How Fortress Melbourne Is Surviving Coronavirus

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fortress melbourne
Image: Fortress Melbourne Facebook

Back in early March, I asked Fortress Melbourne’s CEO’s a simple question. It was the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Cities and countries hadn’t gone into full lockdown yet, and major events and conventions were still planning to go ahead. If things got worse, how was a new retail business going to survive?

Less than a week after Fortress Melbourne officially opened, the netcafe-restaurant-esports venue shut its doors. Since then, the business has been staying alive — but only just. So to understand what happened in those few days, and how difficult survival has been, I sat down for an exclusive interview with the Fortress Melbourne CEO to ask what happened.

The interview below has been slightly edited and abridged for clarity.


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Image: Jon Satterley, Fortress Melbourne CEO

Kotaku Australia: I remember I was sitting and I was asking you, what happens next week if all of this effectively gets shut down. And we were still at that point, thinking about what might happen but [coronavirus] didn’t have that severity yet. So what was the Monday like, what was the Tuesday like, and what was the day like where you had to make the call?

Jon Satterley, Fortress Melbourne CEO: When you and I were chatting, that amazing sort of heady week of getting the joint open and pretty frantic … [I] had to put aside and mentally unpack the whole anxiety about COVID because we were so focused and no-one really knew what the fuck was going on. It was just pandemonium, really.

And on that Friday of our opening, you know, the emotions. Everyone in the team was almost overwhelmed with emotion: we’d spent two-plus years, nearly three years, from concept to opening and got the thing open. And I remember even on that Friday night, at about 11:00pm, that tavern downstairs was chockers. 600-plus people in there carousing and beers flowing. We had nearly, I think on Friday, 2,500 people go through Fortress.

So the dream had happened. And yet, even on that day, it felt like we were participating in a disaster movie. You know like one where the earthquake cracks, breaking up behind you, sprinting to get [to safety]. That morning, we were supposed to host the Lord Mayor’s student welcome that day. Friday night, that was supposed to be up to 1000 students that the Lord Mayor was welcoming into the City, all piling into Fortress from about 5:00pm.

“It’s scrambled the rules of engagement in commerce, the industry, in economics, in social life, everything.”

And that morning, it was like, it’s gonna happen at 9:00am. At 10:00am, it’s gonna happen. At 11:00am, we got a call and maybe it isn’t gonna happen. Not sure at 1:00pm, we don’t think it’s gonna happen. At 2:00pm, it’s cancelled.

And then we were taking calls all day, people were going to come in [but] they had to cancel because of COVID going crazy. So even while we were opening on that Friday, the walls were caving in. So the numbers speak for themselves: 2,500, let’s just call it 2,500 on the Friday. On the Saturday, which by then the Grand Prix had been cancelled, we got about 400 people I think on Saturday. On Sunday we got about 100. On Monday we got about 50. On Tuesday, 10 people. So just absolutely, a whole city and Fortress and everything just smashed into a wall and went right off a cliff.

By Monday afternoon, we were saying, fuck we’re going to have to close. And by Tuesday, we called it and said, we’re shut. By Friday? 2,500 people. By Tuesday, we’re shut.

When you’re starting to see, probably by Sunday, you’re going to have to make this call, how do you also manage the morale of everyone else – the floor staff that are seeing this happen as well. Because it’s one thing to have to make the call yourself, but you’ve got to make sure everyone else keeps as high spirits as possible.

Satterley: We quickly instituted some things that we were really happy that we did and, in hindsight, were good things to do. From the minute we called everyone in — and this is pre-Jobkeeper and, this is pre-any rent negotiations, we just didn’t know anything about what the future held. And in that weekend, when it all kind of went crazy, you know, you recall probably everyone was just convinced we were all going to get [coronavirus]. You were washing your hands every half and hour, [asking] what can I do? It was this weird twilight zone, and in that first sort of week of lockdown when everybody was in a state of perplexion and anxiety.

