Video gaming in Vegas (part 1)

April 29th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on April 17, 2013

If you grew up in Las Vegas, chances are you may recognize such names as Mary K’s, Ted, Ned, & Freds, Star-Cade, Pinball Palace and Jeanie Moore’s Arcade. During the heyday of the scene in the early 1980s, dozens of arcades were located all across the valley, and wherever there wasn’t an arcade nearby, there was a Poe’s Pizza or some other seedy establishment with a handful of cabinets sitting in the back just waiting to be played.

Casinos, of course, also had their own arcades, but aside from the rare exception, most of those were afterthoughts, meant to keep the kids busy while mom and dad whiled away the day on the slot machines.

These days, finding a local arcade is much harder, but luckily, Las Vegas has had a bit of a resurgence over the last few years. Here are some of the standouts.

GEMINI ARCADE PALACE

First, a suggestion. Visit Gemini this weekend.

The family-owned arcade has been a rhythm gamers’ mainstay for three years, featuring rarities such as the taiko drum game Taiko no Tatsujin, Sega’s quirky light-based Flashbeats and multiple iterations of DJ simulator Beatmania IIDX and Dance Dance Revolution.

But hurry — the arcade will shut down on Monday, April 22.

All is not lost for Bemani fans, however. While Gemini has chosen not to renew its lease at Sandhill Square, word from proprietor Juli is that they will reopen in a new location sometime in the future.

And a heads up to Gemini: The former home of the venerable Jeanie Moore’s Arcade and Mary K’s, smack in the middle of Commercial Center, is vacant. There’s a long-standing tradition of arcade history in that suite, ya know.

4180 S. Sandhill Road

PINBALL HALL OF FAME

Some arcades you wander into after dropping off the dry cleaning. Others are the kind vacations are planned around. Tim Arnold’s Pinball Hall of Fame is one of the latter.

After a successful stint running Pinball Pete’s in East Lansing, Michigan, Arnold packed up his extensive Gottlieb pinball collection and made his way to the warmer climate of Las Vegas. He would occasionally hold charity events called Fun Nights, where he’d open the doors of his warehouse and allow in-the-know members of the public to experience and play his historic collection of machines.

In 2006, Tim and the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club secured a spot in a Tropicana strip mall, moved in the machines, and opened the doors daily. Three years and the purchase of a building later, the Pinball Hall of Fame settled into its current location.

By far the largest arcade in Las Vegas, PHoF has a playable showcase of more than 200 machines, featuring everything from electromechanical parlor games to modern pinball and arcade cabinets.

1610 E. Tropicana Blvd.

INSERT COIN(S)

Opening two years ago this week, Chris Laporte’s Insert Coin(s) is the most visually impressive arcade in the city, if not the country. Billing itself as a videolounge gamebar and drawing inspiration from both arcade nostalgia and the Las Vegas club scene, Insert Coin(s)’ event lineups feature everything from video-game tournaments to performances by a rotating stable of resident and guest DJs.

Aside from an impressive list of arcade cabinets (with games priced at 50 cents a pop), Insert Coin(s) also offers access to the newest console titles along the expansive lit bartop. If you’re club-minded, head to the row of high backed couches and consoles against the wall, where bottle service is offered alongside the arcade quality fightsticks and Super Nintendos.

512 Fremont St.

HI SCORES

Take the concept of Insert Coin(s), add a dash of PT’s, throw in one of the best craft beer selections in town and you’ve got Hi Scores. Nestled against the less gamey and more cocktail-focused Player’s Club (both owned by Incredible Technologies founder Richard Ditton), Hi Scores features a casual atmosphere and a solid assortment of entirely free-to-play arcade and pinball machines, including Namco’s elusive Pac-Man Battle Royale, a simultaneous four-player take on the arcade classic.

Last I heard, Hi Scores was doing so well that Ditton and his team plan to open several new locations across the Las Vegas valley.

A heads up to Ditton: Have I mentioned that there’s a Vegas-historic arcade space available in Commercial Center?

65 S. Stephanie St.

Downtown Project’s new downtown project

April 17th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on April 3, 2013

Downtown Project has announced that they are in the process of purchasing one hundred Tesla Model S electric vehicles to be used as part of Project 100, a private transportation and ride-share system that aims to reduce area residents’ need for vehicle ownership within our very car dependent city.

What they don’t say is that the range will be restricted to Fremont Street, with Las Vegas Blvd on the west on 7th Street on the east. Basically, picture a merry-go-round of Teslas, powered by serendipity and slowly circling Downtown HQ, stopping occasionally to let passengers off once they’ve reached their destination across the street.

I kid, I kid.

Interestingly, the story was actually broken by Business Insider a couple weeks ago during South by Southwest, but the potentially thunder-stealing news was initially denied (with Tony Hseih replying that he hadn’t actually purchased 100 Teslas, as the deal had yet to be inked), allowing Downtown Project to finally push the news through their own channels this week.

This is big news. First, the purchase will be largest ever order of Teslas by the single entity, so congratulations to Zack Ware of Downtown Project and Elon Musk and crew at Tesla Motors for making the sale. Second, if you live downtown and have the estimated $400/month to plonk down, there’s a chance you may find yourself driving (or riding in) one before the year is out.

So this is how it’ll work. Once you’re a member of the service, powered by VegasTechFund beneficiary Local Motion (the same team that runs transportation across Google’s sprawling Mountain View campus), you’ll be able to launch the app on your phone and be given multiple options, depending on both your location and transportation needs. Alongside the Teslas (both with and without a provided driver), other vehicles will be offered, including shuttle buses for pick up services and even bicycles for door to door travel.

