According to a statement from Fortress, the interactive games sector was estimated to be worth $3.4 billion in Australia in 2020, increasing to $4.9 billion by 2025.
Here, Inside Retail chats with Fortress chief operations officer Mads Brown about what the last two years have been like for the business, and the intersection between gaming, retail and entertainment.
Inside Retail: Can you tell us what the journey has been like for Fortress, since launching in Melbourne, just before the first wave of Covid hit?
Mads Brown: We opened our Melbourne venue on Friday 13th March 2020, just days before the first lockdowns were announced.
Like many other businesses, we had to adapt and work through the challenges of operating in a completely new retail landscape. Whilst opening an enormous games, entertainment, and hospitality venue focused on live experiences at the start of a global pandemic could have gone a lot of ways, we were able to build a thriving community of passionate gamers and entertainment seekers through digital and in-person experiences.
In order to do this, we had to remain agile, not over-capitalise on complex events and roll with changing government regulations. While things have certainly been tough, this period has forced us to diversify our offering and increase our capability to the benefit of our business and our customers.
IR: What have you learned from the Melbourne space that is being implemented into the new Sydney location?
MB: Our Melbourne venue has always been a big hit with our customers and a key theme of our five-star reviews. From the start, we put a significant amount of thought and consideration into building spaces that create immersive experiences for our customers, so it was important for someone to step into the venue and be wowed or feel like they were transported to a different world.
This included creating our own characters and lore that feature throughout the venue. This investment into expansive spaces, premium finishes, state-of-the-art technology and design flair is something that we know works and will be something we are looking to execute even better at Fortress Sydney.
There will always be opportunities to learn, especially having two years under our belt pioneering in a new market, and naturally, we will be implementing a suite of design changes to optimise the operations of the business.
IR: How do you think Fortress can help to revitalise Sydney’s nightlife?
MB: Fortress will bring a fresh perspective to Sydney’s nightlife as a completely unique bar and restaurant experience. We have found that our Melbourne venue is attracting people who may never regularly visit bars and restaurants, but frequent Fortress because we offer a home that appeals to passions and speaks to customers in a way no environment has done before.
Fortress Sydney will complement and enrich Sydney’s nightlife by reaching this new audience and attracting them into the inner city. Fortress will satisfy an audience that is hungry for new and exciting concepts that combine food, drink, and a passion for games entertainment.
In addition to our unique customer base, Fortress Sydney sits in the heart of Central Park Mall – a retail and entertainment hub anchored by a Woolworths Metro supermarket, Palace Cinema and a mix capacity for more than 40 retailers.
The precinct provides the local Broadway community and visitors with an unparalleled dining and lifestyle destination, set in a unique inner-city greenspace.
IR: Fortress seems to hark back to the days of gaming arcades and internet cafes, but it’s now more inclusive and welcoming, particularly for females. How are you trying to make the space safe and accessible to anyone who enjoys gaming?
MB: We pride ourselves on being a home for all gamers and our strict ‘no trolls’ policy, our focus on exceptional customer service and our diligent attention to safety has allowed us to build a space where the wellbeing of our patrons is at the forefront.
We’ve ensured that our existing venue in Melbourne is fully accessible, and our Sydney venue is being designed with the same standards in mind. Whether it’s installing wheelchair access to a stage, opening our doors to different communities, helping a newcomer learn a game, or staying vigilant with our duty-of-care, we want to make sure everyone feels welcome – at any Fortress they visit.
IR: Esports are a burgeoning industry worldwide, but are much bigger overseas than they are in Australia. Tell me about what it’s like being on the forefront of delivering esports to Australians. What has the reaction been like so far?
MB: With the real emphasis on being the home for all gamers, we’ve made sure to keep the uninitiated, as well as the existing esports community, front of mind. Esports is, comparatively, such a new industry, and there’s so much scope to try something new and push the boundaries of what people expect from us.
We’ve taken on classic esports tournaments, like the just-announced Fortress Oceania Masters – the first ever regional qualifier in Oceania for global esports circuit Blast – and also created our own events like the Fortress House Cup, which aims to engage newer players who might be intimidated by typical competitive events.
With the unique edge of being able to cater for both online and live esports events, we hope to bring esports to everyone.