#1182 – Compelling Immersion Showing! Part 3

In concluding our extensive coverage of the crowded and record-breaking International Association of Amusement Park and Attractions European Expo (IAAPA-EU’23), we zero in on the growing trends that are shaping the modern amusement and attraction landscape.

Active Entertainment

Seen across the show floor, jumping around within an immersive enclosure offers a glimpse of “Active Entertainment” (also referred to in some sectors as “Active Social Play”) – which is a trend that has also seen continued investment. The interest in active citizens addressing health concerns following lockdown have also linked to the growth of “eXergaming” as a saviour to the slowdown in the fitness and gym industry. 

Bringing examples of active entertainment to the Vienna show floor were exhibitors led by Valo Motion. Crossing the MR boundaries, the company showed their continued market penetration with their highly active and attractive platforms, such as seen with their new ‘ValoArena’ tracking players’ movements with computer vision and representing the movements on screen. Tracked player movements represented on screen are also seen with the ‘ValoJump’, while projection mapping defines the popular ‘ValoClimb’ system. With this all supported by a growing library of content, the company was keen to present their new sales successes.

During the show, CSE Entertainment offered another selection of compelling active entertainment with strong “eXergaming” roots. On the booth was their new ‘iWall 3.0’ installation, tracking players movements and representing them on screen in two-player action. This is a concept that the company has fielded for over ten years and has entertained millions of users with, including a considerable library of games. Alongside this was the new ‘runBEAT 2.0’ system – a motorized treadmill with an exergaming and networked component, offering a fun fitness experience and drawing heavily on Gamification of the exercise process. Also shown was CSE’s ‘cycloBEAT 3.0’ – also able to have four units linked together, this cycle experience offers up-to-four games for fun competition. 

Another exhibitor with a highly active entertainment experience was presented from PLEYO. The company offered their ‘Pleyo Station’ – a mini-trampoline style single-player attraction which tracks players’ movements and represents them on screen. Since our last report, the game experience has been upgraded significantly and features great new game elements – as well as their network play and eSports tournament feature. The importance of eSports and active gaming seen with PLEYO – with eSports even being cited as part of the Paris 2024 Olympics Games.

The mini-trampoline style system was also seen from SisyFox – the company famous for their giant game-controller game (‘FoxBall’). The company has launched a new game called ‘Jumplings’ – with five players on individual jump pads controlling their character on a central screen. The system is configurable in numbers of players from three upwards, and offers a unique, multi-player, highly physical experience for young players – with 15 games in the library. The company is also working on a highly physical and digital game mechanic.

The inclusion of an active experience with a social element was illustrated by Pixel Floor – a great system using an illuminated interactive floor-scape, that players must navigate in various game modes, avoiding the red blocks. Able to accommodate single and multiple game modes, the platform has already been installed in social entertainment sites – the system was developed as a kiosk and launched as a fully automatic gaming experience. 

Competitive Socializing

The major stalking horse trend revealed across the IAAPA-EU’23 floor was the new “Competitive Socializing” (abbreviated to CompSoc) investment being made in facilities and new hardware. This was first reflected in golfing. Mini-golf specialists Greenspan Projects have been working for some time on their interpretation of the gamified golfing experience and chose Vienna to launch ‘Puttify’. What the company is calling “not just a golf game”, but the next generation of social entertainment, was seen with the example course on their booth at the show and offered a glimpse of the culmination of interactive course elements and a digital scoring component – holes also including a trivia selection element and unique play aesthetics, all fed from a touch screen kiosk element. 

Social “Gamified” golf was represented on several booths during the event, along with the already mentioned HOLOGATE platform. Creative Works promoted their ‘Lucky Putt’, while others such as Interactive Lasegames GmbH presented their own concept, as well as Lagotronics Projects in a collaboration with Jora Vision revealing ‘RemarkaBall’ – their CompSoc entry. Exhibitor City Golf Europe, who has a range of adventure golf experiences (indoor and out), installed internationally, previewed at the Vienna show their new ‘Quest’ experience, offering a fully automated mission room attraction – comprising digital and physical challenges. 

