Ready Player One

Pixel Battles is located across from the Ross Store.

As you walk into Pixel Battles at the Gateway Mall, you sort of have this nostalgic feeling of a time back in the day when many gamers would spend hours on end at the local arcade pumping quarters into Pac-Man or Street Fighter IV. Of course all you had were a few buttons and a joy stick to work with and standing for too long sometimes made your foot fall asleep (Ah the good old days).

Pixel Battles is located across from the Ross Store.

But for Pixel Battles, which opened on Black Friday, the experience is a little more relaxed and new age (There’s comfy chairs and high definition televisions now). Owner Jason Zollinger wanted a chill experience when he opened the location, but he also felt he needed to create a safe place for kids to congregate.

We like to think of it as a place at the mall where kids can keep out of trouble. It’s a good place for parents to drop their kids off so they can hang out and play,” Zollinger said.

Of course he can’t take full credit for the fun environment he’s created. Pixel Battles was originally conceived by Justin Field who started Big City Gamin’ in 2001. Field sold that business in 2009 and moved to Portland where he created the first Pixel Battles location in Tigard, Oregon. Zollinger, who runs a web development company called Atonics Design and Consulting, did some work for Field. After developing a good relationship with him, and having a passion for gaming, Zollinger decided to franchise a Pixel Battles location himself.

Under the direction of Field, Zollinger paid for everything and set up shop at the Gateway Mall in Springfield. As for why he decided on Gateway for his location, Zollinger cites the good relationship he was able to develop with them as well as the high volume of shoppers.

“Gateway Mall recently has made a strong push to get different businesses and small companies to set up in their facility and we were able to work out a nice deal with them. Obviously being in a mall provides a lot of foot traffic and exposure so in the short amount of time we’ve been here, it’s been great.”

Jason Zollinger assisting a customer with Xbox Live.

And time is what you’re buying at the store. One half hour costs $2.99 while an hour goes for $4.99. Game cards for five or ten hours are also available for purchase and if you intend to spend a lot of time there, you can purchase a one month pass for $39.99 and play whenever you want.

Despite being a business that relies on its customers to play video games for a length of time, Zollinger is aware that too much playing can breed unhealthy habits.

“Well, we do try and be a responsible member of the community and in all things I do encourage a healthy regulation of video games. I don’t think it’s really healthy for anybody to sit in front of a screen for hours and hours on end. As much as we enjoy the customer relations and the financial gain from that, we certainly do not feel that that’s a good habit,” Zollinger said.

It’s hard to play in moderation when you see what Pixel Battles has at its disposal. The store offers 43 and 65″ plasma televisions with Xbox 360 (Including nine screens hooked up to Xbox Live), PlayStation 3 and the new Nintendo Wii U available. As for games; Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Madden NFL 13 are a few titles ready to play.

Besides just enjoying playing the games, the store also features tournaments where players can win cash prizes. A fee between $10 and $25 is charged for competing in a tournament and according to Zollinger, how much money you can win depends on how many people come.

“Depending on how many people show up for the tournaments, prizes vary. We had a tournament last Sunday in Tigard and they gave out over $1000 in cash prizes ranging anywhere from $100 to $500 each,” Zollinger said.

The first tournament at the Springfield location will be next Saturday. Anyone interested in finding out more about upcoming tournaments or new games available to play can check out Pixel Battles’ Facebook page.

It’s still early, but so far business has been good for the store. Like movie theaters, Pixel Battles main competition is the American living room. People have consoles at home, but according to Zollinger, the real appeal of PIxel Battles is not only the big screen televisions, but also the community atmosphere.

This is what you can expect at Pixel Battles.

“We kind of consider this the next iteration of an arcade. It’s a place for people to go and enjoy some gaming and networking. Instead of having to haul your television or Xbox and cables over to a friends’ house, you can come here. We’re ready to offer all of that and we can offer each person a 43″ wide screen TV. It’s a fairly compelling experience.”

As someone who grew up playing video games, Zollinger feels that nostalgia at his store. But after a momentary trip down memory lane, he realizes it’s still a business he’s responsible for.

“It’s great to be able to work around something that you enjoy so much for sure. Being a business owner calls to mind that sense of balance where you’re not just focusing on the gaming itself but also on the business as a whole. It’s not just the act of playing a video game, it’s offering a compelling product to a customer.”

Pixel Battles is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am to 9 pm and Sundays from 12-6 pm.

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