#1161 -Sun Shines on Amusement Success

The momentum continues, as the amusement and attraction industry travels to growing markets. The latest trade convention rushes from India (IAAPI), and touches down in Dubai, for one of the first major industry events of the 2023 calendar for the region.

Big DEAL for MENA Market 

Following a cluster of international events, we rush to the UAE to attend the Dubai Entertainment Attraction & Leisure (DEAL’23) exhibition, reflecting the importance of the Middle East and North African (MENA) market. DEAL’23 gathered some 300 exhibitors to the event at the Dubai World Trade Center convention venue. This marked the 29th year of operation, stated by organizers International Expo-Consults (IEC).

The show got off to a big start with a VIP representation, and ribbon cutting, supported by a collection of the leading distributors and developers gathered to promote the massive opportunities in this region’s market.

The View from the ASI Pavilion

Amusement Services International (ASI) is one of the major distributor and amusement operators of the international scene, especially in this region. The company, fresh from showing at IAAPI’23, took a sprawling space to present a plethora of new releases as part of their DEAL’23 ‘ASI Pavilion’. The company gave a snapshot of the latest trends in the amusement and entertainment scene.

VR was one such trend. Making a big splash at DEAL’23, Hero Zone marked the announcement of their new partnership deal with ASI, by taking a prominent spot on their pavilion and running demos on their VR arena. The new collaboration will see the ‘Hero Zone Arena’ system being represented across the MENA region by the distributor, presented as a turnkey solution for operators. Hero Zone has already placed some 180 sites globally and has established Middle East installations at two of the Kuwaiti ‘Future Kids’ venues. 

Another leading VR pioneer showing on the pavilion was SPREE Interactive – in partnership with ASI, the company revealed their new ‘SPREE VR Playground’, an enclosure based on their free roaming platform and able to accommodate four, six, and ten players, all wearing the HTC Focus 3 VR headset. The company launched the new game, ‘Splish Splash’, with this whole platform focused on the six-to-12 age market, able to offer a footprint as small as 340-sq.ft. and aimed at FEC owners. ‘Splish Splash’ is aimed for the Middle Eastern market, with the company confirming multiple orders taken during the show. Technology from SPREE Interactive was also featured on the booths of Eurogames, and I.E. Park, integrated into the various configurations of VR bumper cars.

Regarding other VR products, the VRsenal new ‘Monolith’ unattended VR kiosks were part of the ASI Pavilion, with two back-to-back machine examples running ‘Zombieland’ and ‘Synth Riders’. Another VR experience at the show, sharing the same pavilion, was Frontgrid presenting their ‘ParadropVR Pod’. The latest version of the paragliding attraction offers attendant-free operation, multi-player gameplay, and a new competitive game play model, acting to draw repeat play and offering a unique experience in a simple package. The original version of the platform has seen a long and profitable operation at the ‘Dubai VR Park’ (recently rebranded ‘PlayDXB’). Also exhibiting on the ASI Pavilion was Somniacs, promoting their ‘Birdly’ immersive VR flight simulator system.

With a mixture of immersive and VR based entertainment products to present at the pavilion, TRIOTECH showed their ‘QUBE’ – the competitive multiplayer amusement ride simulator. The company is proud of their high ROI numbers being generated from the initial machines installed, offering the ability for up-to-four players to take part in the same experience. This is an example of the need in the market for strong immersive entertainment. The company presented at the show their ‘STORM’ two-player, VR ride-game platform.

The ASI Pavilion played host to representation from BANDAI NAMCO Amusement, SEGA Amusement International, Electrocoin, and from LAI Games, showing their extensive product lines, along with other represented machine categories. Regarding supporting a diverse market, ASI was also promoting a concept for the MENA sector of “Gastro Gaming” – which has also been described as social entertainment or hospitality-based entertainment. This includes examples like AR darts (as seen from SAI), or pool, or the new style of Duckpin Bowling within a mix of hospitality. The social gaming and entertainment mix was seen at the Pavilion with the product ‘Private Lounge’ – a Karaoke Cube offering a special soundproof enclosure with 30,000 songs to select from, and green screen recording for the perfect party event. This mix of social entertainment and amusement was a trend that was very evident on the show floor at DEAL.

The View from the WOG Pavilion

Another major distribution force in the amusement and attraction scene in this territory, Warehouse of Games (WOG), had a cluster of third-party representations, revealing the major aspects of amusement and attraction entertainment.

Continuing the trend in VR platforms for the market, and HOLOGATE presented an example of their popular VR tethered enclosure on the show floor, with the brand-new licensed game experience ‘Ghostbusters VR Academy’. And in support of this, the company also had the new ‘TowerTag’ free-roaming arena – able to accommodate up-to-eight players, using HTC Focus 3 headsets, playing within the physical tower enclosure, offering fun and competitive entertainment. 

