Feature - Taking the Rec Room to the Next Level - February 2019


Canadian FEC goes upscale

by James Careless

Imagine a family entertainment center (FEC) that is a finely honed balance between eye-catching commercial design and high-tech sizzle. In your mind’s eye, conjure up a gigantic interior space with upscale casual dining, fashionable bars with plentiful craft beers on tap, and a combination of connected rooms that can host anything from everyday guests to meetings, private functions, and even live concerts. 

Add in immersive virtual reality (VR) multiplayer experiences, lots of high-definition television screens lining the walls, a live entertainment space, the very best in arcade-style video and redemption games, and a “Trophy Case” redemption store with prizes far classier than single-ticket plastic bugs, and you have The Rec Room (TRR). 

Operated in five Canadian locations by Cineplex—Canada’s largest movie chain (164 theaters nationwide) that also owns the Player One Amusement Group—TRR is to classic FECs what the Porsche 911 is to conventional automobiles: an exciting iteration of a basic idea.

In creating TRR, Cineplex has taken the FEC to the next level. Realizing that millennials and families are open to something more than the typical FEC—but still want the same kind of fun interactive experiences—Cineplex has created an uber-classy FEC that is extremely popular.

“When we opened The Rec Room in Calgary’s Deerfoot City shopping center in October 2017, there was a line outside waiting to get in long before we had publicized we’d be opening the doors,” says Sarah Van Lange, Cineplex’s director of communications. “That’s how enthusiastic millennials and families are about coming to The Rec Room.”

An article on Canada’s Daily Hive website summed up the Calgary location of TRR’s buzz nicely: “A total of 80 TV screens, more than 100 arcade games, a virtual reality room, and 16 beers on tap … basically the place that a teenage-you would have created if you’d won the lottery, right? No need to go out and buy that Scratch & Win, because The Rec Room at Deerfoot City just opened up, and it has all that and more.”

At present, the other locations of TRR are in downtown Toronto’s semi-circular Roundhouse; London, Ontario; the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta; and South Edmonton Common, also in Edmonton, Alberta. 

“We have 10 or so more Canadian locations in the planning stages,” adds Van Lange.


The Rec Room is full of games and activities ranging from the latest in driving simulation and virtual reality to classics like shuffleboard, ping pong, and air hockey. (Credit: The Rec Room)

What’s in The Rec Room

Although the name “The Rec Room” is a nostalgic link to the wood-paneled basement recreation rooms that many Canadian millennials grew up with at home, The Rec Room itself is anything but kitschy or low-budget. Instead, Cineplex has set out to create wide-open spaces, with high ceilings, that are also intimate and classy. 

This is particularly true in TRR’s 40,000-square-foot downtown Toronto location. The 19th century Roundhouse in which it is set—where train locomotives used to be shunted in and out using a rotating center-mounted turntable—consists of tall squared wood pillars holding up a lofty series of wooden rafters and tall roofs. The many attractions offered by TRR fit nicely into this space, creating an environment that is energetic yet tasteful.

The attractions in each of Cineplex’s five locations of TRR are defined by the motto “Eats and Entertainment,” where the action starts with restaurant Three10. It is an upscale, yet casual restaurant featuring Canadian cuisine cooked using wood-fired grills and ovens. (The name Three10 refers to Canada’s three territories and 10 provinces. In the quiet, yet fervently patriotic “Great White North,” businesses rarely go wrong playing the “Canada card.”) On Three10’s menu you’ll find wood-fired pizzas, herb-rubbed Atlantic salmon, a range of steaks, and maple baby back ribs, among others.


The 19th century wooden timbers in The Rec Room’s Toronto Roundhouse location make for a warm, classy setting. (Credit: The Rec Room)

For quick-service customers, TRR’s The Shed cooks up “pizza by the foot”; poutine (a much-loved French-Canadian dish consisting of French fries, cheddar cheese curds, and gravy) enhanced with toppings including rotisserie chicken, smoked beef brisket, and roasted wild mushrooms; and a host of fancy-topped doughnuts.

