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Gaming van brings entertainment to Central Texas residents

August 28, 2009 by By Carl Hoover Tribune-Herald entertainment editor

Central Texas parents tired of kids spending indoor time to play video games now can get them out of the house — to play video games.

A mobile entertainment service called Games2U packs a specially designed extended van with Xbox and Wii video game consoles, up to 20 controllers, five high-definition screens, laser tag gear and even a 10-foot “hamster ball.”

The Austin-based company recently opened a Central Texas franchise, operated by cousins Kevin and Ed Tolbert, and aims to send its Games2U van to homes and venues in need of some gaming.

Alissa Murrey, 14, tries her hand at "Guitar Hero" during a recent Games2U stop at Waco's Best Buy. (Duane A. Laverty photo)

Kevin Tolbert, an Austin chief financial officer, and Ed Tolbert, a Waco engineer, handle Waco, Temple and Killeen areas for Games2U, and plan to make their Games2U van a familiar sight at local football games, festivals like Westfest, college parties and community events.

Games2U’s mobile units most frequently provide the entertainment for birthday parties — “Guys 5 to 18 are our sweet spot,” Kevin said — but they also have been used for school fundraisers, community functions, companies’ team building exercises, even wedding receptions. “They entertain the kids,” he explained about the latter. Dates are booked through the corporate Web site,

The Games2U vans have three indoor HDTV screens and two outside ones; inside air conditioning; a fog machine and laser light show capabilities; movable bunkers and gear for outdoor rounds of laser tag; a photo booth to snap take-home pictures of party-goers; and a giant hamster ball powered by a person inside.

Those renting Games2U’s services — the basic rate starts at $200 for a 90-minute session — pick from a list of games that includes “Halo 3,” “Guitar Hero,” “Madden NFL 2010” and “Tiger Woods PGA Tour ‘09.” Kevin noted they even offer parent-friendly versions of action games like Halo, with reduced bloodshed and less graphic violence.

Those wishing to play laser tag need to provide a space at least 20 yards by 15 yards, but the franchisee said some renters stage games at nearby neighborhood parks.

Though setting up a new business venture during a recession might seem like a gamble, Kevin said he has two factors working in their favor. “Everybody loves video games . . . and people spend money on their children regardless of the recession,” he said.

Playing games

August 25, 2009 by Claire Taylor, The Daily Advertiser

Tired of skating rinks, bowling alleys, pizza parlors and burger joints as venues for birthday parties?

Well, there's a new option in town that will take the party -- complete with video games, human hamster balls and laser tag -- to your house, the park, a school, anywhere you want.

It's called Games2U and it features a mobile video game theater that can drive up to your house and entertain up to 20 children at a time, franchise owner Bill Johnson of Lafayette said.

"I pull up in their driveway and, in five minutes, we're playing. That's it," he said.

Johnson's mobile theater is a tricked-out van, air conditioned and darkened, with laser lights, fog and state-of-the-art sound, containing a bank of video games where up to 12 youngsters at a time can play Wii, Guitar Hero, Madden, Halo and X-Box.

A panel on the outside of the van opens up to reveal two more large video screens to accommodate additional players, plus a photo booth where party-goers can have their picture taken with various backgrounds to take home with them as a party favor.

A couple of blasts from a candy cannon is entertaining, provides treats and ensures nobody ends up on America's Funniest Videos being whacked by a kid trying to crack open a pinata.

"That way the mothers don't have to go out and buy all that junk," he said.

If the partiers want to get a little more active, Johnson's got a couple of options for them.

The first is laser tag, complete with bunkers, that he can set up in a yard and accommodate up to 20 players at a time.

"The latest and most fun" activity, though, is two human hamster balls. The inflatable balls, eight feet in diameter, each contain another ball which allows a child to climb inside and roll around. Johnson introduced the human hamster balls at the Games of Acadiana recently in Lafayette.

"The kids are loving it. It's a whole new experience for them," he said.

With all three options -- the mobile video van, laser tag and hamster balls -- Johnson said Games2U can entertain up to 50 children at a time. A basic one-hour party with one of the three games costs $199. A 90-minute party goes for $349.

Retired from the oilfield, Johnson read about Games2U and, the father of two decided it was a better option than bowling parties. He purchased a franchise and received his van on July 4.