The really heartbreaking part of it was, we’d just spent six-plus weeks training 50 casual young people, all around the age of 18 to 25. Creating this army of casuals to be Fortress, we called them Vanguard, our customer service attendants. Six weeks of training, great camaraderie, they’d done a magnificent job in the opening weekend. You read the reviews of our first day or two when we were chockers. And no matter what was going on — we had network issues, the joint was still basically being built as we were opened — the one massive takeaway was how tremendous and happy and how positive our staff were. Magnificent job, and then we had to let them go because there’s no work.

So 50 casuals all got stood down. That was horrible. After all that work, and not to mention the economics of it — we had to pay people for six weeks to train, you know, and then do the work and then just stand them all down. All the full-timers we basically just had to huddle and model what it would look like. And even then we were starting to model, how do we survive through December. Remember, this is middle of March.

A shot of a Fortress Melbourne VIP booth, taken just before opening. Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

How do we possibly survive not being open? We never budgeted to have no income. All of our rent concerns and fixed costs, utility costs, internet costs, bills, what the fuck do we do? So we brought everybody in, huddled into a room, and all the full time staff, and said we’re all in it together. We’ve gotta figure out how to survive. We haven’t crunched the numbers but we will do everything in our power to make sure everyone here still remains. Because everyone’s valuable — everyone hired, it’d been a hard fought journey to get people hired. We loved our staff. We wanted, particularly guys like our head chef, we got him from the Atlantic Group. He’s an awesome chef.

And even if a guy like that, when we’re closed there’s nothing for them to do, we have to make sure we preserve these jobs. So we mounted, me and the directors, we worked through the numbers, we all took some significant pay drop, like sizeable sacrifices there. Then we worked through programs where our staff were also being asked to do some things like that, to varying degrees, and then people on the lowest salaries were not obliged to do that.

Then JobKeeper arrived and that’s certainly helped save our business, because that shores up salaries. Because the biggest fixed cost is salaries, after rent and utilities. So we’ve managed to figure out a way to keep ourselves alive. And then the thing we did, even after the closing — we all just got together in the park and just sort of had a debrief, a kind of shell-shocked, “What the fuck just happened?” Just sit around in the park, have a picnic, and wonder what the hell just happened. We just opened after two years and then closed. And we sort of just had a kind of critical conversation about, what do we do? And I guess the thing is, to your question, no-one’s ever done this before. Who in their right minds has ever had a crisis — I’m 49, I’ve lived through shit like 9/11 and recessions and seen some stuff in my life, but I’ve never had any experience like this. Or opened a venue before, and managed all of that, let alone manage closing [a venue] four days later.

So we’re all just in it together, trying to sort of fathom what to do together from the most junior, youngest person on the team to me and the other directors. None of us really had a magic bullet or a real roadmap. We’re saying, let’s come together with the team, figure out what to do, try some things, and try and survive.

“So think of that, how fucked the situation is in terms of economic value to the country. These people are sitting at home doing nothing, desperate to work. We can’t put them on work because we can’t get JobKeeper for them, because casuals don’t qualify.”

So since then, over the last month — that was March — we’ve worked on some ideas that have not worked, and some ideas that have worked. Some ideas that didn’t work — we sort of thought, let’s try delivery. At the time in April when we did that, the challenges have always been that the Melbourne CBD is absolutely dead. In April in particular, it was like tumbleweed, completely fricking dead. And delivery, if you’re not Domino’s or McDonald’s or the big name delivery services, you just couldn’t compete. Deliveroo and those services that do the deliveries were really quite shit: you’d get an order, the delivery guy would turn up late, the food would be cold, you’d have to recook it. So we ended up after three weeks, tried it, scrapped it.

One big decision we made early which was really good was about morale, and we set up a morning stand up every morning at 9:30am, religiously, for the first two months. We didn’t miss one for about eight, nine weeks. All the staff got on Zoom, or Hangout, and we just spent half an hour talking about where things are at, what we’re doing, and just having face time as a thing. That was really powerful and really important for morale.

I set up 1:1 chats with everybody, half an hour with everybody, and Adrian, my other director, did that as well. So whether it be more senior generals, or the younger team members, I was just giving time for everybody to just chat. Some 0f that was just conversations, not about the business, but just, “How are you tracking, what are you feeling, let’s just share some thoughts and war stories about what’s the hell going on?”

