Child’s play – specifically that of his own children – inspired Kent Johnson’s new business.
“I just wanted a way to kind of mash together … the video games that they play on their own with a social experience of playing in a group with friends,” Johnson says.
Even though he’s been a tech entrepreneur for the past 17 years, Johnson says he wasn’t sure about creating a concept that could achieve both goals.
“It was a little bit of a crazy idea to me.”
He says he decided to “have a whack at it” and is now preparing to open Fireshark Gaming at the Village at Greenwich next to PostNet at 21st and Greenwich.
Fireshark – Johnson “wanted an aggressive-sounding, gaming-related name” – will have two 33-by-20-foot rooms with 18 projectors that cover the rooms’ floors and walls in a video game.
“It’s literally a giant video game that’s all around you,” Johnson says.
He’s been working on the concept for 14 months and says there have been a number of technological hurdles.
“It’s not trivial creating a giant room that’s a seamless gaming experience,” Johnson says.
He built a prototype room in a machine shed at his house and has had a number of people test the concept.
“It’s a jaw-dropping, wow experience,” Johnson says.
Players hold Android tablets to operate such things as robots and cars.
“Each game will have a couple of different variations of ways to play,” says Kenton Hansen, who is handling marketing for the business.
He says the first game Fireshark will introduce is a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world in which robots battle each other. There are variations from game to game that allow players to play against others or work as a team.
“Each game can be a little bit different,” Hansen says. “It’s pretty impressive when you walk in there, for sure.”
The first game will be for eight to 10 people. Players can schedule time with their friends or other guests.
“It’s intended to be a social experience,” Johnson says.
The games will cost $7 to $11 for 30 minutes of play.
“We’re also working on a racing game,” Johnson says.
Initially, he says, he thought he would primarily target teenage males. He’s found that older people of both sexes enjoy it, though.
“So we might have actually underestimated the appeal to other groups as well.”
Johnson says there are other immersion video games nationally but that they’re much smaller and for only single players.
“I’m not aware of anyone doing exactly this in the United States.”
Hansen says there will be two party rooms in Fireshark’s 2,400 square feet as well.
“We’re expecting a significant amount of people scheduling birthday parties and corporate bonding experience.”
The first Fireshark will open in March.
Hansen says he expects two or three Firesharks in Wichita, including one on the west side, and others nationally.
“The single location’s definitely not the goal,” he says.
“The real goal is to set this up as a franchise or a nationwide type of venue,” Johnson says.
He says in addition to hiring retail staff, he wants to encourage developers to contact him (at www.firesharkgaming.com) to help the business grow.
Though he’s now confident in his idea, Johnson says he knows there will be some technology to tackle along the way.
“It’s the first thing of its kind, so I think we’ll have some bumps along the road.”
Unlike past projects, Johnson says, he wasn’t able to see how others have done it and then try to improve on it.
“This is a little bit more of a leap of faith.”