Parties favoring video games

Rolling Game Station, a 32-foot trailer loaded with video games, went to Zachary Jordan's house in Douglassville for his eighth-birthday party. It is one of at least five games on wheels operations in the area.
Rolling Game Station, a 32-foot trailer loaded with video games, went to Zachary Jordan's house in Douglassville for his eighth-birthday party. It is one of at least five games on wheels operations in the area. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 05, 2013

It was Zachary Jordan's eighth-birthday party, but cake and ice cream couldn't compete.

There was something much more delectable outside: Super Mario Bros. in the dark.

Parked in front of Zachary's Douglassville home was a darkened mobile trailer equipped with cushiony vibrating seats for 16, speakers, four huge TV screens, flickering disco lights, and all the video games that a group of 8-year-olds could want.

"They suggest you do the food first because you won't get them off of the games," said Zachary's dad, Terry.

In birthday-party chic, a visit from a mobile video-game truck may be one of the trendiest things going - a 21st-century pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey for a generation raised on all things digital.

Zachary's party came courtesy of Rolling Game Station, Roger Meinhart's Pottstown-based entrepreneurial sideline. Meinhart, a patrolman for the Downingtown Police Department, operates his part-time gig independently of the department.

Meinhart's game station is one of at least five mobile video-game businesses in the area. The businesses include a Gamin' Ride in Feasterville and GameTruck franchises that serve the Philadelphia area and South Jersey.

"It's the first job I had where kids don't run away when I pull up to the house. They're happy to see me," said Meinhart, 43, a gamer who plays at home with his six children.

His splashy 300-square-foot digital playground is stocked with 85 games and sets up shop at community fairs, sporting events, camps, and parties. Horsham's GameTruck offers about 200 games. Gamin' Ride touts a 4-D experience complete with "smell-a-vision" that will dispense scents such as fresh-cut grass when the game is Madden NFL Football.

It's a business that reflects the omnipresence of video games, which have become as routine as a television or a movie, said Frank Lee, director of the Entrepreneurial Gaming Studio at Drexel University.

At $70 billion worldwide, the video-game market has surpassed the movie and music businesses, Lee said.

Video-game trucks, a very small part of that market, are likely a product of "LAN parties," when gamers get together to play on a local network, Lee said.

Many of the game-truck businesses are franchises. Entrepreneurs buy a trailer provided by a company that gives them a sales territory and access to the company website and/or booking system.

Scott Katherine of Ambler paid about $160,000 to start a GameTruck franchise in Horsham. The total included royalty fees and the cost of the trailer and truck. Meinhart began with Rolling Video Games in 2010, but then broke off to become independent.

Industry prices for a party can range from $250 to $500, depending on the length of the party and day of the week, said Katherine, whose business is mostly parties for 8- to 12-year-olds. Teen and adult events are smaller parts of the market.

Schoolteacher Lisa Quarry and her husband and parents operate Gamin' Ride in Feasterville. She had some trepidation about entering a video-game business.

"I thought, I'm a teacher. Should I be supporting video games?" Lisa Quarry said. "But nowadays the kids play across the Internet with their headphones on. When they're in a trailer, they have to socialize."

Parents also control which games the kids are permitted to play on the trailer.

At Zachary's birthday bash, green laser lights flickered on the trailer's ceilings, and the four TV video screen lit the theaterlike interior.

Boys and girls created digital versions of themselves to play games amid an unending soundtrack of bloops, pops and whizzes. When they discovered that Meinhart had Skylanders, there was a collective kiddie swoon. Then came a contest for controllers.

"Once the kids get older, they don't want to go to places like Chuck E. Cheese," said Zachary's mother, Sandy Jordan, "but this is something cool and they can do it with their friends.

"And the parents like it because it gets the party out of the house," she said.

Zachary, who'd rather play the Wii U than any afterschool sport, pronounced his video game birthday parties to be the best ever. (This is his second.)

Neighbor Corynn Cusson, whose three children attended the party, had other plans for the video-game truck.

"I'll probably do it for my husband's birthday party," Cusson said. "I think he's in [the trailer] right now."


Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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