Crossrail Place bar and competitive socialising venue has opened its doors to gamers and firms
“KO your CEO” reads the zesty pink neon on the wall just inside Platform in Canary Wharf.
Recently opened in Crossrail Place between Flying Tiger and Island Poke, at first glance it’s not immediately clear what this new arrival is.
There’s a little box office structure as you go in that has a distinct Wes Anderson vibe – a shelter, perhaps for a concierge.
Then there are the glowing pink and yellow lights on the ceiling and the unmistakable sugary aroma of popcorn being made.
The sensory effect is that of walking into some kind of timeless future cinema that’s scrambled all of the best bits of going out to see a movie and come up with something highly refined, a little like the sweetener on the snacks.
But Platform isn’t a movie theatre or a place to physically beat on senior executives, it’s a place to play video games in comfort with snacks and drinks.
“I place us somewhere between competitive socialising operators, who are doing things like ping pong and darts, and a traditional cinema,” said Tomaso Portunato, co-founder and CEO of Platform.
“When you go and see a movie you’re consuming content with friends – having food and drinks and it’s much the same here.
“We have popcorn, a bar and we serve pizzas.
“I’m originally from Geneva in Switzerland and I came here to study economics and politics about 10 years ago.
“Before starting Platform I was doing event management for game companies and helping student associations out, but I never really had a job after university.
“The idea was to start small and to make something out of it.
“We began as a pop-up – putting on events, selling tickets and generating funding for about a year.
“We had gaming sponsors from doing that and decided, with my co-founders Lucas Weintraub, Jo Highfield and my brother Nicolo, that if we could afford a commercial property, then we would go for it.
“When I was working in Old Street, I used to go to a pizzeria for lunch – count the customers and try to estimate how much they would spend.
“I was trying to build a business model.
“Then the pizzeria went bankrupt and we took it over for the first Platform.
“Shoreditch is now in a really good spot – we have a loyal customer base and we do a lot of gaming events there – but we were also testing the ground.
“It’s still our baby and it’s doing great, but the Canary Wharf branch is closer to our finished concept.
“Shoreditch was an opportunity to see what we could do with little capital and a vague understanding of what we were doing.
“We tried everything – racing simulators, retro gaming, console gaming and PC gaming.
“We learnt a lot about our operating model and the type of experience we wanted to be focusing on.
“That’s why Canary Wharf is based on next generation console gaming and how we create a really fun experience around that.
“It’s streamlined and it’s simpler to operate – you don’t have issues like customers changing the language and alphabet on a PC and then not changing it back.
“But most importantly, we also feel that console gaming offers the most social experience of the lot.
“It caters for the crowd who want to go out and enjoy themselves, to play, have some food and some cocktails.
“Plus operators like Nintendo have made it really fun even if you lose – and that’s important.
“We want to make sure anyone coming to Platform, whether they are an experienced gamer or not, has a really good time.
“That means we’re careful about the games we select and how we present what we’re doing.”
While the pink glow and sweet aromas of the bar are ground level temptations, the business end of Platform is subterranean.
“Customers follow pulsating neon arrows downstairs to a surprisingly spacious bar area beyond which are located a series of semi-private booths of varying sizes.
These come equipped with Nintendo Switch and Playstation 5 consoles, a handy neon light to attract staff and plentiful sofa space.
“We have about 30 games to choose from including racing, and sports titles, with big names like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Call Of Duty and Fifa.
“But we also have cooperative games like Overcooked and Moving Out, which I think are great.
“If you’re out on date night, you might want to play more cooperatively rather than competitively.
“Our larger booths can accommodate up to eight people but we can easily arrange tournaments for our guests and take corporate bookings for up to 60.
“Most of our customers pre-book online, but people can just walk in too and we’ll do everything we can to accommodate them.
“Typically people book 90 minutes (£13.50 per person) and can always top that up if they would like to stay longer.
“After that, they are welcome to hang out in the bar, of course.
“We also offer packages such as £28pp for two cocktails and gaming or bottomless brunch for £35pp, which includes a pizza or nachos for each person and bottomless beer, Prosecco or Mimosas for 90 minutes.
“A lot of people want to get together to play games and the traditional way of doing that would be to meet at someone’s house on a Friday.
“Platform allows a larger group to meet with all the latest games in a comfortable environment.
“For some it will be a pit-stop when they’re out in London.
“But equally it could be a place to go with mates from work or on a date.
“For businesses it’s a way for colleagues to have fun and we can offer whole-venue booking for corporate customers with drinks, food and unlimited gaming.”
Following the success of the Shoreditch branch, Tomaso and the team were already looking at Canary Wharf as a place to open in 2019.
“I initially thought it was interesting because of the corporate scene,” he said.
“But since then Canary Wharf Group has done an amazing job of developing the area – picking the right operators to attract people.
“The deciding factor for us was the Elizabeth Line and the area is seeing massive footfall during the week and at weekends.”
Gaming at Platform starts at £5 for sessions off peak on Mondays.
>> Oh God. What’s going on? I just threw a chair through a window, my head is a toaster and it’s just fired two charred pieces of bread into the air.
Now a giant turtle is repeatedly slapping me. Worse still, I can barely move this fridge by myself…
These are just a few of the thoughts likely to run through your head as you and your friends take on Moving Out.
Published by Team17 and developed by some clearly very disturbed Swedes and Australians, this 2020 “cooperative moving simulation game” pits players against that timeless foe – moving day.
While the real-life process of relocating from one home to another is generally said to be amongst the most stressful things a person can do, playing Moving Out is curiously liberating.
Despite the oddness – you can play as a humanoid toaster, a unicorn or even a person – the simple act of frantically battling exaggerated physics against the clock to stuff a van with furniture and other ephemera is curiously relaxing.
True, you can be painstakingly careful (breakages are penalised to some extent) and go for a high score.
But the game doesn’t seem to mind too much if you decide that tossing a sofa through a plate glass window is a better way to expedite its journey to a new home.
There’s a cooperative element too. Heavier items must be carried with a pal and there’s an obvious temptation to invoke the sacred mantra of the Chuckle Brothers.
Failing that, keeping a selection of expletives handy is advised for the inevitable time your colleague is less than useful.
There are plentiful obstacles to contend with – rakes, ghosts, fires, a giant turtle – that serve to make the experience of play richer and more bizarre.
Fans of Overcooked (also on offer at Platform) will doubtless find this a silly, frantic blast with an unhealthy toaster obsession.
- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via firstname.lastname@example.org