Competitive socialising - the leisure industry's growing trend


8 Minute read

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What is competitive socialising?

Competing in a social way with friends and family is not a new concept, but its re-interpretation into the social entertainment sector has led to a massive scope of opportunity.

But what exactly is competitive socialising? You might be mistaken in thinking that playing a board game at home with your friends is competitive socialising? After-all you are being social, whilst competing. Traditional board games have been well honed over time, with clever thinking behind the rules, strategy and objectives, they been designed to create winners and losers in a social context. But take a step back and look at the wider picture and the environment you are in - are you not just playing a game?

The process of employing a strongly developed game and placing it into a captivating and dynamic environment is the essence of what competitive socialising is. It is this visionary union that’s driving growth in the current marketplace.

Competitive socialising – a lesson from history

During the 1970’s social clubs and pubs up and down Britain may have contained a solitary pool table/or dart board sat dormant during a period of economic recession – this presented an opportunity for something new to help regenerate income on slow evenings and attract more customers. In response to this opportunity the solution created by two entrepreneurs Burns and Porter was a revolutionary concept for the time. Well-developed, repeatable, inclusive and socially competitive, they coined it the Burns and Porter quiz aka ‘the pub quiz’. They standardised the concept and it rocketed in popularity, growing from 30 to 10,000 punters playing each week in a few years and in turn became a must have asset for any landlord.

Fast forward to 2006, on the brink of the global financial crisis, we saw a repeat of history and arguably one of the first modern competitive socialising venues in central London. Entrepreneurs Adam Breedan and Mark Von Westenholz saw an opportunity to reinterpret the tired social experience of ten pin bowling. By taking the West London Notting Hill premium cocktail experience of high heels glamour and mixing this with a contemporary tenpin bowling experience All Star Lanes was born, and it rocketed in popularity. Their success is undisputed and has put ‘competitive socialising’ on the map, making it relevant to millennial’s and opening a plethora of opportunity for new and innovative concepts.


So why is there a competitive socialising boom?

Social Changes

If you do manage to reserve a dart board or table tennis table at one of the competitive socialising venues across the UK and you will quickly realise that they are appealing to an evolving demographic of consumers.

So why are they so popular? Across the board, families, urban professional, millennials and students are showing common trends and patterns in their wants and desires when it comes to how they spend their money and time. Millennials are spending less on products and more on experiential activities. Younger generations aren't turning to alcohol to fulfil their social needs and desires but to activity led, contemporary and diverse experiences. With accessible price points and game playability all demographics can participate both in terms of age and socio-economic status making the format totally inclusive.

Social media

The evolution of social media has put power into ‘the peoples’ hands, which has rapidly developed the competitive socialising market.

Competitive socialising venues offer very visual moments with high impact when it comes to expressing yourself and creating social media content. In addition to beautifully presented food and cocktails, Instagram hungry ‘hashtaggers’ have an abundance of stimuli to create that ‘Insta moment’ to document their experience and lifestyle. With social media reaching a far wider audience than traditional marketing avenues, these ‘Insta moments’ are shared globally, driving new customers into the venue to replicate the lifestyle and experiences they have seen.

An evolving retail landscape

With a reduction in footfall, many well known high street brands have faced challenging economic conditions leaving large city centre spaces unoccupied. With financial backing and promising projections the competitive socialising format is repeatable and can create a venue that maximises visitation to the wider vicinity across different parts of the day. Landlords are so confident in this concept they expect to see significant growth in the next few years and will often provide generous contracts to offload their un-utilised space.


The use of technology within the competitive socialising sector has rocketed. Technology is adding additional levels of stimulation for the player and a phygital (physical and digital) engagement with the game, resulting in unique engaging experiences. 

The use of technology at Flight Club elevates the traditional game of darts and brings it into the 21st century appealing to a new audience. With automatic scoring and multiple game modes accessible to a player through a digital format, returning customers can customise their experience each time they visit, whilst not changing the essence of the physical game.

How to design for competitive socialising?

In addition to the usual challenges around creating a great destination venue, the key to designing for a successful competitive socialising venue is to focus on the essence of the activity or game and how it integrates with your venue.

Knowing how the clientele will interact and move around the activity or gaming area is key. Understanding where people queue to start a game, collect game equipment or order drinks whilst playing is key to ensure a fully integrated operation.

Creating memorable and unique moments in the game, is what gets your clientele talking in the office the next day and digitally sharing their experiences. To maximise the investment and the impact of the game, moments of anticipation, surprise and celebration should be designed into the game from the outset.

Using core principles of game play design will create a more rewarding experience and increase the enjoyment factor. The fundamental game must have integrity with the best player winning however game balancing is important to consider, the aim is to create a fulfilling experience for your clientele, irrespective of their ability, confidence or previous experience.

Designing the game to be engaging without any technology will ensure that integrating any form of technology will only ever enhance the proposition so long that it is seamlessly integrated into the overall experience.

Finally, you should design for inclusivity of all personality types. Alpha personality types will always compete and enjoy even a trivial game. Vocal and self-assured this clientele type will always be bragging of their experience and will be likely not think twice about a second visit. However, designing for the antithesis of the alpha is where the value lies. By designing an experience to encourage and reward less confident personality types, you are broadening your market appeal.


Competitive socialising. Our experience

We have designed games for the entirety of our existence so making the leap into a wider social context was a natural progression. Just over 3 years ago Designworks were approached by Puttshack to create a ‘Worlds First’ social entertainment concept, using ground-breaking patented technology to catapult the traditional game of mini golf into a cutting-edge gaming phenomenon! 

Collaborating with the team at Puttshack and their technology partners, we lead the game design and build process to deliver a unique entertainment experience. The outcome is inclusive for all abilities, blending digital and physical experiences in a way that creates social play with repeatable memorable moments.

Working alongside the Puttshack team we revolutionised how groups play mini golf, adding new levels of excitement and game play that appeal to all players. Our iterative process of concept generation and full scale prototyping, allowed us to rapidly re-create the game play experience for testing prior to capturing all the data in 3D to sub millimetre accuracy. By blending together our design and manufacturing experience alongside in house development tools including 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, Thermo Forming and CNC Machining we created data for over 10,000 unique components. To ensure end results matched our aspirations we manufactured all the mini-golf holes in-house, embracing a rapid expansion of our business to facilitate.

The result of two years of design and engineering is an inclusive multi-sensory gaming experience, bringing physical and digital game play together in the context of a bespoke crafted mini-golf hole. A genuine game changer we are truly proud of.


Want to talk competitive socialising?

If you think you’ve got the next big competitive socialising idea and want to discuss how to make it a reality get in touch now…