Also showing on the WOG Pavilion was VEX Solutions, with their ‘VEX Arena’ platform – a flexible solution for up-to-ten players, playing a selection of games, with the new version running on the HTC Focus 3 headset. And next to this was the ‘VEX Adventure 2.0’ – offering a 4D effects enclosure with haptic vests and Pico headset for up-to-six players, as a full turnkey free-roam experience. Standalone VR was represented by Kiosk4VR, with an example of their unattended VR kiosk platform, offering a selection of games, all played through the HTC Vive Pro 2 headset, using a unique retention system for better operation.

The increased immersive entertainment component of DEAL’23 was reflected on the WOG Pavilion, with attendance by AMEGA Entertainment, bringing an example of the PlayMotion ‘Formula S’ racing cockpit – with motion and a replica monocoque, wide screen, racing rig. Regarding new amusement releases on the booth, and Adrenaline Amusement brought over for the first time their ‘Need for Speed: Heat Takedown DX’ – the new deluxe motion cockpit version has a big screen (throwing its hat into the crowded motion deluxe arcade racer waters).  

The WOG Pavilion also included Valo Motion, who presented their ‘ValoArena’ – the unique computer vision powered multiplayer experience, that places the guest into the game, with their full movements represented within the onscreen action. The system is part of the company’s active entertainment range that has already seen installations in the MENA market, with their active mixed reality ‘ValoClimb’ attraction, or their trampoline-enhancing ‘ValoJump’ products. The ability to mix physical items into the digital environment was also on display from PlayMind, with their ‘PlayBox’ – ball tossing digital attraction, available in outdoor and indoor configurations, accommodating different numbers of players, but still offering a compelling competition, across a selection of game titles.

Rest of the Show Floor

Continuing round the other exhibitors at DEAL’23, and the Italian developer of simulator and VR attractions, Moviemex3D, exhibited at the show. Building on their immersive VR attraction seen with ‘VR Labyrinth’ (which we reported on during IAAPA-EMEA’22), the company presented the system at DEAL’23 – the arena comes with vibration, spray, and aroma, as the player walks around the space wearing his Pico Neo 3 headset. Running a simple demo during the show with some FX elements, the arena now includes new games such as ‘Alien Survivor’, along with ‘Mayan Adventure’, ‘Haunted House’, and ‘Magic Forest’.

The investment in VR as an attraction as well as an entertainment installation was particularly prevalent, considering new developments. The exhibitor Ballast VR showed examples of their water-based VR attraction technology with their ‘VRSlide’ immersive flume ride and pool-based attraction – supported by their ’DIVR+’ waterproof headset, and easy experience selection system. The UAE and KSA markets’ growing resort scene and affable climate makes this application a perfect fit to monetize the waterpark aspects of their business. 

Making a first appearance at the Dubai show was American developer and manufacturer VR360ACTION – the company brought a selection of their most popular VR amusement pieces to the show, with their ‘Hi Scream’ VR kiosk with unique content, their ‘Baby Shark’ children’s VR ride-on, ‘VR Shotgun’ gatling gun VR shooter, two-seater ‘Dream Simulator’ VR motion ride, and their ‘VR Racing Simulator’. These systems use the DPVR and HP headsets and support Western developed specifications. The American company came to the Middle East show with a view towards opening a new sales market.

Regarding the Chinese presence at DEAL’23 and, in previous years, there has been an extensive representation from the Chinese manufacturers. However, following the Global Health Crisis, there has been a smaller presence – with this also impacted by the holding of the GTI Asia amusement show a few days before the UAE event (as covered in our previous report). To address this, DEAL’23 had a special China Pavilion, which saw exhibiter FuninVR (7D Motion) with their ‘VR Racing Moto’ motorbike system, and their five-seat ‘VR Magic UFO’ platform, all using the DPVR headset. Movie Power also attended with their ‘VR Super Agent’ upright kiosk, ‘VR Space Wheel: Motorbike’, and ‘VR Space Theater’ motion four-rider system. All this, along with new video and prize amusement, presented by Yuto Amusement

Of the new VR on display, there was another free-roaming platform from Russian developer WARPOINT – the company showed their arena system, using Meta Quest2 headsets with special gun controllers, and with players competing in a “Counter-Strike style” combat game. The company claimed some 50 locations opened with these systems, and the newcomer to DEAL had their ‘WARPOINT: Virtual Arena’ on display, able to accommodate up-to-six players – although their full arena can support up-to-ten. The company is only opening large virtual reality arenas.

Another familiar face represented at the show was United Distributing Company (UDC), a veteran exhibitor at the DEAL event, and the company presented their extensive range of amusement, redemption, and prize machine pieces. This also included Step Revolution and their ‘StepManiaX’ music game system. The amusement scene’s latest trends also saw Sports Simulation appear, with their surround-style 270-degree projection and object tracking immersive enclosure, as  represented on the GEMM Productions booth. The deployment of active sports entertainment systems, as with social entertainment, is gaining a footing in the MENA sector – with the company deploying their platform with some 60 sports, 1,500 “Game Challenges” tournament events, and with some 3,500 sporting venues.  

