“To Be or Not to Be Social” by Jim Kessler


This is NOT the right question. In fact, being social is NOT an option for out-of-home (OOH) entertainment venues. That’s what we do!

In the short-term, “social” is going to be a challenge. However, if we create high-quality, social experiences that are dramatically better, habit-forming, addictive and unique to our venue, then OOH social will be a key long-term strength. This is not a new message coming from me, it simply has new meaning and intensity.

Socializing with other human beings is a deeply embedded need that drives the majority of people to seek opportunities to bond with family, friends and other humans. If we successfully satisfy this need, we will help our guests live longer and happier lives. And yes, their longer, happier lives are of mutual benefit to all of us.

Controlling the Uncontrollable: Human Nature

Before I continue, I’m going to get real for a bit. The idea that there is going to be a new normal (i.e. social distancing, everyone washing their hands for 27.3 seconds, wearing masks, etc.) flies in the face of how we handle many existing human threats that cause hundreds of thousands of deaths annually –– not to mention ongoing medical costs –– in the United States. 

Why do the government, media and the general public ignore, for the most part, the very real dangers of using or consuming tobacco, alcohol, sugar, unhealthy foods, vaping, legal and illegal drugs, motorized vehicles, etc. Why do we do so especially when all of these cause a huge number of preventable deaths annually and the vast majority of society’s medical costs?   

I think it’s because of human nature. People are either unaware of the risks, accept the risks, blame something or someone else for these issues, think they are the exception, or place their hope in the medical community that they’ll find a fix before it’s too late for them.

 But wait, don’t you think we should do whatever it takes to save as many lives as possible? Of course I do, but at what cost? Do we give up the choice to live our lives as social human beings?  Do we no longer leave our homes and go hang out with our friends and family? 

I don’t think so. I believe the new norm will be what the old norm was, and it has to be. Otherwise, we in the out-of-home entertainment industry – where social is what it’s all about – will be out of business!  

Important note: Sooner or later (hopefully sooner), someone in a lab or in the medical community will figure out a way to eliminate or dramatically lower the health risks of the COVID-19 virus, which will enable humans to continue to socialize.

With the above being said, let’s focus on what we can control, especially when it comes to our OOH entertainment venues.

Obsessively Focusing on Threats Limits Our Ability to SEE the Opportunities

The human brain has evolved to compulsively narrow our attention on identifying the threats to our survival whether they are real or imagined. Right now, our brains are obsessed with the threats created by the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of obsessively thinking about these challenges, we must figure out the best solutions to overcome them.

Most importantly, we have to look for the opportunities hidden inside each obstacle. We have to figure out how to turn these obstacles into opportunities to raise the bar on the quality of the entertainment and social experiences we offer.

When the COVID-19 crisis subsides and we finally get to reopen our centers, we will be entering a new and unknown reality. The one thing we can count on is that the bar for our continued success will be raised to a much higher level. Unfortunately, we don’t know how high the bar needs to go and it’s likely to be a moving target.

We have to understand that the vast majority of our target market is often unable to recognize the differences that we believe set our venue apart from our competitors. In fact, we probably have to be at least 100% better for our guests and prospective guests to even notice what makes us unique and dramatically better.

If getting people to leave their homes is going to be a bigger challenge, what are we going to do to get them to choose our venue over all the other OOH options? 

While this crisis continues to grind on, we have to remain calm (or at least as calm as possible).  We have to use the time we have to think, plan and take action to improve our chances for success. Calm doesn’t mean standing still or simply waiting for the crisis to end. We have to proactively develop and implement new action plans that create dramatically better and truly differentiated attraction and service experiences that are unique, habit-forming, addictive and, if possible, proprietary to our venues.

“Change or Die” Needs to Be Updated 

Instead of “Change or Die,” maybe it should be, “Dramatically Improve and Differentiate, or Die.”

We have to provide our guests with truly unique attraction and service experiences that help us increase repeat visitation from approximately two visits per year to 12 or more per year. Yes, 12 or more visits per year is a crazy goal, but in times of crisis dramatic improvement has to be the goal.

Going forward, we have to more deeply understand what types of improvements are going to make the most dramatic impact on the success of our out-of-home entertainment venues.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about. In 2017, Adam Alter published a book called Irresistible. In it, he identified six key ingredients that were necessary to enable a game or experience to become addictive or, more specifically, behaviorally addictive.

Behavioral addiction consists of six ingredients:

  1. Compelling goals that are just beyond reach
  2. Irresistible and unpredictable positive feedback
  3. A sense of incremental progress and improvement
  4. Tasks that become slowly more difficult over time
  5. Unresolved tensions that demand resolution
  6. Strong social connections

Knowing the key ingredients doesn’t guarantee that we can create a habit-forming game or experience. However, if we are able to successfully create a behavioral addiction, it’s a given that most if not all of the keys are present.

Ultimately, we all have to do the hard work of learning more about what is involved with creating and operating attraction and service experiences that are capable of becoming habit-forming.

The days of ordering new games, attractions and services and just putting them out on the floor, or wedging them into the space we have, has long been over. Now, it’s really over.

The best attraction and service experiences for our guests are not going to be as easy to operate as we would like. Execution is a critical part of the operating process, and it’s really hard to do at a high level.  If we as operators are willing and able to rise to the challenge and go above and beyond what is currently being done, we will significantly separate ourselves from the competition.

Survival of the Most Adaptable

While not talked about publicly, there has been an increase in the number of OOH entertainment facilities going out of business. The COVID-19 crisis is going to significantly accelerate the number of closures.

In fact, there are likely to be several well-known OOH venues that either don’t survive or are forced to close a large number of their low-margin and unprofitable centers. This decline in the number of centers could prove to be an opportunity for the venues that figure out the best ways to substantially differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

None of this is going to be easy. To succeed, operators, manufacturers and suppliers will need to work together to create new, habit-forming and dramatically better attraction and service experiences.

Thanks for reading! And thanks to Amigo Ben Jones for his editorial review and insights!

Jim Kessler, Founder/CEO, LASERTRON

407-905-2843; [email protected]; www.lasertron.us; www.laser-tron.com


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