Pixel Bar Levels up Their Customer Experience with Future-Proof Connectivity
Video games have always been a source of immense enjoyment for me, as has the company of friends over a few drinks. However, I found myself longing for a place that could bring these two pleasures together—an elusive combination that was missing in my city at the time. Refusing to let go of this vision, I joined forces with two passionate partners, and together, we took matters into our own hands. And so, Pixel Bar came into existence, marking a significant milestone as the inaugural gaming bar in Leeds, UK.
Set in the city centre, brings together the food and drink of a typical cocktail bar with the fun of video games. We have console booths for multiplayer games, gaming PCs, and free-to-play retro arcade games. Whether playing FIFA, Call of Duty, or Mario Kart, Pixel Bar is all about having fun with friends and spreading the love of gaming to more people.
We built our business around a great user experience underpinned by the fundamentals of a good pub and eatery. The entertainment part of that experience depends on great connectivity. Regardless of the level of play, we need the best hardware and network available. Our setup has to be better than what customers have at home, because when they’re in the thick of the action, moving a few milliseconds faster is everything.
Limited Bandwidth Led to Bottlenecks
Pixel Bar opened in the fall of 2019, which, in retrospect, could not have been worse timing. Still, we got enough data from our five months of business before the pandemic lockdowns that we understood we were onto something. While many companies didn’t reopen when the government lifted restrictions, Pixel Bar did, having used that time in lockdown to assess what had worked and what we could do better.
We did so well that in late 2021 we decided to open a second site in Manchester that is twice as large as our Leeds location—table space for 300, compared to 150 in Leeds. Its success proves that our concept works, but operating two sites required us to stretch our resources and take our network to the next level.
Our previous network was disjointed, and we had the minimum connectivity necessary. It meant we hit bottlenecks if certain port rules weren’t activated. If someone downloaded a game update, sometimes the network would completely bottleneck the entire connection to that one PC. Suddenly, everyone else would experience lags or delays in their game download, which is a nightmare for a gaming facility. We knew this wasn’t going to be a long-term solution. As our customer base grew, we needed enough bandwidth for everyone.
A Path to Inclusivity with IoT Devices
One of the biggest changes is implementing and . Inclusivity is fundamental to our business, as our target audience spans genders, ages, and races. The stereotype persists of gamers being antisocial males hiding out in basements, but most of our social media followers identify as female. At our recent Mario Kart tournament, three of our top four contestants were female, a visible wake-up call that might change public perceptions. We recognise this shift in gaming culture, and we have to provide spaces where everyone feels welcome. Inclusivity is hard to quantify with a number or metric, but data from these cameras will allow us to see whether we’re achieving our goals.
With better visibility into who is using our venues, we can have better insight into our demographics—to say that on a given Saturday, 520 out of 1,000 customers were female and 12% were over the age of 45, for example. It will be great for us, as well as the larger gaming industry, to gather deeper insights about the individuals in our audience. We could do so much with that, including understanding how best to market a new product launch or hosted event.
There’s also a security element to this. Safety is a big part of inclusivity, and when taking gaming out of the digital realm, people have to feel physically safe. It would break us if this weren’t a safe place for everyone to come and have a good time, and as in any public facility, cameras help with that.
We will also use smart body heat sensors to gather accurate data on all kinds of things, including where people congregate, optimal furniture placement to avoid bottlenecks, and which games consoles are the most popular. This data will help us make intelligent decisions to improve the business, and we can share insights with our partners, too.
A Partner Who Puts Our Minds at Ease
We have to strike a tough balance between making the network as accessible as possible so gamers can sign into their accounts and download what they need to play, and doing that in a secure public venue that doesn’t allow malicious activity. To find this balance, we turned to our Cisco partner, , to help us deploy cloud security solutions.
The IMATIK team has been remarkable. We involved them in the project from the beginning, and their skill in designing and deploying our environment has been second to none. IMATIK installed MR Meraki wireless access points, MS Meraki switches, and MX Meraki security and SD-WAN devices in less than a day with zero impact on the business. They also adjusted the settings on the Meraki dashboard, walking me through it so I know what to do if I ever need to make tweaks or changes.
You can’t afford to make a mistake in network security because you’ve tried to deploy it yourself or done it cheaply. Relying on IMATIK for the design and deployment and Cisco for their expertise removed stress on our end, and we know we’re not an easy target for digital attacks. That’s important for us as a business and our customers’ peace of mind.
A New Network That Pushes Us Forward
We went live in January 2023, and the easiest metric to measure our success is that I’m no longer grabbing the phone to call our provider and ask, “What happened to our network?”
We’ve made a recent push to encourage more of our guests in both locations to connect to the respective Wi-Fi networks. Meraki has allowed us to monitor that activity, where we’ve seen a spike in usage without any issues. Having more people on our network has also boosted our QR-based app ordering from their tables. Customers know it will be a seamless transition, and we can provide better service.
Using the Meraki dashboard lets us keep an eye on Wi-Fi activity even when we’re not at the venue, and we can get a feel for how busy we are without having to pester our staff. When looking at sales alone, a customer becomes effectively invisible before and after they’ve made a purchase. Looking at our Wi-Fi activity in conjunction with our POS software gives us a much more accurate picture of our busiest and slowest periods.
Cisco is Cisco because they’re dynamic to what their clients need. As a business with a small budget, we might have gotten lost when working with a huge company. But working with Cisco through IMATIK offers the best of both worlds: the personal touch combined with the extensive resources and scalability that only a company of Cisco’s size can provide.
Knowing we have Cisco and IMATIK behind us, we don’t have to worry about something going down when no one is physically there to fix it. We have had zero downtime since implementation, but if we ever do, I know how to identify the problem on the Meraki dashboard and contact IMATIK for help. Problems haven’t arisen, but the solutions are already there.
Hospitality Needs More Robust Infrastructure
There isn’t a business owner in the UK who isn’t thinking about efficiency and sustainability, especially with energy costs skyrocketing. Electricity usage is unavoidable, but we have become more efficient by using LEDs and powering down machines overnight. Over just a few years, we’ve also seen how simply asking questions of our suppliers—like why beer has to come wrapped in so much plastic—has led to real change. Meraki lets us track various activities and find more places to improve.
Our previous network was functional, but if we want to lead the way, being functional isn’t enough. Our network upgrade is all about future-proofing, and for every single customer who connects, even the most marginal improvement we make to connectivity has a significant impact on the customer experience.
Hospitality SMBs might not think they need network improvements, but businesses will increasingly need more sophisticated, robust network infrastructure. It’s bad for business when customers get frustrated because they can’t post to Instagram or tag themselves at a venue—no matter how good a time they’re otherwise having. Owners might not think they need that network improvement now, but they do, and it pays to be ahead of the curve.