The theme park and attraction aspect of the show saw representation from DOF Robotics, taking a booth at the event to promote their simulation platforms such as the new ‘Monster Jam: Grave Digger’, and their ‘Mission Space: Digital Park’ immersive attraction. Brogent Entertainment also had representation at the show, with their popular flying theater systems. Regarding ride film deployment, Red Raion had a presence at the show, promoting their latest CGi experiences with a showreel of their latest dome screen content, including their new film ‘Around the World in 80 Days – Journey of Wonders’, presented during the show on a mini-LED dome screen.  

Investing into Consumer

A brief aside from the Dubai show floor, following on from recent trend reporting in The Stinger, and we see another group of examples regarding the broadening of brand recognition into the consumer game field from amusement developers. 

First off in this vein was LAI Games, which announced that it had broken off its consumer game development operation into its own independent division, called ArcadeXR. This consumer division will now apply their game experience, seen with the recent ‘Arcade Legend’ consumer title, that allows players to build and manage their own authentic arcade in VR. The new ArcadeXR operation intends to continue to support this authentic arcade management platform, as well as working on other new releases based on similar concepts. 

Second off was the announcement from Meow Wolf, the eclectic design studio responsible for several permanent installations and entertainment venues – such as their famous ‘Omega Mart’ at AREA15 in Las Vegas. It was announced that the company is collaborating with independent entertainment studio Mighty Coconut, to develop a course for their virtual reality game ‘Walkabout Mini Golf’. Meow Wolf has been working on several new facility projects, and this marks their first move into VR. 

As part of this announcement, Mighty Coconut also revealed they have been working to make their popular VR mini golf experience available for deployment in location-based entertainment (LBE) venues. The company is partnering with Dave & Busters’, Synthesis VR, and CTRL-V, among other VR arcade chains, via a commercial licensing program, event templates, and cross-promotion.

Regarding installations of VR into the LBE sector, it was announced that Virtuix, famous for their ‘Omni Arena’ VR platform, had reached an important milestone. The company revealed the 70th installation of their enclosure system, offering eSports VR and a strong VR experience via their omni-directional treadmill. This important milestone was through the third sale to Autobahn, the karting and amusement venue operator, including their new ‘Accelerate Indoor Speedway’ and existing ‘Autobahn’ chains. Virtuix has been a champion of the eSports capabilities of this arena approach, and has supported their install base, sponsoring a $100,000 prize pool (having paid out to date some $300,000 in prize money to previous winners).

In Conclusion: DEAL’23 had a lot to prove. Along with being a major gathering for professionals in the MENA sector, this was seen as the first full trade gathering of the DEAL show since the pandemic, with previous gatherings returning to business. This year’s show saw a good attendance, although it suffered from the usual lighter last day. However, those who attended were serious buyers looking to benefit from the latest technology and opportunities on display, on and off the show floor. 

This year’s DEAL supported the ‘Leisure, Entertainment & Attractions’ (LEA) Conference, organized by the Middle East and North Africa Leisure & Attractions Council (MENALAC). The trade association for the region has been seeing an increased influx of new membership in recent months – since its foundation in 2016 – and is working with events to promote the opportunities and the educational benefits for an associated membership. This is a market seeing considerable developments, such as the news that the Saudi’s government-owned amusement industry subsidiary, SEVEN, is to buy out the equity in the Saudi Cinema Company (SCC) held by AMC Entertainment Holdings, for a price of US$30m.

While DEAL took place, this was in fact one of three major amusement and attraction trade events hitting the MENA region. Only a few days previously to DEAL’23, IAAPA held their ‘IAAPA Middle East Trade Summit’ in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – another first for the trade association in this region. It was held as an ongoing hearts-and-minds effort by the organization, creating a networking opportunity between members and developers in the region, and supported by the General Entertainment Authority. According to IAAPA organizers, the event attracted some 700 registered attendees. 

Following this, and the amusement and attraction sector will be returning to the territory in May for the Saudi Entertainment & Amusement (SEA) Expo, taking place in the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center. This event has been increasing its presence in the principality, and increasing its reach, especially in supporting the estimated 20 new theme parks and resort projects that have been recently commissioned in the area. This event will also be supported by the MENALAC, and a planned seminar session is being arranged. 

That concludes this part of our coverage, although now all eyes will now turn to the end of March, and the Amusement Exhibition International (AEI) gathering in Las Vegas. It is expected to also mark a period of much interest in the international trade, as the global conditions redefine plans for the rest of the year. Expect detailed coverage from the show floor, and the number of trade-organized conferences and summits during the event.

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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