15 Top Insights from Brent Bushnell and Two Bit Circus
As you probably know, I have a webinar series called Deep Dives, where I interview leading voices in the location-based VR industry. Last week, I had the sincere pleasure of interviewing Brent Bushnell, co-founder and CEO of Two Bit Circus. Brent is the son of arcade legend Nolan Bushnell, who founded both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s among other entrepreneurial ventures. Nolan has a slew of kids, and most of them were involved in the amusement industry in one way or another, at one time in their lives.
I reconnected with Brent at an entrepreneur meeting at UCLA about 6-years ago. He was a keynote speaker and was pre-announcing his Kickstarter, where they raised over $100K reselling tickets for the first STEAM Carnival. They held two of these “pop-up” events in SF and LA over the next couple of years. The immense effort combined with the incredible response, more than 30,000 people each weekend, convinced them to open a permanent location.
Two-Bit Circus opened last summer, billed as the world’s first “Micro-Amusement Park.” It’s got a lot of VR, some old school carnival games with new technology twists, a robot bartender, a couple of “Story Rooms” (escape rooms heavy on storytelling), and a 100-seat interactive theater with touchscreens inspired by Brent and Nolan’s uWink restaurant concept.
This was probably my favorite webinar so far, not just because Brent is one of my favorite people, but because their business is so damn fascinating. They’re creating what could be the next generation of entertainment centers.
There were a couple of takeaways I wanted to call out and I invite you to watch the replay at your leisure here.
- Two Bit Circus created an education foundation to promote its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum. You can download tools to put together your own STEAM programs, camps, and parties from the foundation website at http://twobitcircus.org.
- Two Bit Circus works hard to optimize dayparts. They host birthday parties, corporate events, STEAM camps, and casual weekend business. Without all of those revenue pillars, it’s hard to make money.
- They call it a “Micro-Amusement Park.” They market FUN, not technology. Even though tech is central to who they are, they intentionally stay away from it in their branding and marketing.
- They’ve been a bit schizophrenic trying to decide, “Should we market the concept or the attraction?” They’ve been doing both. They run competitions, events, advertise their Story (escape) Rooms, and even have wine tasting trivia games. You need to promote the concept AND the attractions.
- They opened without enough stuff for everyone to do. They got caught up in making sure everything was unique, which meant they needed to build almost all of it. Now they’re mixing in more mainstream VR attractions like Hologate and VRsenal’s Beat Saber. Most FEC’s don’t do anything unique. They buy what’s popular on the market. Finding that balance between different and popular is the key to success. There’s so much new VR on the market that you can find unique things if you look hard enough. Or email me and I can help.
- “I said to my old roommate from college”, commented Brent, “I was like, dude, everybody’s talking about VR. And he said, no, you’re talking about VR. I realized, okay, we’re in our own little bubble.” You’re in a bubble if you’re in the VR business. Nobody cares about VR. And if you’re marketing VR, you’re only going to attract the 5% of the market that gives a shit about it.
- ”Social VR is awesome,” exclaimed Brent. “We’ve got two and four-player stuff, which sells way more than the single-player stuff. People love social, and that’s important. It can be social, even though I don’t see you in real life. Seeing your avatar and knowing your mannerisms and being able to hear your voice in my ear, that’s social.”
- Multiplayer VR is where it’s at. And make sure that people’s backs aren’t to their friends when they’re playing. There’s a lot of that going on. If I don’t see you, it’s less social.
- They recently replaced Beat Saber running in a couple of standard room-scale Vive setups, with VRsenal’s unattended cabinets, and he said it’s doing “gangbusters.”
- Skill-based games drive more replay, where story-based games need to be updated more frequently.
- Food and beverage are super important. They recently got rid of a chef and hired a F&B consultant, and are seeing great results.
- They were worried about alcohol and VR, but are super careful about selecting games that don’t create motion sickness and have had no problems.
- When asked about augmented reality, Brent said, “We’ve seen people resistant in general to using their phones for experiences. And it’s wild. It’s this paradox. You’ve got the phone, and you stare at it 11 hours a day using it constantly. Yet in public, for me to say, ‘Hey, download an app and you’re going to get all this fancy stuff you can do”, people are like, ‘Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. What are you installing on my phone?’
- On his demographic: “My big terror was that we were going to get the gamer nerds and nobody else. Friday night, this place looks like a Hollywood club, except instead of dancing, people are playing games. They’re coming dressed up on dates, big groups, bachelorette parties, whatever.”
- Two Bit Circus has priced their attractions between 7 to 15 dollars each per person. When I have been there, I was shocked at how high the average spend was. Brent would not comment but said it’d exceeded their expectations. I have repeatedly said people will pay top dollar for incredible experiences. And VR creates fantastic experiences. You are probably leaving money on the table.
To watch the whole interview, click here: https://youtu.be/ogFUCpXQc2k
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