"If I'm going to go back in business, it might as well be something fun," he said.

Wake UP News at 8 in Philadelphia Interviews Denise and Jim Shee

August 21, 2009 by WPSG (CW) Wake UP News at 8 in Philadelphia

Denise and Jim Sheehan leave Wake UP News at 8 in Philadelphia reporters speechless as they demonstrate all the latest games including Beetles Rockband as well as the air cannon and outdoor laser tag.

Thumbnail image for There's A New Game In Town

There's A New Game In Town

August 18, 2009 by By Christina Lent

The Games2U party truck could bring hamster balls, 4-D movies and laser tag to a party or event near you.

Kids Birthday Party Idea: Hire a Mobile Game Center

August 11, 2009 by By Jenni Miller, AOL PlaySavvy

Forget trying to book a clown or a petting zoo, Austin-based company Games2U drives the party right to your front door.

Birthday parties are always a stressful situation, from booking entertainment to cleaning up after its over. David and Stuart Pikoff, brothers from Austin, TX, might have a solution to end the -- hire a Games2U Mobile Video Game Theater and let your kids play video games or laser tag in a wild new mobile way.

"The Games2U video game theater pulls up in front of your house or at your event ready for play. The air-conditioned trucks have leather seats, flat screen TVs, lights, fog, sound systems for a multimedia experience. Kids can play inside the theater or on the screens that fold out on the outside of the truck," David Pikoff says.

This mobile game center drives right up to your front door. Voila, instant party.

In addition to video games, Games2U also offers other experiential, futuristic party fun -- like life-size hamster balls, human gyros, laser tag, air cannons and more."

Games2U costs roughly the same as a Chuck E. Cheese party -- starting at $199, and each unit has room for 12 to 16 kids, depending on which vehicle you choose.

Games2U, available in select locations nationwide, offer a variety of games on the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, and parents can limit which games are available based on ESRB ratings. Additionally, the units come with video coaches who are selected not only based on their knowledge of video games and technology but also how well they work with kids and parents.

Would you prefer a Games2U all-inclusive birthday party rather than an old-fashioned one?

Start Me Up! These Five Young Brands are Off to the Races

August 10, 2009 by by Kerry Pipes, FranchiseUpdate

Starting up a new company is risky business, even in a healthy economy. Despite the troubles and fears that have plagued the economy and business world in the past year, many new franchise concepts have hung out shingles, and others that were just barely off the ground are thriving today.

We talked with top executives from five "new" franchise concepts about where they came from and how they've made it work--amidst the challenges, and against the odds. Each is characterized by a unique, innovative product offering, and for some, a distinctive delivery approach. As you'll see, these entrepreneurs believe in their brands, and are not letting anything--especially the headlines--get in the way of their continued growth.
Game Time
About two years ago, David Pikoff and his brother, Stuart, began seriously talking about going into business together. They thought about buying a franchise, but couldn't find a concept they liked. "We're both fun guys, we love kids, and we love games," says Pikoff. "So we thought, 'Why not create our own game franchise?'"

The brothers' innovative idea was a mobile video game theater that brings the party to the customer. They dubbed the concept Games2U. Pikoff, the company's co-founder and CEO, says he's seen nothing else like it.

"People have to go to the Main Event or Dave & Buster's for games and recreation, and that, plus food and beverage, can be expensive," he says. "It's a lot less expensive to have the games come to you."

So they bought a couple of trucks and outfitted them with games--all kinds of platforms like Wii and PlayStation, and all kinds of games like Guitar Hero and Halo 2. And to top it all off, they also offered laser tag. "We ran the trucks ourselves for the first few months. It was a great experience for observing, learning, and thinking about how to develop and market the company," he says.

In March 2008, they sold those two trucks to their first franchisee and have been franchising ever since. As of this June, they had 36 franchises open and operating, and another 100 sold and in the process of launching. Pikoff says they handle all sales internally, but do have two deals with area developers in San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

Pikoff believes the concept is gaining traction for a number of reasons. First, he says, "Games2U allows parents to have their kids feel like a rock star for a day, at a very reasonable price." He also sees kids, games, and parties as being immune to recessions. "Parents are always going to have money available to make memories with their kids."