How were you coping mentally throughout all this? Because not only have you got to manage other people, but you’ve invested so much time and money into this and you’re in a situation where you have so few answers. How do you keep your own spirits up?

Satterley: Probably my wife would say that my mental acuity about this stuff is that I don’t have an off button. I’m not a very reflective person in some ways. I don’t sit there and cry about problems; perhaps a typical male, solution mode, try to just go forward and be positive and think about how can we fix the problem, and not a lot of contemplation about what’s actually happened. So I’m not good at introspective, certainly no self pity and certainly no introspection about, “Oh, this is horrible. I feel terrible.”

Let’s just get busy and stay positive and just think of things to do, right? Maybe at some point when we’re at the other end of this stuff, I might allow myself time to wonder what’s happened and give myself a chance to feel bad or, you know, examine my mental health. But the only things that I do do to stay mentally healthy is I do yoga nearly every day, and a lot of exercise. I ride the bike for an hour, hour and a half every day. To work usually, but even this morning I was on the bike in the freezing cold for an hour. I find those times, listen to podcasts or audiobooks on the bike or do yoga, it keeps my mind, gives me a chance to pause the mind and not have much else going on. so those moments are pretty powerful and pretty important.

And then that’s the healthy stuff. The unhealthy stuff is probably too much booze, and I found that when you’re living at home in lockdown, every night, you’d probably smash a few G&T’s. And then also when we were coming back to the venue on Friday nights, I’d probably partake — what do they say, you shouldn’t get high on your own supply? I probably was a bit, you know, and in the last month I’ve actually stopped drinking. And not that I’m an alcoholic boozing like mad — but in this environment it was so easy to be every night, just sort of rewarding yourself after some high pressure, going to the G&Ts or the beers and getting into it.

It was starting to encroach on my mental, physical health. So I just said stop — well I didn’t say stop, but bad habits for me creep up. And then if my mind said, I don’t stop, I don’t stop. But my emotions, if my heart says stop — my heart’s not in it any more — and with booze, and some of those bad habits, I just hit a wall. “I’m not enjoying this.”

And I just stopped. So a month ago, I gave it all up, and I haven’t had a drink for about a month. And that’s been quite helpful.

I’ve heard from some other people — friends of mine, executives, or individual developers — is if they were working in an office, they’d get to maybe 4:00pm or 5:00pm, whenever their end time was, and then it’s, “OK, I’m done”, get up and go. But a lot of people don’t have an office environment at home, it’s just where their computer or laptop happens to be. And they don’t have that cut-off time.

So they ended up resorting to a lot of, “I’ll have a drink at 5:00pm”, because that’s the only thing that can trigger that mental break that says, “OK, work time’s off now.” And as [isolation] continues to go on, a lot of people are struggling — because there’s only so much you can do with your physical space — with that gap between work and home life, which is now basically the same thing for a lot of people.

Satterley: Yeah, well I certainly don’t like working from home. I think it’s a shit idea and overrated. And all the talk in the media about this revolution in working from home, I think it’s a dreadful notion personally. In terms of productivity, and just general esprit de corps and camaraderie and morale, I think working from this Zoom, Hangout world is shithouse. And I’m not an advocate. And I know when we’ve been back in the venue, just being in the venue, being in our awesome place we’ve built with all the staff, and having that serendipity, just being with your colleagues and having odd chats can lead to an idea. In a Zoom world, you don’t have that. Everything is sequential, so you go from one Zoom call to another and there’s these blocks of time that don’t lend themselves to accidental ideas.

And when you’re in an environment in a room with your other colleagues, you just wander in and look over someone’s shoulder, “Ah, that looks interesting, what are you up to? Hey, I just had this cool idea.” You don’t do that when you’re in this weird, Zoom-kind of world. So I have found that probably more mentally depleting and stressful than the kind of depressing situation of Fortress closing.

