Cyberdrome Multi-Game Arenas
(adapted from an article in Leisure Week)
The first thing that strikes you about the first floor headquarters of Cyberdrome is the cat suspended from the ceiling by a rope. There is just enough room to swing it, so it hits a rat on the wall opposite. But there is no need for the RSPCA to get hung up over it, both are stuffed toys. Admittedly, they are not the usual executive toys you might find in an office, but then Cyberdrome’s is not a usual office. One room is occupied by a bank of computer screens attached to large illuminated tracker balls and other gadgets, and the main office has two scale models of fantasy attractions on the desks.
It is here that David Owers and Carl Nicholson, the directors and main shareholders of Cyberdrome, develop their themed attractions. To date they have built seven Crystal Mazes based on Channel 4’s hit television programme, and they are working on a range of new ideas for other attractions. Owers covers the business side of things, while Nicholson is the creative one, although there is plenty of overlap. “A complementary couple” as Owers puts it. It is true they are something of a double act. Owers went to Cambridge, plays guitar and likes working to deadlines, while Nicholson went to Oxford, plays jazz piano and hates doing things in a rush. The pair first met to run a music club together while they were studying at the Cranfield Institute of Technology where Owers did an MSc in Energy Engineering and Nicholson an MSc in Mathematics and Computing.
It was Nicholson’s inventiveness – an executive rucksack with an in-built mobile phone, a circular chessboard, a Mad Max themed attraction – and Owers’ desire to run his own company that got Cyberdrome off the ground. “We had a model Dungeons and Dragons-style adventure attraction called Dragonquest”, Owers recalls. “I put it in the back of my Vauxhall Nova and carted it round the country to companies to see if they were interested.” They were, but wanted proof that it could work. At about this time, the Crystal Maze gameshow was starting to take off on Channel 4. The pair sat down and had another think, and decided it had the “most legs”. They approached show producer Chatsworth and got the licensing agreement they needed. They then got together £300,000 from second mortgages, friends and former bosses and set up the first operation in Blackpool.
First Leisure Corporation soon got the proof it needed and has since opened up two Crystal Mazes alongside tenpin centres in Southampton and Maidenhead. This was shortly followed by one in Wales attached to Oakwood Leisure Park. It was such a successful project that Cyberdrome took on Fiona Sutton, whose company did the construction and project management, to be the new Projects Director. This partnership went on to supply complete Crystal Maze attractions to Allied Leisure in Coventry and two in shopping mall leisure centres in Japan.
Cyberdrome is now developing both its technology and its applications to new themes and areas, and has coined the expression “Multi-game Arenas” to describe its range of products.
See Stop press for up to date information on Cyberdrome’s current activities.
Where you can play in a Multi-Game Arena
If you want to play in one of our Multi-game Arenas, there are seven Crystal Mazes scattered around the world. In the UK, you can choose from:
or, if you happen to be in Japan, there are two, at:
and the newest is in Dubai
About Crystal Mazes
(adapted from an article in Leisure Management)
Shouting instructions at a TV screen, impatient and frustrated at the apparent stupidity of competitors, I have been told is a common reaction to to watching Channel 4’s Crystal Maze. But when it came to actually trying the game for myself, I was less confident of my abilities. However, getting a special Leisure Management trial of the game I relied on the sympathy of the operators not to give us too hard a time.
The original site in Blackpool was the protoype for an attraction which ventured across the UK and into Japan, with six further sites opening up. Each site plays host to around 100,000 players a year (give or take a few here and there). The game’s following is considerable – a glance at the role of honour shows some astonishing scores (compared to our feeble beginnings) and holding the position of top dog is such an acolade that one team was known to telephone every day to see if its score had been beaten. On one fateful occasion that it had, a 100 mile journey was made to retrieve the title. They had nothing to fear from us, however, as they knew the maze like the back of their hand.
There are four themed areas set in 3,000 square feet – medieval, futuristic, Aztec and ocean, each with its own ambient sounds and lighting, and three levels of difficulty – average, expert and fiendish. The experience is closely based on the TV programme hosted by bald-headed Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O’Brien, but in the Cyberdrome version, it is a computer that leads competitors through a series of challenges both in real life and on the screen. All the games are coordinated by a central computer, where operators can ensure that none of the teams run into each other (22 groups can play the game at any one time). This is no mean feat and yields a maximum capacity of 300 people an hour. Swinging over the Snake Pit on a rope or clambering through nets in the Tarantula’s Lair were not for us though – we journalists were given more cerebral activities, it appears. These seemed afterwards like extended computer games, though at the time it felt more like life and death.
The importance of winning the game and gaining a crystal for the final challenge in the Crystal Dome becomes all consuming and some competitors become over eager in their attempts. Injuries are not unknown – despite discouraging running in the mazes, the themeing at Oakwood proved so effective that one player ran into some false windows painted on the wall! Regular players tend to tear round and suffer the odd sprained ankle. “We like people to get a bit of a buzz, but we want to make it as safe as possible”, says managing director David Owers. Standard play equipment is used for things like rope bridges and each centre is approved by the environmental health. There are around thirty games available, although none of the mazes has all the games, they generally have between 15 and 25. In half an hour beginners can experience up to six of the games from a random selection, whereas some fiendish teams can just about play them all. Duplication does not seem to be a problem, even when each visitor returns on average seven times, sometimes staying in all day to improve their scores. We could certainly vouch for its addictive nature – the desire to better our feeble attempt was almost irresistible.
“It’s not just a series of computer games,” says Owers, “the Crystal Maze is also a system for moving people around, and they [the players] can never achieve perfection. The success of the attraction springs from the fact that people keep on trying. Pay-once price amusement parks do not lend themselves to this attraction, because being free, people would hog the attraction all day. The attraction needs to be based in an existing facility; people won’t drive a long way for a half hour experience. It is not a standalone centre – it needs to be where it can benefit from the repeat business it produces.”
The centres cost around £250,000 to construct (though this varies according to size and location). “We have been placed in the same basket as laser games”, says Owers. “but we are not a fad like they are. Because we are more expensive, we have taken longer to develop. The attraction is not dependant on the TV show, as has been shown in Japan; the concept is strong enough to work in its own right.” The TV title has helped to get people in off the street though, and just as well, else they would be missing a treat!