The biggest obstacle so far? Not surprisingly, financing. Pikoff says it's been tough for prospects to obtain the capital they need to become franchisees. "I'd say two out of every three prospects we have can't secure financing," he says, adding that he does the best he can to point them to the SBA and other funding resources.

To keep their momentum going, Games2U recently added a new, lower-cost franchise option. Until now, franchisees had to purchase either a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van or a truck with a trailer, which were then prepared inside and out to serve as rolling Games2U vehicles. This spring, the company launched it G3 party van option--a portable game room that allows franchisees to get on board for nearly half the cost ($85,000, compared with $150,000 and up).

"Our goal is to sell 300 franchises by the end of this year, and I think we can do it," says Pikoff. "We have a unique concept, a solid infrastructure, and a focus on support for the franchisees." Oh yes, and a universe of game-hungry kids.

Kansas City Fox 4 News Morning Show Interviews Patrick Maloney

August 10, 2009 by Fox 4 WDAF Kansas City News Morning Show

Kansas City Fox 4 News Morning Show Interviews Patrick Maloney and demonstrates Laser Tag and the Games2U party van.

News 10 This Morning Waco Interviews Kevin and Ed Tolbert

August 5, 2009 by KWTX Waco CBS 10

KWTX's News 10 This Morning interviews Games2U franchisees Kevin and Ed Tolbert for their morning segment, "The Buzz."

Fox Business News: Playing For a Living

July 24, 2009 by Fox Business News

Games2U Co-Founders David Pikoff and Stuart Pikoff on the company's national franchise that brings mobile video game and laser tag to your house for entertainment at kids' parties.

Mobile video arcade brings the party to revelers

July 6, 2009 by By David Morrill, Staff Writer, Contra Coast Times

When Mitch McKay was first approached about the idea of a mobile video game franchise from his friend, he didn't know what to think.

Aren't kids supposed to step outside and get some fresh air?

But then his business sense kicked it. The idea, Games2U, that his friend Robert Silverman approached him with made perfect sense.

"I realized that video games are the things kids love to do," McKay said. "But if we could combine other elements to the experience to make them engaged and healthy, then we could have something that is successful."

This duo's franchise based out of Concord is a Mercedes Sprinter Van that is equipped with three large screen TV's and an Xbox 360 system inside. Outside there are two screens and a Wii system. An electronic awning on the outside keeps players in the shade.

Initially Silverman thought of the possibility of doing a smoothie franchise, but he wasn't convinced it was the right opportunity. He wanted something completely unique.

"When we looked at franchises, we wanted a traditional brick and mortar type deal that would be low overhead and fairly simple to run," said Silverman, who is also an attorney in Walnut Creek. "When we saw the concept of bringing a unique child party right to their doorstep, it seemed like a great idea."

Not only does McKay and Silverman own the Concord franchise, but they have the rights to 30 to 35 other areas that they hope to sell and help expand to the entire Bay Area. The initial cost of running the franchise is about $150,000 to $175,000, which includes the van, operating capital and a $35,000 franchise fee.

There are also two other activities that allow kids to get some exercise.

One is a laser tag game where kids duck and shoot each other. Up to 20 can play at a time.

And the current favorite is not electronic at all. Most popular is a giant "hamster" ball that kids get into and get pushed around by their peers. Soon an adult size one will be available as well.

"Here we have this fantastic van that costs $100,000, and the thing kids talk about the most is this giant inflatable ball," McKay said.

During the summer, the van makes its ways to both birthday parties and summer camps.

In just four months of operation, more than 30 parties have been run, and 30 more are scheduled for this month.

The cost of a party can range from $229 to $429 depending on the length and how many events you choose. The most popular is the $379 package that lasts 90 minutes and includes two events.

The franchise does have some of the popular, yet more violent, games such as Halo available, but if it's to be played at the party, every parent must sign approval.

"The idea of being able to come out to us is great, because it's not something you are able to do everyday," said Samantha Arlen, program director with the YMCA. "I'm not sure if we would do it if it were just the games, but the variation of what they have to offer is great."

In the fall, McKay and Silverman plan to shift their attention to the adults and offer business builder events and company offices.