The aim of Project 100 is to serve as a complete replacement for car ownership, providing (nearly) immediate access to (fancy) transportation without the planning and mixed availability often seen with typical car sharing programs. To meet this goal, Project 100 will launch with “100+ on-demand drivers, 100+ shared cars, 100+ shared bikes, and 100+ shared shuttle bus stops,” all within the same monthly membership program. That’s a slew of 100s, and those numbers will only grow if the project is successful.

The initial plan calls for what they call a “hub and spoke” system, with most of the vehicles based around a high traffic hub (like say, Fremont Street), aided by spoke locations throughout downtown and other areas as the service grows.

As a born and raised Las Vegan, I’ll admit, the thought of not owning a car is the sort of fear that strikes deep into one’s soul. But hell, I’m excited, and if Project 100 can successfully pull this off, along with perhaps introducing more reasonably priced tiers for the less demanding (and less cash flushed) residents of downtown, this could bring our big spread out town just a little bit closer together.

Question for the class:

  1. Where will all these vehicles live?
  2. How will the downtown parking landscape change as a result? Once Project 100 launches, will it be easier or more difficult for existing car owners to find a parking space downtown?

  3. How will the infrastructure be handled? Will private electric car owners be able to refuel at the same stations as those used by Project 100?

  4. When can I drive a Tesla?

#Vegastech goes big at SXSW

April 15th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on March 20, 2013

South by Southwest is a film, interactive, and music festival held annually in Austin, Texas. Last week, in an effort led by Gabe Shepherd (who will also be helping build the inaugural SXSW V2V conference taking place locally this summer, but more on that later), over 120 local members of the tech community made the trip out to Texas with a singular goal: to promote Las Vegas as the place to create and grow your next startup.

I spoke with Dylan Bathurst, founder of Rumgr and Used Gear Sale, and organizer of local community events Vegas Jelly and Startup Weekend about both his experience at the conference and the evolution of the Las Vegas tech scene.

What was the reaction of the SXSW crowd to the local push? What do you expect to come of it?

I think the reaction was pretty incredible. Vegastech was trending globally on twitter, and the cocktail hour and other parties were completely overbooked the whole time. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a #vegastech t-shirt of poster. It was awesome!

Since this was the first time doing something like this, I didn’t really set any expectations. Like any first time venture you just have to go big and put yourself out there, see what went well, what didn’t, and what you can do next time. I think Gabe and the Vegastech SXSW crew gave us as startups an incredible stage to experiment with and I think each of us came away with some great lessons learned.

What stood out in particular?

…the tradeshow booth. Each startup had a section of the booth to make their own and pitch their company from. It was a way for the founders of the company to be able to talk to people one-on-one for three days straight. We received a lot of feedback from passers by in that time, and some, like Rolltech, even got featured in a VentureBeat SXSW video contest.

As you mentioned, #Vegastech was the number one trending topic for a while there during SXSW. How did you all pull that off?

Focus. Gabe and his crew weren’t down there just kicking back and letting everything they worked for the whole year before SXSW go down. They were all over downtown talking to people, tweeting, retweeting, setting up, tearing down, and just hustling in general. It was definitely their effort that made everything go as well as it did.

On DTLV as tech accelerator

Robot builder Romotive’s announcement that they are pulling up stakes and heading to San Francisco is being pushed as proof that downtown Las Vegas can function well as a tech accelerator. Does Las Vegas have the resources to support such an environment, where folks come to town, capture local talent and investment, and then move to more mature tech communities like the Bay Area once they are grounded?

Is brain drain a concern, where we’ll end up losing talented developers faster than we can rope them in?

Not trying to self promote but I wrote an article about this exact issue.

The gist is that having successful and growing companies come out of Las Vegas is a win. Maybe not at face value, but it is. It gives us credibility as a legit accelerator city with a great culture that fosters crazy ideas like cellphone powered robots.

In Romotive’s case, I think only one or two of their 20+ people are actually from Vegas. Most were attracted here from around the US. That’s awesome! As far as capturing local investment, if Romotive and others get investment and then leave to go to SF or somewhere else where they think they can be more successful, that’s great. When they are successful, and their investors get 10x their initial investment, a lot comes right back here. 

So from your view, what does the downtown Las Vegas tech scene look like in 2013?

I think our tech scene is getting smarter.

By that I mean that 2011 and 2012 was where a bunch of startups rose and fell learning that you can spend all your time building a cool product and it doesn’t matter if nobody wants or uses it. We’ve all been learning what it takes to start a startup and have come together in different ways to help each other learn faster. “A rising tide raises all ships.” I think as the Vegas Tech Fund funds more and more awesome companies in 2013 for their ROC (Return on community) as well as ROI, and that knowledge is shared among the rest of the community, we all benefit and get smarter. 

Let’s talk about Dylan.

Used Gear Sale, your newest project, is now live. How did your experience building and launching Rumgr affect the path you took getting Used Gear Sale up and running? Did you do anything different this time around?

It took us three months to get Rumgr live, and another 9 months to learn some valuable lessons. UGS took us 1 week to bring live and 1 month to learn even more valuable lessons. We did everything differently. We’re still not done learning, and still not done changing. You just have to keep going.

Two efforts you helped found, Vegas Jelly and Startup Weekend, have been instrumental in facilitating and bringing together the local tech community. What’re your suggestions for folks that are eyeing Las Vegas, or those that simply want to get involved?

I really like the way Brad Feld puts it in his book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

If people come asking how they can get involved, give them a task to do. If they do it, they’ll become part of the community and thrive. If they don’t do it, they didn’t really want to get involved in the first place. We saw that over and over again at the Jelly.

My suggestion for people that want to get involved is to get a lay of the land first. Find the other people that are doing things. See how you can help. Really execute on that, and then you’ll find your niche in the VegasTech community with other folks. It has to be a “give before you get” type of community. So embrace that and everything will be awesome.