a 50% increase in play on our Chaos Jump VR arena because of online advance booking. Our average ticket price is up on all attractions and we have been able to package entertainment for higher ticket sales. We promoted fewer options, but we were promoting our more profitable offerings.”
Advance booking makes it easier to ensure that guests who have reserved are met by an attendant ensuring a great customer service experience, which is a win for the consumer and the business, explained Larson.
With Clubspeed fully integrated, Autobahn fans can now book online and reserve their spot in their location of choice. Guests get a seamless booking process and know they can walk in with a guarantee that their time and activity will be committed specifically for them. Their streamlined experience also includes signing their waiver, completing registration and payment.
Happy with the success of the implementation, Autobahn recently bought two Transformers: VR Battle Arenas from Minority Media. This small-footprint VR attraction lets operators bring a billion-dollar, multi-generational brand into family entertainment locations of all sizes, boasts the company. Transformers: VR Battle Arena features two games, the first a PVP (player vs player) title which shares its name with the attraction and also the latest game, Transformers: VR Invasion, an exciting collaborative game that allows guests to fight alongside their favorite characters.
“The combination of advance online booking and our Transformers VR games makes it possible for amusement operators to deliver lucrative, blockbuster entertainment for their guests,” noted Michael Zaidan, VP of Business Development for Minority Media. “The evergreen Transformers brand experiences will appeal to fans of all ages,” he enthused.
Zaidan explained Minority Media’s approach is to lower the barrier to entry for operators looking to incorporate immersive, multiplayer VR experiences into their locations by having what he says is “the smallest footprint VR arenas in their class.” He added that the well-known Transformers brand, highlighted in the location’s marketing, helps “draw crowds of players in their local markets.”
“We are so happy with our relationship with Autobahn,” noted Zaidan. “They were early adopters of our products and they have really benefited by staying ahead of the curve when it comes to operating a VR attraction. We can’t wait to see the impact the Transformers VR games have on their guests and their business.”
Andre Lawless is the CMO and One-Man Marketing Army at Lawless Marketing, a consulting business focused on location-based entertainment and disruptive technology. He has more than 20 years of experience with a decade in out-of-home amusement. Lawless led marketing for Ecast downloading jukeboxes and Buzztime’s networked trivia game platform and recently has executed integrated marketing for VR companies Zero Latency, Minority Media, SPREE Interactive and Entermission. He’s also worked with cashless payment companies PayRange and Tigapo. Andre has directly consulted and executed upon launch marketing plans for numerous LBE businesses and is happy to talk about how to help you reopen in a meaningful way. You can reach him at [email protected].