I like the energy and positivity of being with my colleagues and having that sort of burning, let’s all work on this idea, let’s get this shit done. I don’t think with Zoom– I can spend a whole day in this home office moving from one Zoom to the next, and by 5:00pm when the day’s done, I feel like I’ve done nothing, because I’ve just done this call and it doesn’t feel like it’s moved the ball forward. We’ve been getting back in the venue, and [I’ve] certainly felt like that’s been much more productive and more interesting to be there to get the venue back into shape. That’s the other big project we’ve been working on in the closure: All the stuff we knew we didn’t get done in time [for launch], but now we’ve had time to go back and get it done. That’s been one positive from all of this, doing shit we would have never got done if we had been trading.

Just before spinning forward into the future, I wanted to ask if you can remember what it was like the day JobKeeper was announced.

Satterley: It was a mighty relief. Any business like ours, we never forecasted in our budgets to be closed. Rent, utilities and salaries and all of the costs were supposed to be paid for by trading. Now we weren’t so foolish to think that would happen in the first monnth, so we had a pretty decent working capital war chest, right. But that war chest wasn’t designed to burn for six months of closure. The idea of working capital is designed to augment your trading until you get to the point that you can trade positively. So we had a budget that had the trajectory of our business like this, like getting the plane off the ground, the working capital was there to support the gap from trading. So we thought, three or four months of trading would get us above the line and the plane would be off the ground, and then we could pay up and get to a trading position that pays its own way.

So JobKeeper, when it arrived, that was like, “Thank fuck.” Because that cover, that rock now, because that was something we would never dreamt of budgeting for. The only comment I’d make though, was when JobKeeper was announced initially, it didn’t feel like we would qualify. Because as a business we hadn’t been open for the year that the [JobKeeper] test had originally contemplated. So that was bittersweet, because we were rejoicing that there was this now program. But then when we looked at the fine print, it looked like we wouldn’t qualify. So we were, you know, almost in tears of frustration. “What if this is a thing we might be theoretically be able to access, but we technically can’t because we’re a startup?”

We’ve got some friends in high places, so we asked them about that. And sure enough, within a week or two of JobKeeper, they addressed the fine print and came up with some alternative tests that captured startups that were originally failing that 12 months of trading test. So then we were like, our business can get through this now. Because that JobKeeper covers 10 or more, 15 full-time employees that we have on the books. So big, big difference to our business.

So certainly if it falls off a cliff in September, that’s a problem. And we believe that it’s unconscionable — I’m doing my little policy high horse here — but if in September JobKeeper is yanked from us, but we’re still by law unable to trade to the way we’ve designed our business to trade? That’s unconscionable.

If the government says, “You’re not allowed to open to this many people and we’re taking JobKeeper away”, then that really feels like that’s a punishment that no entertainment, hospitality industry should be subject to. So they need to make JobKeeper go for as long as those regulations about our trading hours are still there, they need to make JobKeeper continue.

Was there enough consideration even after [the government] made those changes in the week after to capture startups and new businesses for how this would affect the entertainment and hospitality sector?

Satterley: I don’t know. The problem there was the casual situation, right. So here’s the thing, this is what’s so infuriating and depressing and horrible. This is probably the one thing that’s really burned in my guts. We had 50 casuals that we had to stand down because there was absolutely zero work for them. Just terrible. Heartbreak.

So then 50 casuals then all descend on the dole queue, right? We had piles of work that we could have given them in the sense of like, just keeping people busy, adding value for our business, but technically not work that was generating revenues. So the kinds of jobs we had in a typical trading environment were serving customers. But in the absence of that, when we were closed, we identified lots of things that we could have casual staff do in terms of brand building, creating content, work on, I don’t know, cataloguing our board games. Housekeeping things that weren’t generating any revenue or supporting a P&L, but would really help us to get ready for re-opening. But we couldn’t afford it because there’s just no revenue.

But for the sake of $300 a week per casual from the difference between JobKeeper and [JobSeeker], we would have made all of those 50, got them busy. And they’re all desperate, saying to us, “We don’t care Jon, we’ll come and volunteer.” And we said, we can’t even have you in the venue. Because you’re not allowed to volunteer.

