:: AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKAEL WIDING (STARTROOPER / LANDTROOPER, CHINA) ::
TRUTNEE: - Could you please say a few words about your Company's history: how did you come to the idea of organizing laser tag manufacturing facility in China? And why - China?
WSD: - The name of the company is Beijing Widing Sport Development Ltd (WSD) and was founded in 2002. It is owned by 2 Swedish twins that came to China year 2000 working in mobile phone manufacturing. After some time we thought of opening our own company in China and looked at various ideas. In all other countries laser tag is a big industry but in China it was totally missing so we thought it was a big enough market to explore. WSD has for the moment 3 different kind of products,
- StarTrooper: Indoor laser tag
- LandTrooper: Outdoor laser tag
- RangeShooter: A digital shooting range
WSD operates one indoor StarTrooper arena in Beijing, it is a 600 square meter location using 20 sets of StarTrooper X-10.
TRUTNEE: - How popular is laser tag in China? You experiencing any specific difficulties promoting laser tag equipment there?
WSD: - As you understand laser tag is a fairly new activity in China, it is actually an officially registered sport. Our playing customers are mostly foreigners having their birthday parties in our place or international companies looking for a great team activity. The market has been growing year on year now and is now better than ever. It is easier to target the foreigners because they already have the concept of laser tag from their home countries, to create a domestic need is a bit harder.
Marketing activities for laser tag are difficult in most countries and China is not different, it is hard to see the effects for each activity. The absolutely best advertising you can get is word of mouth where happy pleased players tell their friends about the great laser tag game they just played. Priceless! The bad thing with word of mouth is that a bad experience is shared with even more people. Laser tag in China is still in the early stages of development and I am sure it will pick up as it has done in most other countries.
TRUTNEE: - Who was the developer of the equipment?
WSD: -The first system for StarTrooper was developed by a Chinese company using our ideas and specifications but this company did not give us any drawings and similar for the system so customer support was not that easy. Both me and my brother are engineers so after this experience we decided to put all production and development inside our own company. This is by far the best decision that we have ever made. Now all systems are designed and produced by WSD.
TRUTNEE: - As far as I can see, the equipment's version you're currently marketing is already the second one. What was improved when comparing to the first version?
WSD: - Yes you are correct. The first StarTrooper system made by our Chinese partner was a great way to start the business in China but lacked in some areas. It was maintenance heavy, too warm to wear when playing and only gave 3-4 games before the battery was empty. The new X-10 system is improved in all ways imaginable:
Firstly with X-10 we have moved away from soft vests and are now using custom designed molds both to make the vest and the gun.
The new system is using a standard vest for all colors, when the player is activated both the color and language are selected. The big benefit with this is after each game when the customer can put the vest back on any empty hanger, this makes it faster to get the next group inside.
One other great feature of StarTrooper X-10 is the low current consumption, in our arena we charge the equipment one time per week regardless of how much we play. Because of gun laws in China and other countries guns looking like real guns are not really allowed so when making the X-10 system we solved that problem also. X-10 is using Bases and Energizers. The Bases and Energizers are always on in the arena but depending on what game is played the vests might not respond to them. The old system had a cable from the game PC to control the functions of Bases and Energizers the new system does not use a game computer and Bases and Energizers are controlled by the vests. All activation, score priniting and similar is done from a Startbox specially made for this purpose.
I can honestly say that the X-10 system is a leap forward in entry level laser tag systems and is the perfect choice for an arena that does not see the need for real-time scoring.
TRUTNEE: - LandTrooper (outdoor laser tag system): probably, the most distinctive feature of this system is the use of GPS function. How a player may use this feature and what for? And what is the function of the keypad mounted at the the phazor's butt?
WSD: - LandTrooper is made for the Teambuilding market and that is where the GPS system really shows. Using the Eagle Eye software the game is monitored in real-time and status and position of each player is displayed on a computer. It is possible to link this PC to a projector so more people can see the picture.
After the game, using the Playback mode, the game can be analyzed and the teams have to answer to the decisions they made on the battlefield. GPS can also be a part of the game itself. King Of the Hill type Delta force games are possible. A virtual area is made inside Eagle Eye and the longer time you can spend inside this area the more points you get. The GPS coordinates are also displayed on the built in butt mounted display. So players can use this data along with a map to keep track of where they are. It is my understanding that we are so far only scratching the surface of the benefits of integrating GPS in games.
The keypad on the butt is a part of the War Message System (WMS).. You can look at it as a simple version of SMS used in mobile phones. By using the buttons and a code book you can send and receive messages. For example, when you as a scout have found the enemy you can send "I am here, my GPS coordinates" "I have found the enemy" by just looking in the code book and selecting what message you want to send. This message number is sent to the other players inside your team and they use their code books to decode the message. The benefit of using code books are that books can be printed in many languages and it reduces the number of buttons required to make advanced messages. It is possible to create 1 headquarter per team where the players can be tracked and controlled by the team general and the WMS function is in that case mostly from the headquarter to the soldiers in a Yes/No format. "Do you see the enemy?" By pressing the Yes or No button on your gun you report back to your headquarter.
TRUTNEE: - What is the max. fire range of LandTrooper's phazor? Can the phasor simulate different types of weapons? What are the main technical parameters of the phazor?
