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Games2U brings the entertainment to the people

June 26, 2008 by Trey June, SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Laser tag, video games travel by truck and trailer to people who want to play

The Games2U trucks and trailers are impossible to miss. Adorned with colorful video game imagery on all sides, they draw attention to themselves whether parked on the curb or driving down the highway at 60 mph.

Packed into the eye-catching truck/trailer combos are two of the most popular forms of kids’ entertainment: video games and laser tag. It is, as company co-founder and Austin native David Pikoff calls it, "business in a box," and Games2U brings the box directly to its customers.

Each 32-foot Games2U trailer, or "theater," houses six 50-inch high definition TVs and connected video game consoles. Four TVs on the inside of the theaters support both Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, and two TVs mounted on the outside support the more motion-intensive Nintendo Wii consoles. All the most popular games for all three consoles are available. The indoor systems can be linked, allowing up to 16 players seated side-by-side, all playing the same game together. Cushioned seats and central heating and air conditioning provide comfort, and it all runs on a 12-kilowatt generator that operates for 12 hours on a full tank.

For laser tag, Games2U uses inflatable bunkers and programmable guns. The bunkers, which vary in shape and range in size from small-as-a-couch to large-as-a-sports-car, can be fully inflated in less than two minutes and propped up virtually anywhere, turning any yard or field into an instant laser tag course. The guns, which can be used in daylight and have a range of 300 feet, are connected to electronic nodes that are Velcro-attached to the player’s headband and are programmed with "lives" that count down every time the node registers a hit. When the final life is expended, the gun emits a dramatic death sound effect and the player must leave the field. This differs from indoor laser tag courses, which must be played in the dark, require cumbersome vests attached to guns with a much shorter 100-foot range, and are played for a fixed period without player ejections.

The company charges $199 for one hour, $299 for two hours, and $99 for every additional hour. A minimum two-hour booking is required for laser tag. For parties of 10 people or more, the prices are competitive with conventional laser tag venues.

If the atmosphere at an event is any indication, it is worth the cost. Eager children pile into and around the theaters to play the video games of their choice or line up outside for a round of laser tag.

Meanwhile, parents take the opportunity to sit back and relax.

"It’s something unique," says Amy Mader, who booked Games2U for her son’s school carnival after seeing them at a party. "You get more than what you pay for ... parents for peace of mind, children for fun."

Some units even have satellite TV capability, which lets parents watch their favorite shows while their kids have fun. It also makes Games2U a viable option for tailgate parties.

Games2U LLC is a startup company founded by David and Stuart Pikoff, two brothers who had long wanted to go into business together on their own. "We wanted to do something fun, something light-hearted ... and we started looking at kids’ entertainment," says David, 41."

To test the concept, the Pikoffs recruited Joe Connors, an Austin businessman and longtime friend, to run the first franchise. Connors took the trucks to the road Jan. 1, and business has grown rapidly since then through referrals.

Since opening the business to franchisees in March, Games2U owners have sold four franchises in Austin (three to Connors). After attending an April trade show in Washington, D.C., five more franchises are committed across Texas along with two more in Florida and another in California. These newer franchises will do away with the truck/trailer combinations in favor of a single vehicle design that will be cheaper to purchase, easier to drive and get better gas mileage.

Meanwhile, Connors is content running Games2U from Austin. "We are the fun guys," Connors says. "When we show up, the party starts. ... Everyone is happy. And that, to me, is the best part of what I do."

To contact Games2U: (800) 959-0811, www.g2u.com