There’s no doubt that globally, we have come a long way in the space of tech. We have the internet at our fingertips, as well as the ability to purchase the latest games from virtual play stores. People can also now meetup virtually, whether to chat or play video games. With these advances however, it should come as no surprise that amongst the many positives that technological progress brings, one negative is the decline of many social gathering holes, such as internet cafes, and arcades (I still fondly remember playing Street Fighter 2 in the local arcade back in the day).
While many cafes and arcades are few and far between nowadays, one café in Norwich UK not only has adapted well to a more demanding online presence, but also making itself to be a cornerstone for many people within their community. Located on the fairly busy streets of 21 St Benedicts St, Norwich NR2 4PF, in the United Kingdom, One Life Left boosts quite the selection of games (as well as snacks and drinks), ranging from the classic 8bit to current VR games.
Being the first video game café of its kind in Norwich, café owner Jon Gage takes great pride in how his café has leveled up over the last 5 years.
How did One Life Left come to be, and long has this specific Cafe been in business?
While the plans for the Café had began in 2015, it wasn’t until May 31st, 2017, that Jon finally opened One Life Left Café. How this dream came to be came out of his experience in retail, hospitality, and management. Eventually, he wanted to work for himself, to do what he loved, and from there researched what types of industries matched his skillset.
“My first jobs were based in supermarkets, coffee shops and hospitality, and then I moved into games retail in 2008 as a manager at what was the largest UK games retailer at the time. Seeing the start of the demise of physical games retail and knowing that one day I wanted to work for myself running my own business, it was a simple process to take what I loved, and what industries matched my skillset, and mash them together to form OLL!”
How Jon would describe One Life Left (OLL) is as follows:
“The easiest way to describe OLL is as a Starbucks with TV’s and games consoles on the tables, but also selling beer and pizza!”
How did you get started in the business? What inspired you?
Jon’s love of video games began back in the 1980’s, when the video games scene began to develop to what it is today. This love is also what inspired him to write a book on the matter, noting below:
“In fact, I’ve written a book about every game I’ve ever played, titled One Life Left by Jon Gage, available on Amazon/Kindle for £1.99 – gotta get that plug in there!”
(Fun Fact: The name of the café is actually based off of this book. While he was thinking of names for the café, the book title stuck out to him the most. Available on Amazon via kindle or paperback.)
Was it hard to open the shop?
“The actual work involved to make the business a reality was extremely complicated, and not particularly exciting, but eventually after two years we had our premises and finally opened the doors in May 2017.”
What kind of services does your cafe carry?
“We offer individual screens for customers to use when visiting and also offer private hire for birthday parties and corporate bookings, but our main income comes from our gaming community events. Norwich has a fantastic and diverse gaming community and is supported by a number of entities such as Nintendo Norwich, Norwich Retro Gamers and Norwich Amigas Group, who all host their monthly meetups at our venue. We also run our own esports series with various regular tournaments, the most popular being, of course, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, which is MASSIVE in our region of the UK.”
Their screen hire prices are extremely reasonable as well: £2.50 per 30 minutes per screen, and charging per screen, not per person. Each screen also comes with 2 controllers. The café consists of 15 screens in total, with the following consoles:
All other information regarding booking and events can be found on their website.
So, you all also host esports tournaments? So OLL has a fairly active online presence then?
“Online, we host our weekly video podcast The OLL Show on Twitch and a multitude of gameplay streams. Our most popular stream is our weekly Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 200cc tournaments. We actually have a number of UK and world record holders locally who compete in our races, showing me just how slow my reflexes have become in recent years!”
Personally, I would recommend following OLL; they are extremely active online! You can find them here:
YouTube: OLL Games
How has the COVID pandemic affected your business?
“Running any business, especially in these current times, is a huge challenge, and there are many hurdles along the way. I’m probably poorer than I’ve ever been, but the reward isn’t financial, it comes from the love of working with people who share my passion for this amazingly creative industry. The OLL team of Ash, Jack, Bill, Sarah and Emily have all contributed to helping us form the biggest and best local gaming community in the UK (in my opinion!), and our online output is now starting to expand our brand to a much wider audience, which is also thoroughly exciting!”
Favorite customers, favorite moments, favorite events?
One of my favorite events we run at the café is our “Crazy Controls” nights. This is where teams of players compete across a series of 10 short gaming challenges with various distractions, such as playing blindfolded, wearing oven gloves, sharing controllers and mirrored screens – have you tried landing a plane in SNES Pilotwings while laying upside down?!
Any special shoutouts or plugins you would like to mention?
“We are now looking to the future, and our immediate focus is on our OLL ’22 Video Games Convention, taking place at the Norfolk Showground Arena on the 9th & 10th of April* 2022. Essentially, we’re taking all our regular café events and tournaments and putting them all under one roof for a weekend celebration of the biggest and best of the region’s gaming scene. Through the connections we’ve established in the past 5 years, we’ve managed to secure an amazing line-up of content creators who are bringing some fantastic exposure too. Full details of the event and the line-up can be found at www.ollgames.co.uk. And don’t worry if you’re not local or can’t get to the convention – there’ll be a full live stream across the weekend too!”
So, if you’re in the UK, whether as a local or on holiday, OLL is worth the check out. Having gone personally back in 2018, it can be very easy to spend hours there. I’d also personally recommend a visit!
*This information was edited to reflect the current schedule as of 1/17/2022.