WSD: - Range is always interesting and much depending on the environment. For LandTrooper we say around 120 meters but that is in worst possible scenario. The range of the LandTrooper gun is also programmable, the current thru the IR-LED is controlled by the software so it is possible to make LandTrooper guns with longer or shorter range inside the same game. Look at it as Submachine guns VS Sniper rifles. This can also be updated via the WMS function if needed. LandTrooper does not support variable damage, we think variable damage might benefit a few players but most players will not understand or appreciate variable damage.
LandTrooper also has a feedback function, if you shoot a player the Player ID, number of lives left and similar game data are sent from the shot player to your gun. The gun has a metal butt, a metal skeleton, a PU plastic outside and is normally equipped with a Red dot scope. The weight is around 3.5kg
TRUTNEE: - StarTrooper (indoor laser tag system): What are the most distinctive features of this system? What is the feature you're most proud of?
WSD: - The single thing we are most pleased with for StarTrooper is the reliability of the system.. It just works and works and now in our Beijing arena the X-10 system has been used for over 3 years and still looks like new. The durability of the molded vests and guns is just amazing, the material is similar to what is normally used in steering wheels for cars. The new X-10 StarTrooper system is also amazingly easy to use for the staff and this is important.
There is no radio inside the X-10 system. It is designed from an operator/player point of view, we have chosen not to include a radio in X-10 because it makes the system more expensive and the playing customer that we have would not even realize it was there. With more advanced players maybe a radio makes sense but our players are 8-15 years old having birthday parties or adults playing for the first time in their life and I can not see where the radio's benefits would outweigh the negative parts. But as things mature so will the systems and maybe in the future radio will be included.
X-10 also has another cool function, "Laser Aim". The built in class 1 laser is kept on for some seconds after the trigger is released. By doing this the player gets a laser aimer and can easier target the enemy. If you do not shoot inside these seconds the laser is switched off untill the next time the trigger is pressed.
TRUTNEE: - Can you please explain the game modes used at StarTrooper? I went through the brief description published at http://www.plasertag.com/game.htm, but not sure I clearly understood the idea and the way of technical implementation of BAND OF BROTHERS and THE INCREDIBLES modes... What game modes are the most popular among the players?
WSD: - The Shanghai arena is not really a StarTrooper arena, it is owned and operated by a Chinese couple and they have their own way of doing things. You can look at these names as a advertising gimmick and this is not used in our Beijing arena.
The normal game modes for X-10 is team games Green vs. Blue or Free for All where all players are Blue. These are the basic modes and can be combined with Bases ,Energizers, Survival mode, T-5 and different game times. Survival mode is where you only have a limited number of lives, once these are gone you are out. In T5 your Base station is a super energizer and gives the player 5 missiles. If you hit another player with a missile he will loose all remaining lives. Most of the StarTrooper games are time limited, we want the players to leave the arena at the same time.
For birthday parties most groups play 3 games. Game 1 Teams with unlimited lives and ammo, Game 2 Teams with energizers, Game 3 Teams with Base and Energizers.
TRUTNEE: - It is written at the webpage of Shanghai laser tag arena that they have almost twenty different types of phazors there, i.e.: Sport Gun, Shot Gun, Space Gun, Plaser Cannon, Power Plaser, M-4, Machine Pistol, M-16, G36, AK Sniper, Flamethrower, MP5, AK47, Dual Barrel Shot Gun, Mini M-16, Baby M-7. What are they talking about? These are the modes of one and the same phazor, or do they really have such quantity of DIFFERENT phazors at their site?
WSD: - They have modified the old StarTrooper system and are using toy- and softairguns. I have not tested these guns myself but I think they are just different looks and same functions. What I do know is that the police is not that pleased and there will be a change in coming months. The old StarTrooper system used ABS guns and if the players dropped the guns they broke into many pieces. This was one of the reasons for us to develop X-10.
TRUTNEE: - How many arenas and outdoor laser tag sites are using your systems now?
WSD: - For the moment we own one StarTrooper arena and we have sold StarTrooper X-10 systems to 2 other clubs. We have also sold the old StarTrooper system to 2 clubs and it is still used in Shanghai. We do not have any outdoor site for the moment but when spring comes again and now when the Beijing 2008 Olympics are over we will try to find a new place for a LandTrooper arena.
TRUTNEE: - What is your standard warranty term?
WSD: - We have a standard 6 month warranty, this is the standard following Chinese law. In reality I am really confident in both StarTrooper and LandTrooper systems, for sales outside China 1 year warranty is an option.
TRUTNEE: - Are you planning to market your products in Europe and the USA? What are the prices and basic trade terms?
WSD: - For the moment we focus on the Chinese and Asian markets. India and Russia are also two big markets currently under investigation but to make it there you need a local sales network. 20 sets of StarTrooper X-10 player equipment including Bases, Energizers, Startbox with remote, printer is 118.000 RMB (about 13.800 EUR) without export fees, shipping and installation. 20 sets of LandTrooper with GPS 138.000 RMB (about 16.100 EUR) without the game computer, shipping, export fees and installation.
TRUTNEE: - Thanks for your answers!
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