They say when America sneezes, the world catches a cold. The latest gaming initiative in Los Angeles serves as a good example. Just twelve weeks after its initial opening, Los Angeles’ ground-breaking TwoBit Circus has been inundated with customer traffic – with founder Brent Bushnell fixing his sights on national expansion, and a different way of bringing gaming to the floor.
It’s been just three months since the opening of TwoBit Circus, a new “micro amusement park” in Downtown Los Angeles, but already the company envisions expansion throughout the United States – armed with a business model that may tear up the rulebook of the FEC.
Inhabiting 50,000 square-feet of steampunk, circus-themed reclaimed warehouse space in the city’s resurgent Art’s District, TwoBit Circus really does have to be seen to be believed. With curated amusements, custom-built arcade installations,a host of virtual reality suites and bespoke experiences, a trendy bar and restaurant, and even a couple of escape rooms – the place could well serve as a temple to the very concept of destination entertainment and adult play in 2018.
The brainchild of entrepreneur and tech engineer – and former clown – Brent Bushnell and his “mad inventor” business partner Eric Gradman, the TwoBit brand debuted back in days when the pair saw themselves and their buddies as“kind of a drinking club with an art problem.”
“We were frustrated with people on their phones and social media and not out in public,so we started making a bunch of fun tech experiences for public installations on behalf of brands like Warner Bros,” Bushnell told us.“We were building them,and they were great,and then the event finished and on average,the stuff tended to go in the trash can. We felt like we needed a place for that stuff. So we thought – we’ll just make our own place.”
Of course,not everyone is able to mock up their own interactive experience – and if Bushnell’s explanation reads like a modest admission to business and tech wizardry, well, it runs in the family. His father Nolan founded Atari and then,later,household FEC chain Chuck E Cheese’s.
And just as his dad laid some of the groundwork for what we’ve come to understand as the provision of modern-day amusement, Brent isn’t afraid of reinventing the wheel: for what makes TwoBit truly different is that it boasts gaming experiences custom- made by developers specifically for its location.
“Developing a game for console takes years as developers are trying to create hundreds of hours of content, but for a public setting, we really only need five or ten minutes,” he said. “So we approached developers and said – ‘Hey guys, we want to make this easier for you…cut stuff out, give us one level with fewer menus and in return we’ll give you a brand new revenue stream and a big ad.’And they were really, really receptive to that.”
The results have been a host of simple titles housed in custom-built (sometimes towering) environments on theTwoBit game floor, in what is possibly the operator’s most exciting feature.
So what’s been the public response for this DIY take on amusement?
“We’ve been mobbed,” laughed Bushnell. “We’re seeing a thousand people every Saturday, we’re having to turn away corporate buyouts and we’re averaging two and a half party events every day for the month of December – it’s just a mob-scene.”
Which brings us to the forward-looking picture, and a TwoBit business model that has been designed, so Bushnell claims, for “tons of cities” in the coming years.
Indeed,it’s no coincidence that the park’s floorplate mirrors the average square-footage of closing US high street brands like Sears and Macy’s -TwoBit envisions in-person experiential providers such as itself as playing a pivotal part in the changing makeup of the retail economy.
“Retail isn’t going away – retail is changing to things that require your body,”Bushnell stated.“You can order any object on Amazon, but you can’t phone in a session at the gym,or shake your buddy’s hand. So for me the retail concept of the future is some bars, some restaurants, some hipster coffee,a juice bar, a SoulCycle, a We-Work and yeah – a TwoBit.”