The play's the thing

29 November 2002 by
The play's the thing

Computer games consoles are not the first items that spring to mind when you think about increasing your hotel's profitability. But games consoles are the new "must have" pieces of electronic wizardry for hoteliers seeking to attract two important market groups: the family market, and the 20- to 40-year-old male market.

The four main consoles on the market are Sony's PlayStations (PS) 1 and 2, Microsoft's X Box, and Nintendo's GameCube. According to the European Leisure Software Publishers Association, 2001 was a bumper year for console sales, with UK gamers buying £567m-worth of them. They are becoming so popular for home use that they are rivalling video rentals, as Dr Jason Rutter, video games expert at Manchester University's ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition, explains.

"Already, games are worth more in the UK than video rentals or cinema visits," he says, "and as an export industry it generates more income for the country than any other entertainment medium, including TV and film. Sony now earns more from games than it does from music and film. Numbers like that are hard to ignore or dismiss as a children's fad."

With 38% of the UK population having access to a console, it makes sense for hotels to cash in on this fast-growing trend, particularly as both the family and 20- to 40-year-old male markets are interlinked.

Rutter explains: "Appealing to the 30-something gamers doesn't mean that gamers are somehow ‘non-family'. We are repeatedly seeing young parents playing puzzle, platform and learning games with their children, as they do sports and other games. The good thing about video games is that they give children a good chance to be better than their parents."

Games consoles can increase profits for hotels in two ways. One is by renting out the consoles and games to guests, the other is by having the consoles pre-installed in certain rooms and offering the games for use either free or for a small charge. In addition, using the consoles as a means to attract certain types of guests, such as families, means that a clever hotel has an interesting marketing angle.

The good news for hoteliers is that the competition between the so-called big three (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo) has intensified, driving down the cost of consoles. Many retailers now offer packages of console, games, memory cards (used to store details of "saved" games) and controllers (see panel), all of which can be bought from high street retailers such as Comet, Dixons, Currys and specialist computer gaming shop Game. Local specialist retailers may have for sale pre-owned consoles, often in excellent condition.

But which console should you buy? Sony's two consoles remain the most popular. The PS1 has a huge catalogue of available games and is the cheapest to buy. The PS2 is also very popular and is currently the best-selling console in the UK. Either of these would make a good starter console, but don't discount X Box or GameCube, both of which were launched this year.

And the future looks profitable, with console makers keen to tap into another lucrative market - online games, where consoles are connected via the Internet.

Dr Rutter explains: "Increasingly, like personal computers, consoles are having online facilities added to them so that not only can, for example, X Box gamers play against each other, but we can look forward to mixed-platform tournaments online. Indeed, it is estimated that online gaming in Europe alone will be worth €6.5b (£4.1b) by 2006."

Popular consoles - and what they cost

Prices given below are approximate, and represent what you should expect to pay at a high-street retailer.
\ Sony PS1: £100 for controller, memory card and two or three games
\ Sony PS2: £200 for controller and one game; £220 with two games; memory cards can be bought separately at £20 each
* Microsoft X Box: £190 for controller and one game; £215 with two games
* Nintendo GameCube: £150 for console, controller and one game; £195 for console, two games and memory card
Games typically cost between £35 and £45 each. The most popular are car-racing games such as Gran Turismo 3, TV and film tie-ins such as Harry Potter and Star Wars, football games such as FIFA 2003, and wrestling/fighting games such as WWF Smack Down.
Consoles plug into the back of a normal television or video, but also need access to their own power outlet. The TV must then have a channel tuned to the console. All consoles come with good installation guidelines, but if you get stuck your local TV repair shop should be able to help with most problems.

Case study: Cumbria's gaming deal for IT folk… and families

The three-star, 30-bedroom Ennerdale hotel in Cumbria uses games consoles to give itself a competitive advantage while allowing it to tap into two lucrative markets - families and 20- to 40-year-olds.

As it is located only 20 minutes' travel from the Sellafield nuclear power station, a good proportion of the hotel's guests work in the IT and nuclear research fields and have grown up with games consoles. It was for this market, and the hotel's strong family market, that the Ennerdale developed a consoles offer eight years ago, along with a complete entertainment package including video, CD players and, now, DVD players.

The consoles were bought from high street retailers with an initial outlay of £6,000 for 35 consoles and 50 games. "We've been fortunate that only two have disappeared," says general manager Grant Seaman. "General wear and tear has meant we have replaced six consoles during the past five years - in fact, the £6,000 figure includes replacements over the eight years we have had the consoles. We have also spent more than £4,000 on games, and replace maybe five games every month, at a cost of £100-£200, depending on the games available."

The hotel offers three different consoles - Sony's PS1 and PS2, and Nintendo 64s, with games for each system. (The Nintendo 64 is the predecessor of GameCube and has proved popular with the children's market.) Guests can book a room and use games and consoles free of charge.

The Ennerdale has found that it now has an advantage over its immediate competitors, being the only family hotel for 40 miles that can offer such facilities.

Seaman explains: "The games consoles give the children something to do when their parents are getting ready for dinner. It also allows the parents to have dinner in the restaurant while the children are entertaining themselves."

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