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As a fan and competitor of video games, Jaye Watts noticed that there weren't many opportunities for people to gather socially. So she and her colleagues created the Coexist Gaming company.
Based out of New York City, it's described as a subscription-based gaming lifestyle lounge that offers people a space, culture, and networking environment.
For a one-day entry of $20 consumers will have access to unlimited gameplay on Coexist's assortment of arcade machines and consoles, and can also purchase food and drinks from the bar.
The game house membership comes in three monthly tiers each with their own respective benefits. The $25 pro membership provides consumers access to training courses and workshops.
Elite subscriptions, which run for $100, include access to the company's music studio and podcast for recording. For $250 monthly, ultimate tier subscribers can also take advantage of Coexist's co-working space.
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Watts explains that the decision to start Coexist (and lead it as CEO) was based on a desire to create an inclusive space that wasn’t ostracizing for people from marginalized communities and remain safe for its patrons.
She notes that gaming was something that brought people together often in her youth.
"I've been playing video games since I was four years old and as kids gaming brought us together, it brought the neighborhood together," she explains.
However she said that other gamers didn't exactly welcome her engagement in the hobby.
"Even then, you know, we still lived in a world that kind of places these societal demands on being a woman — like there are things that you just shouldn't [do]."
"As kids gaming brought us together, it brought the neighborhood together"Jaye Watts, Coexist Gaming
As time passed, she moved on to other interests and away from the pastime. Eventually, her professional career in music led her to live in New York. It was there she reconnected with the hobby.
She recalls, "I started learning that there was kind of a competitive scene in New York and being, you know, oftentimes the only woman in the room that was willing to compete in the tournament was ostracized. Luckily I have a big personality."
While navigating the not-so-inclusive environments, Watts noticed a difference between the people in the competitive gaming scene and those who take part in the community around it.
"The one thing that was interesting to me was that if you didn't feel like playing, where did you go?" she asks. "Because I still wanted to be around the same people and the only option was really to go to a gaming convention where you could casually play."
This combination of esports and community is what drove the formation of Coexist.
Watts didn't see creating the business as a risk but rather an opportunity. She highlights the fact that it appeared viable because of the media and business intersections of gaming.
"The gaming industry is one of those very rare industries that presents an opportunity for you to be as creative as you are technical. And that was the beauty of what Coexist Gaming was about," she says.
The business has been doing well and Watts notes the level of success it received during the height of COVID-19 was unexpected.
"I will admit it actually grew substantially in the midst of the pandemic," she says. "Where a lot of businesses were suffering, we were thriving."
Watts adds that the company's online endeavors were key. "The truth is we always wanted to digitize a lot of what we were doing because there were people that weren't in New York or even on the East Coast that wanted to be a part of Coexist."
She adds, "So we started utilizing all the digital mediums that were available to us and the workshops, the classes, the seminars that were a part of our ecosystem. We simply made them available online."
The CEO highlights the Coexist Game House's remodeling as an example of social engagement to bring itself more attention.
"We allowed people to tune into our journey to interact with us to feel like they were part of the remodel so that when the world opened back up their anticipation was on 1,000. They were so excited to step foot in the place where the representation was so real," she adds.
"They literally felt like they were a part of it."
Speaking more broadly, Watts explains that there’s a market for more physical event alternatives for people and games. She adds that the business is viable due to those opportunities.
"The truth is, there could be more places that are closer to people, which is why our model is so scalable. We're opening our flagship location in New York but we're scaling to a minimum of ten cities," she explained.
"Where a lot of businesses were suffering, we were thriving"Jaye Watts, Coexist Gaming
Aside from providing space and expanding, she highlights that fostering a culture for the company and its consumers is just as important.
"We're not necessarily in position or interested in having some massive building, we need community as well," she said.
"Every business has a culture, has an ethos and the most sustaining thing you can do for your staff is to create an atmosphere that allows them to come together. For me that's been the impetus of Coexist Gaming. I wanted to establish a very firm energy. A mantra that looks like the epitome of what inclusivity is."
Watts explains that the business and the company isn’t just about providing entertainment. It also regularly provides classes, seminars, and tournaments, all in the effort to get more people to be engaged and learn about careers in the games industry. She highlights the company’s programming courses among its offerings.
When speaking about what makes Coexist valuable she says, "The events are just another thing that are part of what makes our subscription."
The growth of the Coexist business means Watts and her team have been involved in some major local events.
"We activated the Mothers Ball at the Jacob Javits Center, which is New York's largest convention space," she says. "It's about a million square feet. There were artists, myself included. I think there were over 20,000 people there."
Watts says that her firm was the largest activation at the event and it was a strong example of what gaming can provide to entertainment events and venues.
"It put us on the map and highlighted us in a very exciting and unique way," she explains.
In terms of what's next and looking forward, Watts explains that the goal is to make Coexist gaming a ubiquitous gaming brand. This also includes more multimedia projects such as podcasts, film, and more.
As of now she highlights the location of the business' flagship location as a conscious decision in New York.
She added, "We're in a central location — steps from Penn Station, steps from Madison Square Garden, and steps from the Jacob Javits Center where Comic-Con [takes place] where anime is all I see. People are literally going all the way to our location in [Manhattan].
"I'm really grateful for that and will continue expanding. We will be opening new locations as early as next year and the scale will continue."