#1144 – Entertainment Gains Wider Appreciation

The UK saw the last of the major gatherings for the amusement trade before the big events in Orlando and the coming IAAPA Expo. Along with this, great developments in the leisure and social entertainment scene, with several new venue openings and new trends being charted in the scene.

Autumn CoinOp Show (ACOS)

Over 20 leading UK-based amusement, redemption and services companies gathered at the ibis London Earls Court Hotel ballroom, to present to executives and operators from the bar and pub, casino, seaside arcade, FEC, and Adult Gaming Center (AGC) scenes in a preview of the market.

Only a matter of weeks after IAAPA-EMEA’22 and just before the IAAPA Orlando events, the ACOS’22 event offered a chance for UK sales business to be solidified, and those in the trade unable to attend the international offering to have a preview of the new products to consider. The UK trade has always favoured this kind of sales opportunity and show organizers Swan Events have taken onboard their needs. Swan previously organized the January EAG convention for trade association BACTA but has decided, after a long successful run, to retire from managing this – a new management team is taking over the project.

Social Entertainment Gathers Momentum

During the same month as ACOS’22, and a matter of miles from central London to the financial hub of Canary Wharf, a brand-new social entertainment facility was opened that hopes to revolutionize the Competitive Socializing scene, by employing examples of the very redemption amusement that some exhibitors have been selling for decades.

One of the new openings was that of ‘Fairgame’ – offering their interpretation of the fairground experience with a strong hospitality element. Representing a 20,000-sq.ft. facility in the Fisherman’s Walk area of the wharf, it comprises a mixture of bar and cocktail, scratch kitchen menu, and fairground inspired amusement redemption. The game element of the facility is powered by a state-of-the-art RFID wristband payment system, with the facility operating a £13 per-player fee, with wristbands offering nine games on the amusements (active for a duration of 75-minutes).

The games available include interpretations of popular fairground experiences, ranging from a shooting gallery, skee-ball, whack-a-mole, and ball throwing experiences. The games offer an atmosphere of entertainment for up-to-five and ten players – and have been specially developed to continue the theme of the venue. The gamification of the competitive element is supported by both smart cards and RDIF wristbands that track players’ scores, which are then represented on a leader board display. The cards and bands topped up at terminals.

The facility offers high-level of hospitality with beers on tap, as well as an extensive cocktail menu, and is supported by its own mascot, appropriately named “Bear Goggles” – available as winnable merch. This is the first deployment of the brand and it hopes to establish itself in a crowded market of entertainment spaces with a strong hospitality component. The Fairgame site also supports its own food hall, with guests able to pick from a menu of popular dishes, keeping the theme going. All this is supported by the extensive bar and cocktail element feeding the fun.  

The social entertainment approach to fairground/carnival activities has been seen in other venues that have sprung up in London. Most notably, the utilizing of the whole top deck of a parking structure to create ‘Roof East’ – London’s largest “Adult Playground”. Covering some 30,000-sq.ft., the space is populated with rooftop bars and food stalls, along with batting cages, ping pong, cornhole, bowling, and carnival game stalls. However, its outdoor nature sees this venue open from April to October each year.

The Canary Wharf location was proving popular with new “Competitive Socializing” concept, already seeing the opening of a ‘Electric Shuffleboard’ close by. At the same time as the opening of ‘Fairgame’ venue, it was announced that the ‘Clays’ venue will be opening their second site at the Isle of Dogs London Borough location. The area is becoming a cultural hub, with some 300 shops, cafés, and bars – and the city office workers and local-residents will be seeing, opening in December, the latest social entertainment venue. ‘Clays’ is a sports shooting hospitality space, with cocktails, with this December opening being the first of its wider rollout.

Also in London, and a short tube ride from Canary Wharf and ‘Fairgame’, the pub chain BrewDog opened their latest central London pub. The venue is a record holder, being one of the largest UK bars open in the capital, and is also the first in a new model of chain pub and bars from the company, that fully embrace social entertainment on top of the chain’s normal hospitality. With the opening of ‘BrewDog Waterloo’, the company launched a venue comprising a multi-floor installation (covering some 27,000-sq.ft., along with numerous bars in this space, and including six lanes of Duckpin bowling (String Bowling), along with ping pong tables – even including a 10-ft. spiral slide, next to extensive party hire rooms (and a recording studio). The venue is also supported by a scratch kitchen menu offering a wide selection of sharable offerings, and an extensive beer selection (some 60 draft beer taps), supported by cocktails.

As reported on before, BrewDog, who has moved from brewing beer, now retails beer and spirit sales, bars, hostel and hotels, and their chain of pubs, all under the brand – opening venues in the UK and USA. The company has now taken a firm grip on incorporating social entertainment to their venues, with other sites seeing the inclusion of shuffleboard, pool tables, or amusement pieces. The company is embracing the new social landscape, especially with the changed working habits of the local business force, and the changes in how people want to socialize, with support of group social outings. The inclusion of entertainment in pubs and bars in the UK had been muted of late, fixated on AWP gaming machines, but this monopoly seems ripe for being broken, as social entertainment is being seen to be deployed (as seen with our reports on the ‘Four Quarters’ chains, and VR arcade bars).

These venues are the cornerstone of the “Competitive Socializing” revolution sweeping social entertainment and hospitality, feeding off the explosion of interest in the digital/physical entertainment trend that has enlivened mini-golf, darts, and bowling. Those leading the charge in the UK to supply these needs are distributors Home Leisure Direct with their extensive range. Meanwhile, the first signs of others in the amusement trade waking up to the opportunity include the rolling out of a new range of “adult venue appointed amusement” from SEGA Amusement International, following their welcoming to the line of the 501 Entertainment range of social entertainment platforms. How long will it take before the rest of the amusement trade realize the opportunity?