So now you’ve got 50 casuals on the dole, sitting at home doing nothing, because there’s no work for them, begging that they could come to Fortress and do something. And we said, shit yeah, we’d love to have you do something — but as soon as you walk through the door, we can’t afford that. We can’t even pay you $300 as a contribution towards the difference between JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Because the minute you do one minute of work in our venue, you are now no longer able to get the dole and JobKeeper doesn’t record in the middle between JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

So think of that, how fucked the situation is in terms of economic value to the country. These people are sitting at home doing nothing, desperate to work. We can’t put them on work because we can’t get JobKeeper for them, because casuals don’t qualify.

Everything was rushed, but it was certainly a situation where the consequences were never really thought through. And it doesn’t sound like it’s ever been corrected to capture that.

Satterley: It was depressing when they discovered there was that $60 billion shortfall. But then, why not put that money towards this?

So when did things start to turn around — if that’s the right way to phrase it.

Satterley: If you asked me two weeks ago I would have said we’re on the cusp of the turnaround because we were planning for, you know, that July changeover in Victoria so we could have 50 people per room. And when we did the numbers on that, that meant we could maybe get up to 250 people sitting at a session.

Now, that’s still miles away from what our businesses are theoretically licensed to hold — 1000 people. So 250 maximum is still not great business, but it would at least feel like a turnaround. Now two weeks ago, that’s the trajectory we felt we were on. And then when the announcement came a week or so ago that Victoria failed to hit the marks it needed to hit and we were going back to almost, what, back to March.

The Premier was saying “restaurants and cafes can still have 20 people in the joint but we strongly urge every person to stay at home, don’t go out, don’t go to work.” So on the one hand you can open, on the other hand the message from the Premier is absolutely don’t leave the house. So there’s a giant disconnect. I feel quite a distance from any turnaround.

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Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

What I will say, as a team, there’s a lot of energy and positivity at the moment around Fortress and what the inevitable reopening will look like. My business partner and colleague,  we were sitting in the venue on Friday, we looked at each other for the first almost and said, gee, this Tavern feels like almost 100 percent right. All the screens were working nicely. We had our menu boards up. We had huge troopers; one of our characters, the troll, is now giant life-size. He’s like a three-metre high monster troll bursting out of the wall. All the board games are setup nicely. And we felt like at least all the loose things had been tied. So when the venue does get open again, the venue will be 20 to 30 percent better than what it was when we had it open on that first weekend.

Now what we know is when people came in that first weekend, people’s minds were blown. They were absolutely beyond our wildest dreams. Unbelievable. And we knew behind the scenes, there was just blue tack and gaffa tape and sticky tape holding half of it. The morning, I mean, the guys were still hammering the beer font in. At 8:00am, we were still fixing beer pipes into the bloody wall. So there was this mad, crazy scramble that resulted in getting opened and people loved it, but it wasn’t anywhere near ready in the sense of things that still had to get done. And now we’ve done other things and we’ve gone even 30 percent over that with the things we fixed and done, what we learned and needed to do to make the joint even better.

Is there some kind of structural advantage you have with such a large space in Melbourne? Because with everyone having reduced restrictions, that means they can only have so few patrons, which means you’re not having those patrons cycle through as often. So even though you can’t fill the room with as many as before, you’re going to have more people in overall than others, and generally now when somebody goes to go out, they’re going to stay longer because there’s less of that freedom. You’re not going to stay out for an hour.

Satterley: Because of the way restaurants and bars are working, you stumble out of a joint thinking you’re going to kick on somewhere else, you won’t find somewhere else. Because you have to have booked.

In the old days, if you had a dinner and then said, let’s have a kick on and hit some bars, you would just go for a wander and stumble into a bar. So the advantage we have, and we’re doing it right now, is we’re selling prepaid, four hour [inaudible]. So we’ve got a really nice product we’re doing in July called Bordeomlesswhat it is is bottomless, bottomless fries, bottomless pizza, and four hours of games in one of our VIP booths, or four hours of use of our board games but with bottomless food.

