#1160 – Gaming on Success!

In a crowded period over the last few months of the start of the year, the onward rush of 2023 continued with one of the largest shows for the amusement, gaming, gambling, eSports, and online gaming sector – along with European and MENA trade events. This all started at the end of January with the trade association holding their IAAPA FEC Summit – a gathering of those entering the amusement venue business, and the suppliers who support them.

It is impossible to accurately cover all these events, and we have gathered a snapshot of leading trends and developments seen across the latest crop of trade gatherings impacting the immersive entertainment landscape.

International Casino Expo (ICE)

While not heavily covered by the amusement and attractions media for the obvious reasons, the London ICE’23 gathering of casino, online gaming, sports betting (land­based), and mobile betting and gaming industries offering an interesting barometer of the innovation in the gaming scene, and its catchment outside of its core business.

The event also acted as an excellent barometer of the health of the major exhibition scene, as it returned to its traditional February timeslot after last year’s April hosting. Show organizers, Clarion Events, revealed a crowded exhibition with some 3,000 claimed product launches, and the biggest on-record space, occupying 51,466-sqm., (exceeding the previous high of 49,690-sqm set in 2020). All to entertain some 35,000 industry professionals from the casino, land-based, online gaming, and eSport sectors.

The ICE’23 show reflected the positivity of the gaming sector, returning to the London show in force. Massive booths from Novomatic were seen as normal, but this was matched by Merkur in the adjacent hall. The casino and land-based business was making a welcome return to the show after last year’s abstinence. Much of that was forced on the trade following the Global Health Crisis but was also linked to rumblings regarding the venue’s future (we outline the fallout of this later in the report).

The show technology trends were more subtle to observe than in previous years. There were no real standouts, other than slimmer lines of video slots, and ever-increasing LED display technology. Key exhibitors used to chart these trends, included KONAMI Gaming, with no real standout surprises. Meanwhile, one surprise appearance came with Japanese Pachinko machines – two authentic systems were shown on the Phoenix7 booth. The company is developing gaming apps with an Asian style, and the company includes a smartphone gaming product that emulates the pachinko aesthetics. They felt that bringing real machines to the show would draw interest, which it did.

Amusement was represented by Electrocoin, with a selection of their pinball, prize, and gaming platforms. The company also revealed, prior to the ICE show, that they had been forced to close their ‘VEGA London’ amusement and gaming site, due to a dispute with the building’s management. The VEGA location, run by Electrocoin, had been a popular amusement site with fans of the fighting game scene for the last few decades. And the closure marks the last of the popular, but traditional, video amusement halls that had once been so plentiful in the Capital. Another amusement presence on the ICE’23 show floor was TouchMagix – bringing examples of their latest Videmption pieces. The consideration of amusement alongside gaming is reflected across several casino chains (as covered in our reporting of the new arcade at the ‘Horseshoe Casino Resort’ in Las Vegas, run by Caesars Entertainment).

Turning to another trend, and ICE’23 saw the return of their “Esports Arena” – a dedicated stage and streaming space on the show floor for the support and promotion of the competitive gaming scene. eSports has been suffering many trials and tribulations following its explosive growth. We have reported on much reorganization, and more news followed the show – with the announcement that Tiidal Gaming, the eSports and gaming operation, had sold their Sportsflare eSports betting space to Entain for some $13m in cash. 

Speaking of new eSports investments, we can reveal the final details regarding the ‘Cedar Point Esports’ project. Part of the Cedar Point Sports Center, which opened in 2017 in Ohio, revealed their plans for the 1,000-sq.ft. gaming space that will offer an eSports playing environment, with stations for up-to-32 players, plus a multi-media stage for live performances. This is the first phase of a major project towards offering a dedicated sports and entertainment space.

Regarding other trends on the change, and VR was one of the big surprises during ICE’23, with the lack of any real advancement on the previous big investment. Back in 2017 when we reported from the show, we covered VR projects from over four of the large casino and gaming corporations – and the industry was investigating VR’s potential for the sector, both as a land-based installation and for consumer VR gaming and gambling applications. Jump forward some seven years, and the ICE’23 show floor was nearly absent of any VR. The only two examples were seen on the eSports Arena booth from CoinsPaid – the company has a football game on display, with attendees testing their skills to gain a high score. 

This was more a booth promotion than a serious gaming system, although the exhibitors were planning to evaluate attendees’ reactions to the experience. The other exhibitor promoting a VR initiative was EGT – on the corporation’s vast booth there was a solitary VR headset (Meta Quest 2) running, with what the attendees called a VR demonstration of the corporation’s plans, with users able to navigate around a virtual casino, able to play the games and accrue winnings. The system is in a very early stage of development, and the company plans to release this as both a land-based game and a consumer app – the company plans to release more information soon.   