Top-quality drinks are found at both locations, with the emphasis on fancy cocktails and all kinds of draft craft beers.

Then there are TRR’s many attractions, which vary by location. Targeted directly at tech-savvy millennials and school-age children, TRR’s gaming lineup is anchored by virtual reality (VR) attractions—offering experiences through VRstudios and The VOID. The latter is a multiplayer immersive VR experience where players wear VR goggles, tote electronic weapons, and interact with virtual characters in scenarios such as “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” (made by ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s Immersive Entertainment division) and “Ghostbusters: Dimension.”

“The VOID isn’t just about playing with your friends in an interactive VR world. It is a truly immersive hyper-reality experience; we’re talking sight, sound, touch, smell, and motion,” Van Lange says.

Another standout feature is TRR’s VRX Car Simulator. Again, this is your standard arcade race car simulator taken to 21st century standards with multiple screens, realistic sounds, motion, and cockpit appointments. Add the fact that TRR offers numerous VRX Car Simulators in which guests can race against each other in real time, and the overall racing experience can be incredibly exciting for guests. As TRR’s website writes, “Any closer to the real thing and you just might find yourself soaked in champagne.”

The Rec Room also offers guests tangible games such as ping pong, pool, and shuffleboard. 

“This is in line with what our market research shows that millennials want, which are shared, fun experiences,” says Van Lange. “The same is true for parents bringing their kids to TRR, which is why we have put much focus on multiplayer attractions.” 

Then there are the video and redemption games that FECs all over the world are famous for offering. Specifically, TRR has fan favorites tied to brands including “Star Wars,” “Pac-Man,” “Super Mario,” and other big names, plus good old-fashioned pinball. Walk around The Yard where the games are congregated, and you’ll find the kind of adventure, skill, and ride-on games that are staples of the current FEC industry. The games on site at TRR are high-end, modern, and in pristine states of repair.

TRR makes all of this action-packed fun available to regular guests, private functions, birthday parties, and corporate meetings. All of these amenities are offered at TRR’s five locations, while the floor space is large enough to host live entertainment.


The Rec Room’s Trophy Case redemption center offers prizes for adults who collect points via a gaming bracelet, which guests load with credits and scan at games to play (Credit: The Rec Room)

Payments and Prizes

To play games, TRR guests buy and wear radio-frequency identification (RFID) bracelets loaded with credits. A bracelet holding 40 credits will cost CA$10, while more expensive bracelets have free credits thrown into the deal to entice guests to play more (and spend more). At the top end, CA$30 buys 200 credits—120 paid and 80 free.

“When players win tickets playing redemption games, their totals are recorded on their RFID bracelets,” Van Lange says. “This is the 21st century version of carrying a bucket filled with redemption tickets, and much easier to manage.”

When TRR guests redeem their prizes in The Trophy Case, the quality of prizes offered can be impressive. Sure, there are candy, toys, and stuffed animals. But accumulate enough points, and you could walk out with a MacBook Air laptop computer.

The Next Stage for FECs?

Is TRR the next stage in FEC evolution? Well, if the crowds are anything to go by, the answer may be yes. Today’s grown-up consumers want to relive the FEC experiences of their childhoods in a classy setting tailoring to adult tastes.

At the same time, Cineplex still respects the value of the traditional FECs. 

“This is why we will be opening up to 10 to 15 ‘Playdium’ FECs across Canada,” says Van Lange. “They will be aimed at families and a generally younger audience. But they still have the same high standards of quality and fun that we have attained with The Rec Room.”

If Cineplex’s successful experience with TRR has proved anything, it is that the FEC concept has a lot more profit possibilities and business opportunities ahead. While Van Lange won’t say if Cineplex intends to take the TRR concept outside of Canada, such a progression seems inevitable—providing an all-around quality FEC experience to adults is a globally winning idea.


James Careless is a Canada-based writer who covers the water park industry for Funworld.