Friday, February 03, 2017

Mobile games theatres a Kilcullen woman's winner

So what do you do when you have to set up entertainment for a birthday party with a dozen youngsters who have long outgrown bouncy castles? writes Brian Byrne.

That was Majella Leighton’s conundrum a few years ago when she needed to arrange a party for her son and his friends, all gamers. But there were only a couple of game consoles in the home.

She and her husband Paul, who have lived in Kilcullen for ten years, managed to gather loans of some extra consoles from friends, and the party went off fine. But the problem triggered a business idea for Majella, who was on a break from her work in senior management in the hotel industry so as to have time to look after her children. “I guessed it was a similar problem for all parents at party times for their children, and wondered if there was some way I could solve it.”

After some research, she found that in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK, there were mobile party gaming theatres available. The operators provided vans kitted out with screens and consoles and libraries of popular games.

That was over three years ago. At the height of the recession, but that didn’t deter her. She bought a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van and had it wrapped in an eye-catching ‘Game Machine’ exterior and fitted out the interior with screens and consoles and suitable video games decoration.

Getting the idea going meant she was giving all her spare hours to it. And that’s still the case, but now the operation employs five people, mostly at weekends, providing Game Machine at parties throughout Kildare and Dublin. Majella recently put a third van on the road, decorated in the theme of Morpheus, one of the current most popular games. The interior is kitted out like a military bunker, and when there are a dozen young gamers playing away at one time, it’s a busy place. “From the outside, you can see the van rocking on its springs,” Majella says, smiling.

The new Morpheus van is the most advanced, and includes virtual reality headsets as well as screens, so the players can get truly immersed in the latest VR games experience. All main game platforms are used, including Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360 and Wii U.

The young people whom Game Machine caters for range in age groups between 7-16, and Majella’s operation has a ‘massive’ library of games suitable for every group. “We’re very strict on each age group, so, for instance, we won’t let a 7-year-old play in with the 14-year-olds. And it’s not just boys who are interested, around four in ten players are girls.”

Typically, a party event will involve an hour or so session before everybody goes back in the house for food, then another session afterwards. One advantage is that parents who bring their children to the party can stay on and socialise while the youngsters are enjoying themselves, and not be in the way. The van operator supervises all sessions and is also a trained games coach, and can help those unfamiliar with some games as well as give tips to the more experiences.

Each van is fully self-contained and only requires plugging in to the electricity supply in the home where it is parked. “We have a generator for occasions when we’re doing outside events where there isn’t mains electricity. Each van also has its own 4G WiFi internet system, as many of the latest games need internet access.”

The newest van was officially launched recently by Deputy Martin Heydon at his office in Newbridge. “It’s really great to see this kind of entrepreneurial spirit, where a small idea can be grown into a business that is innovative, and provides employment,” Deputy Heydon said. “Majella Leighton and her family are an inspiration to potential other small enterprises in every town in Kildare.”

Further information from Majella Leighton at 045 484800; 089 4082008; or