Interviews

How Fortress Melbourne plans to bring you back to the CBD

Parma & pint, Movie Night and Uni Night, all designed to get you to come and check out the venue.

Fortress Melbourne opened for a total of four days last year before the coronavirus pandemic took it — and us — out.

“It’s sort of happily becoming more of a distant traumatic memory, right?” Fortress Melbourne CEO Jon Satterley told Stevivor.

“Certainly in the depths of lockdown two it was unmitigatingly awful. Despite any business challenge we might have figured we were going to face doing something as heroic and as adventurous as building this joint and setting up this business from scratch, no one factored in shutting it down four days later, and basically shutting the shop for 10 months.” Satterley continued. “That was not ever in the plan; nor was it for anybody who was in a similar circumstance.

“We’ve got a fairly interesting story because of the fact we opened, as I like to say, sort of like day one of the pandemic in Melbourne. That was the day the Grand Prix got cancelled and for a lot of people in Melbourne that was the day that the flag got waved; this is the day COVID starts. We [knew] in the week running into it that the walls were starting to kind of collapse around us, and certainly then from… those four days we were open, it was like you were in a disaster movie and you were just running as fast as you [could] from the… earthquake crevice that was widening behind you. We were just sprinting as fast as we could and then it just caught up with us and we fell into the crevice and we were shut.”

A second attempt to start trading was squashed mid-2020 with Melbourne’s aggressive lockdown strategy — what Satterley referred to as “lockdown two” — causing the venue to pivot and provide digital events instead. One of those offerings was a Valorant Esports tournament called Rise of Valour, an spectacle held last August.

“One of the most powerful things we did in lockdown was [that] we ran some humongous promotions with Rise of Valour,” Satterley said, “whereby you could enter this contest to win a big Alienware rig. As part of that — to get more entries in that competition — we asked people to fill in a survey of 66 questions that took about 15 minutes to complete. So, a very serious survey asking everything from demographic questions, your household income and all that, right through to your favorite game.”

More than 8,500 video game enthusiasts completed the survey, arming Fortress Melbourne with more information about how its venue and pricing were perceived.

“Our price that we set originally [for LAN hire] was almost an absolute bullseye of what more than 3,000 people told us was the price [they’d pay],” Satterley said, “and there were some other things we tested that didn’t land that bullseye, but what it meant was we were able to then refine our processes and say, ‘how do we do better?'”

Almost a year to the day of its initial opening, Fortress Melbourne has returned for attempt three, using what it has learned along the way. That survey? It lead to a change in weekday LAN pricing for uni students, with Fortress Melbourne now offering an hour’s worth of access for $5 AUD between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm. Uni students can also take advantage of Uni Nights, whereby students can buy 2 hours of PC or board game time alongside a pint for $15 AUD.

Not a university student? Not a problem. Fortress Melbourne has other tricks up its sleeve to get you to come and check it out.

“We knew that upon getting the venue reopened… that the Arena [Fortress Melbourne’s large Esports venue] was going to be a challenging space until we’ve got until events start to happen again,” Satterley said. “Even now we’re still not truly cooking in that Arena, and probably won’t be until April when those [big ticket] events start coming back online,” Satterley said. “Knowing that’s challenging, we need to make sure that the Tavern and the other aspects of the venue in the basement level are firing on all cylinders.”

Enter promotions like a $20 AUD parma and pint on Tuesday nights or a Movie Night in the Arena space on Thursdays.

“I mean our parmas are like Mount Everest on a plate and we’re talking a big old pint of Fortress Lager,” Satterley said with a smile. “That has a notional price, if you’re paying full price, of about $35. So we’re doing a sizable discount where we’re basically just breaking even. That’s one example… but the idea there is we need to do that to just get people to come and try us out because it also gives us then a really nice thing to talk about.”

Movie Nights kick off tonight, 4 March, and will return each Thursday for the foreseeable future, offering a gaming-themed film from 6.00 pm. Even with a $100 AUD bar tab for the best-dressed moviegoer up for grabs, you won’t need to spend a single dime to enter Fortress Melbourne or to watch the film. That said, Satterley hopes that viewers will get a little peckish as they watch. More importantly, he hopes those who come and check Fortress Melbourne out will want to come back to it — and to Melbourne’s CBD — again.

“We’re running all these promos like Uni Nights and Parma & Pint and Movie Nights all peppered across the week,” he continued. “[and] we can activate socials with a whole bunch of different cool messages like RPG Sunday, free board games on Wednesday, parmas on Tuesday and all this good stuff. So that stuff is what is what we’re all about probably right through, we’re thinking, until June 30.

“This stuff is the bread and butter of our business because the CBD is still out. I catch a train to work and [they’re] still only like 30% full. The city is not where it needs to be, but we need to be out there with these compelling promotions and compelling awareness campaigns that just [make customers] go, ‘f*ck it, I will try. I will go.’”

If Fortress Melbourne sounds enticing, you can check out a calendar of events here. Housed within Emporium Melbourne, the venue is open seven days a week.

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.