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New business gives Gen Xers their own place

by: Vern Uyetake, STAFF PHOTO / VERN UYETAKE
Seth Miner, left, co-owner of Versis Inc. Videogame Center in Lake Oswego said that the new shop merges two of his favorite interests — meeting new people and video games.

Versis Videogaming Center, a social center for video gamers, opened recently in Lake Oswego.

The business is the brainchild of Seth Miner and Jasjit Singh. Versis, the owners said, serves a purpose not unlike the pool halls or bowling alleys frequented by previous generations. It's a place to pick up a game, visit with friends and pit your skills against those of your peers.

Miner and Singh, friends from high school, both attended Marist High School in Eugene. Miner collected old TV sets and linked them together in his family garage, so that friends could play video games at lunch and after school.

The friends soon noticed that the video games were great equalizers in the social realm. A player's athletic ability or scholastic achievement didn't give him or her any edge - games were won or lost based strictly on the players' video game skills and savvy.

After high school, Miner enrolled at Chemaketa Community College in Salem to study Computer IT. Singh went on to Williams College to study Religion and Economics.

One night while home during the summer, the two were (naturally) playing video games. Singh asked Miner the question that started it all: 'What would be your dream job?'

The answer: Versis - a place where Miner could play video games, meet lots of people and hang out.

The partners took 11 months to research the business potential, line up financial support and find a location. The business broke even its first day of operation. Repeat customers - not just back the following day, but back the same day customers - are increasing in number also.

The partners view parental acceptance and support as a big component to the center's success.

They want parents to be comfortable with the store's safety, cleanliness and positive attitude. Singh and Miner said that they have had zero behavioral problems; patrons recognize the center was set up with their enjoyment in mind, and they don't want to risk being banned by poor behavior.

A parent must accompany new members if they are under 16, or have a valid Oregon ID if they are over 16. Permission is required for gamers under 16 who wish to play Mature or Teen-rated games. Care is taken to separate players not allowed to play the more mature games from those that can.

'We've noticed that the clientele is time sensitive. Right after school, the junior high players come in. Later in the afternoon and into the evening come the high schoolers. The 'twenties' come even later,' Singh said.

The center is also the only local resource for buying new and selling used video games in Lake Oswego.

Miner and Singh have streamlined their membership processing system, so players can get in and begin playing quickly. Fees are $11 for three hours. The basic hourly fee is $5 for one to three players. If you come with four to seven players the fee is $4 per hour, and if you can manage to get eight friends together the hourly fee is $3.

The store also offers a Gold Membership, where for $16.99 per month, a customer gets five hours free, a 10 percent discount on used games and a $1 per hour discount on the hourly rate.

Versis is a recreation room set up to accommodate 30 players. On a recent weekend, the center was at capacity both days.

'In fact, during some time slots, we were full on reservations alone,' Singh said. 'It's really going to be important for players to call ahead for reservations on the weekends.'

Currently most of the patrons are male, but Singh and Miner are setting up games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero to draw more female players.

'We think the Wii will do a lot for this cause as well,' continued Singh, talking about Nintendo's new Wii with which a player's actions remotely affect the action seen on the screen.

Versis Inc. Videogame Center is located at 395 N. State St. in downtown Lake Oswego.

The center is open noon to midnight seven days a week. The phone number is 503-922-1927.