Speaking of the bowling revolution in social entertainment, we have further news of expansions and acquisitions. The Bowlero operation announced, in October, that it would be acquiring a suite of operations including the ‘Strikes Unlimited’ bowling venue of Rocklin, the ‘Super Bowl Family Entertainment Center’, ‘Sabre Lane’, and ‘JB’s on 41’ chain, expanding their Californian and Wisconsin presence for their 300-venue operation, comprising the ‘Bowlero’, ‘Bowlmor Lanes’, and ‘AMF’ venue chains that promote serving 26m guests each year. 

And the big developments for Competitive Socializing kept on coming with the announcement that BlackRock group had invested some $150m into the hospitality fuelled mini-golf chain, Puttshack, towards its plans for a major States-wide rollout – news that rocked the leisure entertainment sector. Currently only operating six-venues (four-UK, two-US), the operations will see the new fund define their plans for over 30 facilities in the coming years. The operation, originated by the same creators of the TopGolf concept, have developed a mini-golf experience aimed at social entertainment, with a mix of cocktail and food in support of the competitive social element, empowered using trackball technology and digital scoring. The next eight US venues are scheduled for 2023. 

Getting Immersive

Another new London entertainment venue that opened its doors around the same time as ACOS’22, was the Divr Labs. Opening in the Westfield London mall at Shepherds Bush, the facility marked the entrance of the unique free-roaming technology into the UK. The operation has already opened a site at the Westfield Mall of Scandinavia, and the London opening represents the third installation of this concept. 

The London site follows the established format of a free-roaming VR experience but is based on a unique flow model that allows groups of guests to explore the virtual environment concurrently, achieving a strong throughput model for the operation. The system builds off the experience of the original facility that opened in Prague in 2017 (and was covered in The Stinger Report), but now embraces the latest technology. The company was running the ‘Meet the Dinosaurs’ VR experience at the facility, with guest travelling back in time, to search out clues about the weird creatures of the prehistoric age, and uncover some secrets, working as a team.

Divr Labs has employed the latest version of their system, using the latest HTC Focus 3 headset, which removes the need for the deployment of backpack PCs and offers a chance for a high-end VR experience without the incumbrance. The company also employs hand-tracking that allows the guests to interact with the creatures and environment as part of the experience. Unique physical elements are employed during the 25-minutes, to achieve a great and compelling experience for groups. 

The Westfield location is no stranger to VR deployment, having previously been temporary home to the critically celebrated but short lived ‘Star Wars VR’ (The VOID) experience back in 2017, that was followed by the ‘Army of the Dead’ (Netflix) pop-up VR experience. The new Divr Labs experience marks the establishment of a permanent VR installation in this retail-tainment location and has already started to see a strong take-up by the local audience. The company is looking at opening further installations, as well as updating their sites with new content. Well-placed sources revealed that, following the dinosaur experience, a new attraction based around spiders will be launched soon – that will prove a shock for some guests.   

Artainment

Immersive projected art installations (“Immersive Exhibitions”) have seen a major upswing in popularity, with numerous cities seeing the opening of their own exhibitions, proving the popularity of the immersive gallery approach. London has already seen its fair share, as with The Stinger Report’s recent visit to the FEVER operated ‘Van Gogh: Immersive Exhibition’. 

London has now seen its latest opening with ‘Frameless’ – located in the heart of the capital, at Marble Arch, close to the shopping Mecca Oxford Circus, where the operators have populated a 30,000-sq.ft. basement venue with four dedicated environments to be immersed in sight and sound. The art experience uses the latest projection technology to create a compelling representation of some 40 famous masterpieces which the guests are completely immersed within, through the use of projection and specially-created music and lighting effects.

Each of the four rooms or galleries offers a unique means to experience the artworks, with rooms being turned into complete projection environments – or with the use of special mesh partitions to project onto. The spaces offer a high level of immersion into the colour and scale of the artworks that envelop the audience – with the projection technology supplied by Panasonic. The importance of the audio, as well as the projection, is underlined using some 158 surround sound speakers within the experiences. The large attendance since the opening of the London site underpins the popularity of what some see as the evolution of the gallery experience.

Immersive entertainment spaces, be they social entertainment or Artainment exhibitions and galleries, have seen a growth in investment. Many are seeing this development as the future of the gallery installation. In Europe we have seen the launch of the new ‘Mythos of Mozart’ exhibition, that opened in the composer’s hometown of Vienna – a 161,000-sq.ft. facility broken into five dedicated rooms, marrying the music of the legendary composer with immersive visuals of great period paintings. The overall concept has been years in the creation, using local Austrian specialists, including the technical services provided by PKE Electronics GmbH.

In the USA, we have already reported on the vast investment into the Illuminarium Intermediate, with their installations opened in Atlanta and Las Vegas; and the operation has recently signed an agreement to install specially licensed content across their screens. The company has also started a push to see the opening of Miami, Chicago and New York opened in the next 18-months – towards their five-year, 25 global venue goal. 

Speaking of licensed content for this environment, it was announced that Walt Disney had signed an agreement to license their IP to be developed into this sphere. It was revealed that Walt Disney Animation Studios granted the rights to properties ranging from classics like ‘Steamboat Willy’, ‘Lion King’, and ‘Fantasia’, as well as more modern classics such as ‘Frozen’ (to name a few), turned into Immersive Exhibitions under the ‘Disney Animation: Immersive Experience’ name. It is set to be launched in Canada this December, with plans for a Las Vegas opening to follow. This to be developed and released by Lighthouse Immersive, under this partnership, with Lighthouse Immersive being the same company that developed the North American version of the ‘Van Gogh’ experience (seeing some 5m ticket sales during the American season).

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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