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How Did Commercial Outdoor Laser Tag Get Started?

How Did Commercial Outdoor Laser Tag Get Started? 

Hi, my name is Nicole Lander I want to tell you a story about how I become the world's leading live gaming innovator. 

Let me tell you my backstory, real quick. We started our business in the rainforests of tropical Australia.

We had a few thousand dollars and an idea -- to take a video game & experience it LIVE.

Sounds idyllic.

nicole - back in the day
But it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Cairns was a small town. Back in the 1990s, it had a population of around 100,000. It was an unlikely place to start an innovative export company. It was a humble start. It was a pretty tricky time in our lives. I remember at school (I went to a religious all-girls school) and the Nuns said there are basically three or four careers a girl can aspire to:

1.    Housewife

2.    Nurse or Teacher

3.    Nun.

Now I don’t want to deride anyone of these vocations but I knew in my gut that none of them were for me. My father was a civil servant, my grandfather was a civil servant. But I said to my Dad that I wanted to go to University and study business.

And he didn’t think I could do it. He said, just go get a civil service job. Somehow, I managed to get into college and I studied a Bachelor of Commerce. But after I finished my degree, I sort of fell back into what was expected and I spent 10 years working in the civil service myself. Peter on the other hand came from a family of master builders. So, when we were first married, we started our own business. I thought that having a traditional software development business was sensible.

I wanted to buy a house, and raise our family. And for a couple of years, we did okay. I thought that software development was a safe bet, a sensible choice. But that belief was flipped on its head. We have two kids under two and we were busy due to the dot-com boom. But the dotcom crash of 2000 hit us hard. Our software business crashed. A business that we had spent years building up was kyboshed.

Stone-dead, almost overnight. We felt the pressure. Massive pressure.Two kids, two and under!  Our family was in real jeopardy. It felt like a heavy, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

When our ‘day-job’ business tanked we looked at each another and said: “What do we do now”?

We had been playing outdoor laser tag as a hobby for a year or so. It was something we were passionate about. We played near a disused bridge on the banks of the Kamerunga river. In a recreation area that had a lot of trees.

The cover was lush, after all, it was rainforest!

We had an original Morita Sniper Rifle, some sub-machine guns, and some pistols. The pistols were completely outgunned by the sniper rifles.

No game balance back then!

The first technology was really basic. 

But we were in our element! And starting out in a tropical town we would play in all sorts of weather. We were even crazy enough to try and play in the monsoon. Where the rain is so heavy it hurts when it hits you! I’m sure some of the locals thought we were completely crazy! But we are lovin’ it.

When we started, we literally just asked our gamers a few bucks to cover the cost of the batteries. This little side-hustle with our laser tag business saved us.  Over time, more and more started loving the experience too. We got featured in the local newspaper. And Nicole created a web site www.lasertag.com.au and people all over the world started emailing us.

Saying: “Hey! What you are doing is cool. How can I do it too?”

We decided to move from the small town of Cairns to the big city, the State capital, Brisbane. We wanted to build a business that gave our family regular, and reliable cash flow. More we wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. To give them an experience that they would never forget. One of that handful of experiences that the gamers would never forget.

When we moved to a big city asked ourselves: “Will people in the city love playing laser tag like they in my small town?”

And do you know what? People loved it! But we thought, ok so if people loved this live gaming experience with super basic technology, what is we made it better? Our plan was to go back to the drawing board of laser tag technology.

So, in 2006 we started developing a brand-new live gaming technology. By this time, we had spent 7 years entertaining thousands of players and listening to their feedback. Plus, we had sold to more than a hundred Battlefield Operators, just like you, and we listened to their feedback. We took all the stuff we had learned from our experience and the feedback from players and operators and instilled all of it into a new laser tag system. Then in 2009, we launched the first very patented system.

We called our technology “SATR” which stands for Small Arms Transmitter Receiver. One of the things SATR can do is kind of like a running commentary on the game. You shoot your gaming gun and make a hit, the system makes a sound effect that lets you know what’s happening in the game, real-time. Or SFX to let your gamers know what’s happening, like “Bravo Team is Victorious!”

The timing was terrible.

It was just around the time of the “GFC”:

The Global Financial Crisis.

Money was tight.

People were worried about investing in new technology, new business. Many times, I felt like giving up. I thought maybe I should just go back to being a civil servant. But deep down, I wanted to impress my Dad, to show him I could do more than just a regular 9 to 5 job. We believed in creating a better live gaming experience for our players and a better system for our Battlefield Operators. I remember one day that we were running a laser skirmish event at the local Boy Scouts park which we rented.

And a kid was having his tenth birthday party, and honestly, I don’t remember his name, but let’s call him Johnny. Johnny was playing one of our most popular games “TDM” aka “Team Elimination” and he hit someone on the other team and his gaming gun said “HIT!” and he turned to me and exclaimed: “Gotcha! I got him!” His eyes were glistening.

He was so pleased, joyful even. He felt strong, successful, and the system told him, in real-time that he was good. And it was the best birthday ever! A few days later we were running a special event for some investment bankers as a team-building exercise. We had set up in the back-blocks of a 5-star resort. My bad, I don’t remember the investment banker’s name, but let's call him Mike (after all I loved the TV Series “Suits”). Anyway, Mike was playing the popular “HEIST!” mission – perfect for bankers! And he hit someone on the other team and his gaming gun said “KILL!”, and he turned to me and exclaimed: “Gotcha! I got ‘em!”. His eyes were shining. He was happy.

Right then I knew that we were onto something special. This was the real-time hit-feedback that was the core of our patent. But more than that, we’d created a live gaming system that gave players a thrill.

Players young, and the young at heart loved it.

I knew we had nailed it.

We had a created the real-time hit-feedback live gaming technology. No-one else has that. What we decided to do was to help as many people as we could. And that’s why we have built a community of Operators in more than 55 countries. Why we’ve enabled millions of players worldwide to enjoy the thrill of live gaming. After creating Battlefield Sports we have been able to raise our family. This business has allowed us to put our kids through private school and college.

When it is all said and done, it has enabled us to create some unforgettable experiences for people all around the world and to spend more time with our family.

And to play a bit of Table Tennis (oh, but that a whole other story!).   

I’m Nicole Lander, co-Founder of Battlefield Sports and check out more episodes from the “Right on Target” podcast.