A VUE to a game: How Ritz-Carlton is stepping up its game

VUE is a room. VUE is a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, FL. VUE is a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, FL that is solely dedicated to videogames. Entirely.

And we’re not talking the crappy Super Nintendo/Nintendo 64 games you’re used to seeing in a rundown hotel room where you pay five bucks to play Mario 64 for two minutes. If you’ve been in a Ritz-Carlton you know it doesn’t roll that way — at least not anymore. No, the VUE is a constantly-updated gaming room that would make any hardcore gamer’s jaw drop. It’s an epic bid by Ritz-Carlton, Naples to draw gamers into its resort, even if that wasn’t its originally intention.

“It really wasn’t meant to bring hardcore gamers in,” Jorian Weiner, a Ritz-Carlton spokesperson, admitted to me when I got a chance to talk to her, along with Ritz-Carlton, Naples Recreation Manager Kristina MacNichol. Oh, well there goes my story, I thought. However, the more we talked about VUE, the more I wanted all of my hotels to have something like it. And the more I thought about a vacation in Naples, simply because I’d have a massive room full of gaming consoles I could wrestle away from teenagers and children.

It may not have been intentional, but VUE seems like the one thing that has been missing from every hotel I have ever stayed at and would easily complement that perfect vacation. Read on to find out more.

Let’s get the really embarrassing part out of the way first: VUE stands for “virtual user experience.” Just let it slide, and we won’t talk about it anymore.

Now, the important stuff: the VUE has four Wiis, three PlayStation 3s, three Xbox 360s and six iMacs (sorry, PC gamers). All of these, excluding the iMacs, are connected to some of the nicest high-definition televisions you can find, and they’re surrounded by snazzy high-end furniture. Oh, and the sound is handled by Bang and Olufsen speakers. The game library is constantly updated by the hotel, and games are purchased via recommendation of customers, and the two staff members (both admittedly hardcore gamers) who help to run the room. Of course, if VUE doesn’t have the game you want to play you can just bring it yourself and play it. And while the idea behind VUE was to give kids something to do when they got back in the afternoon from vacationing (it isn’t open all day), that doesn’t mean the room is jam packed full of Wii Sports and Just Dance.

“We do have mature games. M, T and E ratings are all available,” MacNichol told me. “No extreme violence and no Grand Theft Auto, but we wouldn’t be much of a game center without CoD.” For worried parents she added that the hotel requires parents to fill out a release form for their children to play mature games. “We want people to have fun, and we know they play these games. That’s why we do have the games there.”

She actually called it “CoD when referring to Call of Duty, by the way. That was the really surprising thing about doing this interview. They actually seemed to know what was going on in the world of gaming, and when they didn’t, they seemed eager find out. They already had plans for procuring both Move and Kinect, and both MacNichol and Weiner even lamented the lack of retro gaming systems in the VUE, but had to admit that the VUE’s current crowd of teenagers and children probably wouldn’t appreciate the classics. Still, it isn’t all children flocking into the room. Weiner says that adults often come in and play, many of whom then call their children and brag about it.

“It’s a good mix. We get to play a lot,” said MacNichol, later adding, “What people are usually impressed with is the variety of games. Serious gamers will come in and be surprised that we have so many games. They’ll bring their own games and I’ll see it and think it’s cool, so I’ll go get it (if we don’t have it).”

Much like home gaming has steadily destroyed the arcade, it too destroyed the original vision for the VUE room. The room had started as a more traditional arcade. However, the resort’s manager David Roswell thought he could make it better, and decided that a high-end gaming room would serve guests far better than an outdated arcade room. So about a year ago they shut the old room down and revamped it into the VUE we see today. As MacNichol puts it, people’s jaws drop when they walk in, especially the younger kids.

But who wants to play games with a bunch of kids running around? Damn them and their merrymaking and happiness! Bring on the adult beverages and people my own age! Done. The VUE can be rented out and stocked with an assortment of alcohols in order for you to party with your 100 closest friends (possibly less, depending on the fire code). That massive gaming party that you’ve always dreamed about with the 63″ plasma hooked up to a PS3? When you impress everyone with your ability to actually drive a car in Gran Turismo? Yes, this is the place you were thinking of. 

Surprisingly enough, despite the VUE’s popularity over the past year (and the fact that a room like it could easily set apart a resort or hotel from its competition), the VUE hasn’t been duplicated anywhere else… yet. Not that other resorts don’t seem to be interested; we may see more gaming lounges like this in the future.

“We were the guinea pig with this,” Weiner said. “I do know that other properties have reached out. I would imagine that in the next few years you’ll see more of them popping up.”

That’s good news for any gamer who wishes that at least some of their vacation time could be spent knocking through some games that have become backlogged. But that actually wasn’t the most interesting part of the conversation we had. After I had rounded out all my questions, Weiner and MacNichol asked if I believed that something like this would be a draw for gamers. I was a little dumbfounded that this was even a question — of course it was a draw, and isn’t the gamer demographic (18-35, with expendable income) exactly the kind of person a resort would want to pull in?

And this is where it hit me, though maybe it should have occurred to me before: they had just stumbled onto this amazing idea that people who play games might want to do so while on vacation. I know that when I go on the kind of vacation that is set-up to merely relax and lounge about, I desperately wish I could get some of my massive backlog done. With a day job, games writing, movie writing, and planning a wedding, I’d kill to be able to play some games while away from home. Obviously, if you’re going on a vacation where the point is to hike up the nearest mountain and commune with nature, then the VUE might not be for you. But if you’re a gamer looking to get away from home and relax while still getting your fix, it seems the perfect fit.

“Kids literally just walk into the middle of the room and just stand. They just get so excited” MacNichol said when describing people’s first reactions to entering VUE. Yeah, I think I can understand that.

About The Author
Matthew Razak
More Stories by Matthew Razak