I think it’s $70 for a VIP booth per person, or $59 per person for the board games. But you can be there for four hours, you can sit and relax with food until you croak or you feel sick, and I think you even get a beer or wine or arrival to start you off, and then we do charge for drinking after that. But it means you get your four hours. It may not be the very cheapest price in the city, but as you pointed out, people are desperate to get out. They want to sit and perch and relax and not be pressured.

And that’s been really popular, people have been buying those tickets and say, I’m happy to come and sit and relax in your tavern. And now the other advantage we have of being a big venue is when we are allowed to turn the computers on, and we have people using our PCs on, we can quite easily get 30, 40, 50 people in each room. And across the whole venue, that means potentially all 250 people, all socially distanced and compliant with the rules, because we’ve got nearly 3000 square metres of space.

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

So you’re not allowed to turn the computers on right now?

Satterley: No. So there’s a real challenge around — one of the problems for us is, Victorian legislation or regulations specify all these different categories. There’s outdoor. Amusement. Indoor arcade. Indoor amusements. Theme parks. Cinemas. Casinos. Gaming venues. RSLs. But nowhere, of course, have they defined a video game centre like us.

So we have tried to find it — are we an indoor arcade, are we amusement, are we a cinema? Well, we’re none of that. But unfortunately, even if we were any of them, we would be restricted to 20 people at the moment.

So if we wanted to stretch the definition and say, “Hey they haven’t defined what we are, let’s say we can have 50 people, let’s turn the computers on and let people use the computers and see what they say.” We could risk that, but we’re taking a more conservative approach and just opening up our restaurant, being our Tavern, and not letting on because we’ve considered that to be more like an amusement arcade like a TimeZone, which are not allowed to open, or a casino with a gaming machine that is not allowed to open.

“And we believe that it’s unconscionable — I’m doing my little policy high horse here — but if in September JobKeeper is yanked from us, but we’re still by law unable to trade to the way we’ve designed our business to trade? That’s unconscionable.”

We’ve looked with interest at Holy Moly and Strike Bowling, and they’ve opened. And we thought, if people are allowed to throw bowling balls or share bowls or whatever they’re doing there, people should be allowed to use computers. So we’re debating that. And we may just well say, look, if people are busy, and if people are interested in getting keen on this, we might in July — but we’re just being a bit cautious about that, because the rules are ambiguous and aren’t clear.

[In] July we will be open for pre-paid tickets, but we’re already still far away from is being open up for regular trade. Here’s the thing though. Nothing will work, no success will come our way until we think the government, Victoria and the City Council say, not you can open, but more, “Hey guys, the city is open, everyone go back to work, blow the whistle, Melbourne CBD is alive, get back, go shopping, go into the city, go and have a good time.”

If the message is you can open, but everyone should stay at home, nobody should be working in the city, only two people are allowed in a lift or any of this shit, then nothing we do will fix the business because the city’s pretty dead. I catch the train in on the days I do go into the city, and you know, you get the 8.30am or 8am train that once upon a time you could barely stand, now it’s three or four people in a carriage. Even now. So until the message is the city is alive, go out again and get busy people, go back to work, the city’s alive, all the CBD businesses are going to struggle.

We’ve never seen anything like this in human history — I mean, if you go back and look at things like the black plague, World Wars, there was always a staggered impact on how they hit the rest of the world. This has hit everyone at basically the same time. So there’s not been any safe harbour. It’s certainly upending our idea of what government support should look like; certainly changing our idea of debt.

Satterley: It does. It changes the idea of what it means to have a supporting government. It’s scrambled the rules of engagement in commerce, the industry, in economics, in social life, everything. But death by 1000 cuts is what would happen if your scenario that you painted, of a couple of years of stop-start shutting the doors, every time there’s a surge, everyone back to the bunker. I think that death by 1000 cuts would devastate key industries. It would devastate hospitality and entertainment. Probably 50 percent of all restaurants and businesses would be done.

It’s frightening, because a lot of the ways that we grew up, thinking how life and business and what our day to day looks like is now just completely out the window.

