I think Dave and Busters is Terrible, and Here’s Why
This is admittedly a rant, but that’s rarely stopped people before. See here’s the thing. I think Dave and Busters sucks, and I’d like to discuss why.
It sucks for the same reasons it should excel – targeting unique, perhaps under-served demographic niches with an arcade restaurant combo – a classed up arcade, if you will. In failing, however, to understand and isolate the focus of the “guest experience” for each of those respective demographic niches, the blanket experience served to all guests becomes a sub-par amalgam of poorly blended components.
At its most basic, Dave and Busters purports to be a Restaurant, Bar, and Arcade. The focus of this article will primarily surround the arcade, and the restaurant / bar amenities within. At my local Dave and Busters (and I would presume, others), there exist 2 eateries. One that sits 75 feet outside the arcade, and one centered inside the arcade itself. Similarly, a Dave and Busters bar sits about 25 feet from the arcade entrance, and a bar area exists inside the gaming area as well. For the restaurant and bar located outside the arcade, I have only generally good things to say. The restaurant food is quite good, and though perhaps priced 15% higher than one might expect – not an unreasonable or bad deal. The exterior bar I’ve not tried myself, but all indications from a quick walk past look good – reasonable number of adults at the bar, with all the appearances of enjoying their drinks, their company, and the sports game on the television. Important to note as well, is the pool table / table shuffleboard area located outside the arcade – playable by the hour, and if memory serves correctly – accessible for parties that wish to rent it out. Though my interaction there has been minimal (a few hours sunk into the table shuffleboard at most), the overall experience was certainly a positive one.
So ultimately the real trouble begins not with the exterior restaurant, not with the standalone bar, but ultimately with the arcade. Two out of three wouldn’t be too bad either, if the arcade wasn’t ostensibly the core element of the Dave and Busters experience. However, it’s in that core element, in that critical component that Dave and Busters creates, caters to, and conflicts with the very niche it should excel with.
An arcade is a place for fun, for the social enjoyment of coin consuming, bell ringing, ticket dispensing, button mashing games – a place where people from all walks of life can enjoy the excitement of an arcade shooter, the thrill of competitive carnival style games, and the classic challenge of the tried and true skee ball machine. For Dave and Busters unfortunately, the confused concepts lessen the experience – catering not to the excitement of people from all walks of life, but (I’d argue) to the dismay of its various guest audiences. Let’s go piece by piece.
First, the noise level. In my miserably insignificant opinion, I think one of the real joys of any arcade is the “sound of fun”. The ringing of the arcade bells, the whirring of tickets being dispensed, the sound of quarters registering in the machines, the 8 bit sound effects croaking through worn speakers, and the admittedly repetitive jingles – signifying the presence of a particular machine. Let’s not forget about the “magic of conversation” either, or as happens to be the case – the spontaneous outbursts & victory yells of arcade goers young and old alike. The problem here is that Dave and Busters seems to have forgotten it isn’t the hottest NYC club, blasting the overplayed music of the day through arcade-wide overhead speakers. The effect is mind numbing, and ear drum destroying. Every game loses some of its flavor – whether it’s skeeball, a first person shooter, racing, trivia, or any number of games from the inexplicable “Vegas” section – they all lose some of their unique appeal and excitement, drowned out & mashed together in the pain inducing sounds of over amped & unrelated music. As the saying seems to go – if it’s not causing permanent hearing damage, it’s not fun! (Disclaimer: I don’t know that the noise levels were loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage, I’m not a doctor & I didn’t have a dB meter on me. But physical perception and charts like this make a fairly strong argument)
Next, the games. Undoubtedly, games must evolve with time – changing to take advantage of the latest technology; adapting to customer preferences of the day. Some changes are apparent, evidenced in one case with implementation of the latest “fruit ninja” touchscreen game – an update presumably intended to catch the interest (and “credits”) of those who enjoy playing the popular mobile game, cats who made it past the bouncer, and my dad. Other games remain happily unchanged, true remnants of the “classic arcade”, games that should have stood the test of time. There’s a small, sad selection of skee ball machines – but a distinct lack of anything resembling pinball, or multiplayer joystick “street fighter” style games. The omission wouldn’t be so noticeable if the room were packed with state of the art equipment, the latest technology packed into an arcade cabinet (or as the case may be, a similarly state of the art casing). However, Dave and Busters seems filled with a number of outdated games. A strip of linked racing cars, the seat adjusters worn from years of abuse – some of the steering wheels still giving the player “feedback” in the form of active resistance to turns – others cranked past the point of failure, no longer able to function as they once did. A few banks of machines over, A handful of (maybe 4) enormous projection screens sport logos for “Time Crisis 4” – a game that as of this writing, is pushing 7 years old. (For those keeping track, something like 7 versions of Halo have come out in the same time period). Guitar hero blares on in the background, though with a release date of 2009 – it seems like one of the newer games. Age isn’t always bad, certainly not in the case of classics. But for these “pop music” arcade game equivalents, the thrill of cutting edge graphics or similar technology is often a key selling point – lost quickly as the evolution of technology marches on. I’d be remiss not to mention the very large screen Pac-Man game, a modernized arcade version complete with individual podiums and joysticks. It might have been fun too, if 2 of the 4 joysticks weren’t at various stages of broken. To be sure, there are a few hidden game gems among the rabble – but they’re easily missed, lost in part to the “coin to ticket” converters that dominate the imitation Vegas casino section.