Regarding technology trends, the streaming of games to smartphones and online customers has continued to grow, fueled by the popularity of streamed content as well as the frictionless engagement it offers. Along with live croupiers, we saw again at ICE the appearance of the ‘Roba Robotic Croupier’. This is a robotic unit programmed to deal cards – the system is proposed to be placed in casinos as a robotic croupier, as well as its actions to be streamed for online games. 

A New Show

It would be impossible to write up ICE’23 without addressing the “Elephant in the Room” – that so many others are attempting to ignore. For many years, The Stinger Report has revealed the behind-the-scenes horse-trading that has surrounded the continued existence of ICE. With the adoption of Brexit in the UK, there was a move by a cabal of European exhibitors to relocate the premier European casino show to central Europe (at the time favouring Amsterdam). The 2022 show was impacted by the absence of certain prominent land-based gaming companies, and this was seen not only due to increased expenses and COVID conditions, but also as a concerted move to force the show organizer’s hand towards relocation. 

With the build-up to ICE’23, at the beginning of the year, sources once again revealed the latest chapter in this ongoing story, regaining momentum after lockdown. It was claimed that 2024 would be the last year of the ICE show in London. It was suggested that negotiations had finally come to ahead, and that organizer Clarion was about to announce the decision to relocate the casino, eSports, online, and gaming show to Europe in 2025. This will come as a body-blow to the UK gaming scene, and the loss of revenue it generated for the country. This will mark yet another victim concerning the English-citizenries’ vote to exit the European Union. As to underpin the situation, all this speculation was marked by an increased focus in the marketing for the 2023 show as “ICE London”.

While spoken about openly during the various mixers leading up to and during ICE’23, the traditional gaming media seemed averse to cover this situation, concerned not to bite the hand. No word was given if a London event would still happen in some guise after 2024, but it was clear that the ramifications of these developments (once officially confirmed), will have tectonic implications for the UK gaming scene – impacts that will also be felt by other amusement and gaming trade events in the UK. Although the location of ICE 2025 is still being concluded, the front runners are Madrid and Barcelona. Hopes of a move to Amsterdam had been dashed early on, as well as for Paris and Berlin. As soon as the final development is made, we will be sure to report it.   

The 14th GTI Asia China Expo (GTI’23), held in the province of Guangzhou, China, at the beginning of March, was claimed to be the first physical amusement trade show in China for 2023. The show gets its name from Game Time International, the Asian amusement trade publication still covering the sector.

Coverage was limited in the West, as very few international visitors attended. But regarding the information that was supplied back to The Stinger Report, key developments included those from Arccer Amusement Technology, showing their ‘Dance Battle’ – the new-generation of dancing game machines, with body movement tracking, and an interactive illuminated dance floor. Also seen was ‘Dance Cube 2’ – the touchscreen rhythm music game series. These systems were supported by a tournament infrastructure, and the exhibitor held a competition on their booth during the show.

Another exhibitor, DreamFun, had a booth reflecting the growing interest in the “Neo Cranes” – a new trend, best described as highly illuminated crane machines supported by LED displays, along with the latest prize merch to populate these machines, commonly known in the sector as “Gift Machines”.  Another trend being reflected on this and other booths, is that for a younger audience skew on the platforms on display. Indeed, games and prize systems are aiming at a much younger audience, reflecting the generational change in the market approach from 2019 to 2023.

Regarding the trend of VR usually seen across the Chinese amusement events of late, there was still a strong showing, although new innovations on those previously reported seemed fewer. There was also the first appearance of new AR/MR based amusement systems jockeying for recognition. As we are now only focusing on new developments that have a chance of making Western landfall, we will supply details on these later. GTI 2023 was the first Chinese trade event to be held under the new COVID-19 measures, and offered a less stringent entry policy for international travellers. While there was a contingent of Western distributors and agents on the floor, it was far less than seen in previous years. 

In Conclusion – This was an important show to check the temperature of the Chinese amusement scene, and the impacts on international trends and business this vibrant market represents. Many Western trade shows, that have returned to a new normal, have been significantly absent of Chinese manufacturers. The country is still under the thumb of the Global Health Crisis, while other nations seem to be returning to some semblance of normality. 

Finally, it was confirmed that GTI will be returning to a two shows a year format, with an announcement of the GTI Expo for September 11-13, 2023. This will be after the planned IAAPA Expo Asia in June – signs of a return to normality for the Asian international amusement and attraction trade. We expect several other China VR, gaming and amusement shows (Asia Amusement & Attractions Expo (AAA)) to report from in the coming months, as the sector returns to their new normality. 

Now all eyes turned to the Dubai Entertainment Attraction & Leisure (DEAL). This is an event that will see a strong Chinese presence compared to previous years, and will act as a good gauge of the trends shaping the MENA sector and its growing entertainment landscape.

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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