Satterley: Just shaking hands, hugging your friends, carousing in a bar, going to the footy? I mean, I love football. But I can barely watch my team — my team’s North Melbourne — and just watching football’s demoralising at the moment. It doesn’t feel like footy this season. Obviously I get why they’re playing, it’s good and I’m all for it, but it just feels like a dud season. And in the end, so what, but whether my team wins or lose at the moment is the least of my concern. But in other years, it was a high concern! I was very engaged about how well my team was going. Now I just go, “Oh fuck, they lost by 4 points yesterday, so what.” I’m not even following it. So lots of things that you thought were important have become diminished.

Have you heard from all of the publishers throughout this period? I know when we first spoke, there was some that you were struggling to get in contact with and others that had gotten in touch. How’s that been over the last few months?

Satterley: It’s been really good. Dell, Alienware Dell, who are our technology partner, they have been incredible and supportive of everything we’ve been doing. 100 percent behind what we’re up to from our online stuff. We’ve been running trivia, we have a thing called Firefights Friday, it’s our first person shooter thing we’ve been doing. It’s all connected back to the venue, because the idea is that brands like Monday Trivia and Firefight, the idea is you’d run a first-person shooter comp in the arena. So it’s brand building for an inevitable opening.

So Alienware, they’ve been remarkable in their support. They love what we do and they see it as a key part of their awareness marketing and how they want to promote themselves. So we’ve been close to them. The publishers have been very sympathetic and very supportive as well. The fact that even in our week of opening, we had this great event with Ubisoft, and we’ve had support from Blizzard and Activision around the Call of Duty competition, codes from the publishers and talking to them about when we get open how we can bring events and activations into the venue.

So they know that we’re just hibernating, when we can get open again is the best thing for video games ever. Everyone appreciates and respects and knows what we’ve done is a remarkable thing for them to promote their game. So there’s a lot of love and a lot of support, and that’s very exciting and really helped us get through. Because we know at the end, when we’re targeting hopefully August when we’re going to get a little more open, there’s a lot of people that are cheering on and want to support us. So that’s good.

And even with that more depressing thing we talked about, that death by 1000 cuts, I’m not so sure that that’s what the world, the next couple of years holds for us. I’m pretty bullish about it. I think that this is the ultimate “too big to fail”, right. Society, culture and economics and our whole way of life is too big to fail. So endless hibernation and endless lockdown is not going to be where we need to be. I think they’re going to figure out, and we’ll work our way to get places like Fortress properly open again, and it won’t be too long before that. So I’m really positive – I think before the end of the year, we’ll be trading at some level that, really, is quite good and people can come and check us out. That’s my hope, and that’s what I think we’re driving towards.


You can find more information about Fortress Melbourne and their upcoming online events and re-opening on the official website.

Update 18:25pm: Fortress Melbourne’s team has advised that the Boredomless offer is 2 hours, not 4 as was outlined in the interview. The offer has been pushed back to August following this afternoon’s recent renewal of lockdowns in Victoria.

Comments

  • It’s funny, about the ‘off’ switch. For me, it’s I stop what I’m doing, shut everything down, then go walk over to the couch and sit with my partner and declare, “Done!” Because if I haven’t done that, it’s not ‘done’. There’s still something could be done, still an email could be checked, a Skype message responded to. I might then go back to the computer and turn it back on to watch something or play some games, but I went through the process of turning it off to make sure I ‘left the office’. Even in our team discussions, we still talk about it as ‘going home’, when we log off.

    It’s a little linguistic thing, but I’m certain it has an effect.

    As for Fortress…
    Shit needed to shut down. It was a no-brainer, no matter how many people early days tried to deny it. I felt so sorry for them, the obvious need for it coming right on their launch. At least they’ve got enough credit to stay open, with some sacrifices. Many haven’t. Really hope they’re able to see some community support for this experiment.

  • Great article.

    I remember hearing about this place and thinking it sounded great… and then totally forgot about it. Looking forward to giving it a visit post-apocalypse.

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