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First Impressions

This is a customer service cautionary tale more so than my typical kind of review, so I won’t be naming any names or posting pics. In fact I held this for awhile before deciding it was worth posting.

A new laser tag arena has opened up near me and you may be surprised to hear me say this, but...I'm not exactly in love with it. I'll just tell you why I had a less than favorable first impression and I'll try to make this a constructive criticism because I really do want all laser tag to thrive.

I had showed up at this new FEC several weeks ago only to find that, although the rest of the business was open, the laser tag arena had not yet been cleared to open for players. Sigh, but OK, I understand that delays happen and the manager told me they should be ready to go in two days. And yet, by the following weekend (when I called ahead rather than just showing up again) I was told there was still no tag open. That was a few weeks ago, so when I at last heard through the grapevine that their tag arena had finally opened I made plans to check it out.

There were two employees at the front counter when I walked up to purchase my game pass. Neither initiated a greeting. I had to start the conversation myself, which consisted of only four words from the employee..."ten dollars" and "sign here".

So that was my experience before even getting into the arena. And as for the arena itself? Well, I'll start with a positive...they do have a pretty arena. It's obviously a CW design with a few elements I don't recall seeing before.

However, it is rather unbalanced with the green base on an upper level (there is only half of a second level as the ramps take you to an upper deck that only runs along one side of the arena) and the blue base in the center with the red base on the lower right side.

I walked into the briefing room alongside a family group of five that included a couple of younger kids. A proper division of this group of six players would have been two teams of three and I would have tried to be helpful to the little ones as this appeared to be their first laser tag experience. The two game masters played the introductory briefing video. Then the two employees had some discussion between themselves. One employee said that he'd already played a few games in a row so the other could play again this time. Ok...

So one of the employees (we'll call him Karm...maybe short for Karma) announced that we would be divided into two teams (so far so good) and he would also play as his own one player solo team against all of the rest of us...sigh. THAT is where Karm made a big mistake! This is a new business (and a very corporate FEC at that) and while I have no problem at all with employees stepping in to fill out or balance a game as needed I think it is a HUGE mistake to let them feed their own ego by playing hard or going solo against the paying general public while they are there on the clock. I've seen this happen all too often (usually at locally owned establishments that are a bit more lax), but that's no excuse to start out with this poor practice. Usually I find that it's the corporate FECs that tend to be more stringent with their policies about this.

There was no reason for him to play at all, let alone as a separate solo team of one, and especially not against presumably inexperienced players (hey, he doesn't know me from Adam...he probably figured we were all fish in a barrel). Whenever this scenario is set up it means that the one solo player has ALL the targets available for tagging for the most potential points while the players on the other teams have significantly less targets, meaning inevitably less potential points from the start. It messes with the fairness of the game as the odds heavily favor the one solo player taking the top score if they are even moderately skilled. It's mildly annoying when it's a customer doing it, but totally unacceptable for an employee to pull that move in a public game.

Please understand that I'm not saying this with any concern for my own score. My goal this game changed when I heard what he had in mind and instead I decided to settle it like a laser tag vigilante! Rather, I say this because a new laser tag business will simply not be well served by this practice continuing. This place is less than eight miles from an established tag site operating with the very same tag system so customers do have other choices and most will not pay a premium per game just to have new staff members try to farm points on them. The staff should be there to make sure customers have a safe and enjoyable experience, not just to play free tag for meaningless bragging rights.

Well, since that's how they decided to separate the teams, I decided if this guy was going to act all "Cody" in this game that it was now ok for me to play harder than I intended and be a bit more renegade. Please understand I did NOT make a point of going after the other team unless they happened to land right in my path. Instead I focused all of my attention on keeping this guy's pack down for as much of the game as possible. That's the only way to counter the one man solo team approach. I took my bases and made sure I had the points. I also accomplished a bit of my earlier goal by helping the young ones to at least get a team victory. And in the end I feel like I settled the game in the appropriate way…yes, I beat his solo score.

So now here's the constructive part of my criticism. This is a perfectly easy thing for a business to fix. With a new business especially it's important to start out with clear employee expectations. I am not a fan of the blanket rule that some corporate centers impose saying employees can never play in public games. That can be equally counterproductive if you have someone (like me) show up at an off-hour and want to play when there is nobody else around. And sometimes you really do need a more experienced player to add proper balance and an employee might fill that need perfectly. There are sometimes appropriate situations for this. These things happen often enough and at those times it is perfectly reasonable for a staff member to participate because they are making sure that you walk away as a happy customer. And in those instances I really WANT the employees to play well and give me a challenge. But when there is a group of paid customers ready to go and the game is not in need of any extra balancing then the employee (guided by a best practices policy from the management) should know enough (i.e. just have some good common sense) to not insert himself into the game unnecessarily. Come back and get good at the game on your own time, not your employer's and not the customer's. That's my two cents on that matter. And for the record, with this as my initial reaction to this site I decided to exercise my consumer’s choice to leave after that one game and did in fact go eight miles down the road to play elsewhere for the remainder of the evening. So, while I'm always happy to play in a new arena, I hope this account provides food for thought because you really only get one chance to make a first impression.

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