THREE friends are transforming an empty shop into a new gaming centre.

They have turned the former discount gold store in Southernhay, Basildon, into XLounge Gaming, which opens tomorrow.

Visitors will be able choose from a catalogue of more than 200 xBox games and enter tournaments and leagues.

Childhood pals James Ellis, 30, who previously worked in retail, Jordan Harris-Little, 27, who has a rendering business, and Billy Walker, 29, who runs a delicatessen in Basildon market, have invested their savings in their new venture.

Mr Ellis, of Byfleets, Vange, said: “There’s not much in Basildon for kids to do so they end up hanging out on street corners, drinking and getting into trouble.

“We saw during the recent riots what this can lead to, so we’re providing a safe environment they can hang out in.

“Gamers can become quite isolated if they’re sitting at home playing on their own, so we hope this will help them to make new friends with similar interests.”

The shop has 20 gaming booths, equipped with high-definition television screens, headphones, internet connection, gaming handsets and low, leather gaming chairs.

A separate room has been transformed into a sound-proof Guitar Hero studio, where gamers can play songs by pressing coloured buttons on electronic guitars.

There is also a dance mat area, where dancers can perform a given routine to music. Three of the gaming bays have been adapted for wheelchairs and the walls are being decorated in framed comic book covers and graffiti.

Gaming sessions cost from £4 an hour.

Among the games available are racing games, sports games and war games – with provision for both children and adults.

Avid gamer Mr Ellis hopes the lounge will breathe new life into an area of the town centre blighted by dozens of empty shops.

He said: “It’s so quiet in this part of town, it’s like a ghost town.

“There’s only one other xBox gaming lounge like this in the country, Xtreme Gaming in Colchester, and we’re hoping to open two or three more in the future.

“We’ve done a lot of research and know this will be popular because people queue up for hours to buy newly-released games. The industry hasn’t been affected by the recession.”

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