The high priced Winners Circle (where clunky ticket currency is worth its weight in sweet tarts, or so it seems), and the rising “credit cost” of many games is a conversation unto itself. I’m running out of steam though, so suffice to to say – when it comes to cost of games, the days of 2 quarters per-play for all but the most popular of games seem a thing of the past.
That segues poorly to my last point, which is one of people – perhaps the most important component, and one that influences several from the selection of unusual approaches mentioned above. Due in part to the various age restrictions (18 years or older to enter; those under 18 must be accompanied by a chaperone at a ratio of no more than 6 to 1), there’s an inevitably strange mix of age groups on a weekend evening. You’ve got the younger children (let’s say, 13 and under) attached to their parents, their every move carefully monitored – or perhaps more realistically, jetting around the room in pairs of 2 or 3, while the unfortunate adult ducks over to the arcade bar for a quick reality-dimming drink. Many of the games seem targeted at the younger age groups, but the nightclub atmosphere doesn’t fit that crowd. Then there’s the 13 – 17 group – arguably a group that plays many video games, and is under served in the market of “having a place to hang out that isn’t the parent’s house”. Not likely to have friends who are over 25, and (I suspect) just as likely not interested in spending Saturday night at the arcade with mom. Interestingly enough, I suspect that this group would get the most out of the games available at Dave and Busters – taking full advantage of those games that don’t quite fit the younger kids, and with fewer external entertainment options of similar style. I can only give D & B the benefit of the doubt on this one: I’m guessing that they calculate the cost of damage done by unsupervised teens & impact their presence might have on the other demographic groups to be more costly than it’s worth. Anyway – next up, the 18-20 crowd. After years of waiting, finally allowed past the D & B bouncer, down the ramp & into the game room! Too often, I suspect, finding that when they get there – they’re no longer excited by what they find. Some initial interest, perhaps – but the less than stellar collection of games can get old quickly, and the “free” Xbox Live access available at home provides the kind of “latest and greatest” game variety that D & B can’t keep up with. Add a PS3 and PC into the mix, and the draw to D & B dissipates further. Finally, for the 21+ crowd – this is where the concept of a bar / restaurant / arcade has some interesting, unique potential in my mind – but sees the potential unrealized, fraught with accommodations for the other demographics that reduce the potential for fully serving this niche. I’d argue that the 21 + crowd is most interested in high quality games – cutting edge technology, and with a bar to boot – for the 21 + gamer niche, the key components could be there. However, the low quality games kill the interest, and children running about create the a problem opposite that which faces the youngest demographic – Is it a nightclub, or is it Chuck E. Cheese? An exaggeration perhaps, because the fact is it’s neither. It’s a fairly bizarre combination of both, and in my latest visit to the arcade – I finally figured out the demographic who get the most enjoyment out of D & B (and almost certainly, the most frustration as well).
Having the most fun on the machines during my most recent visit – none other than the employees themselves. They had a 6 way battle going on at the race car machines – linked together and competing to see who had most mastered the game. Elsewhere an employee packed tickets into a cup – not picking up leftovers from kids facing sensory overload, but collecting his winnings from his victory against the machine. Caught off guard ourselves as we passed the guitar hero machine, we saw an employee slamming on the strum bar and head banging like it was 2009.
I suppose at the end of the day, I don’t really have a conclusion to all of this complaining. Perhaps it’s best stated by reiterating my thought that by somehow trying to be something to everyone (except perhaps, the ever popular 13-17 group), I think they end up significantly under serving the respective groups they could otherwise cater specifically to. The experience becomes generic, unremarkable, and relative to the available potential – I’d argue, terrible.
Agree? Disagree? Care to rant about how crappy this rant was? Use the comments below to air your grievances about this post, or similarly share in the complaining.