The drive to have a presence in this growing market has seen developer CONDUCTR open a new Social Entertainment game division, Game Volt. The first fruit of this had already been installed in the new Social Entertainment element of Dave & Buster’s, with their new ‘Supercharged Shuffle’ – inspired shuffleboard, now including a layer of tech to support gamification, including automated scoring and kiosk control. Along with a new AR darts experience, these games are part of the D&B brand’s rejuvenation program with “Social Bays”, that we reported on in previous coverage of the CompSoc shakeup for the operations “eatertainment” image. 

IAAPA-EU exhibitor SimWay presented their selection of shooting experiences and updated this approach with the first showing of ‘ClayShot’ on their booth – with realistic shotguns blasting clays on screen. This is a new game offering aimed at a more social entertainment mix than a realistic shooter. It is offered as a standalone arcade shooting unit, configurable for two players, with a sharpshooter linking the ‘ClayShot’ experience for four players in a ‘Wild West’ challenge, and with sixty different experiences on the system.

The competitive socializing revolution hitting bowling was reflected on several booths – including the NGT-Bowling stand at the show, decked out as a true turnkey bowling solution for the social generation and boutique bowling revolution. The company demonstrating their ‘airO’ pneumatic pin stacking platform, offering a simple operation and supported by lights and sound, for social venues. Meanwhile, the Brunswick booth promoted their ‘Duckpin Social’ configuration of the string bowling system – clearly aimed at a social entertainment/boutique environment.

Further developments impacting the amusement and attraction scene regarding the CompSoc landscape are expected to be revealed in the run up to the IAAPA Orlando event in November, as well as towards the New Year. The momentum achieved by this growing trend is seen in new major investments towards opening new facilities, and with a slew of new hardware hoping to jump on this new and popular aspect of our business – that some are only now waking up to. 

Frictionless

The employment of “AI/ML/Frictionless” across the entertainment landscape was reflected on Vienna floor, with Semnox partnering with RaceFacer – with Go-Karting Management and Timing Software offering a comprehensive suite of tools and, with this partnership, the companies have developed “Smart Payment” as a now-permanent fixture of the amusement and attraction scene. Like the Gamification systems mentioned previously, the use of wearables is playing a greater part of the lineup of systems. 

IAAPA-EU’23 exhibitor Parafait showed their Luminos range of wearable wristbands and supported wireless debit card readers – all powered by the latest Linux OS. Meanwhile, a unique image capture system was demonstrated by SharingBox – offering versatile photobooth systems, the company also showed a unique system capturing guests’ images while sitting in a ball pit for a picture to remember. The hardware is also supported by AR and social media apps. 

New Amusement

The drive for new machines and representation of “Amusement” in modern locations, sweeping across Europe and beyond, was also represented on the IAAPA-EU’23 show floor. Several leading European amusement distributors took space on the show floor, with a selection of the latest video, prize, and redemption – hoping to populate the expanding entertainment landscape.

United Distributing Company (UDC) had a crowded booth with a selection of the latest and greatest Videmption and videos, such as ‘Pop I!’ and ‘Dinosaur Era – X-Treme’, with a StepManiaX latest music game platform being avidly played. Speaking of music games, news was revealed of ‘Pump It Up 2023’. Launched in South Korea during July by Andimaro, international release in August was planned, although it was a no-show at IAAPA-EU’23. The original PIU tournament server will be shut down and replaced by the new service – that will be supported by the AM.PASS network (although international network plans have not been fully confirmed).

The big beasts of SEGA Amusement International (SAI) and BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe (BNAE) took major placements on the floor, although there were no major additions to the lineup which were already reported on in The Stinger Report. However, one surprise announcement was the appearance of a new VR platform on the SAI booth – this was the RILIX two-seater cost-effective ‘Rilix Coster’ ride system. The version on show was part of a new agreement by SAI to represent the two-seater platform – rocking modified Meta Quest headsets. SAI also represented their social entertainment (CompSoc) range, with the ‘AR Darts’ from 501 Entertainment.

Other amusement on the floor included representation from Electrocoin, with their brand new ‘Roll-A-Ball’ – presenting into the market the best features of skeeball, in a great amusement package, as well as a crowded booth with new ‘Treasure Alliance’ and ‘Magic Key’ prize and redemption pieces. Also seen was Wiki – with a new shooter, ‘Farm Story’. A new fun shooter from JET Games took the skill game shooter genre into the big box scene with ‘Big Shot’. This is a two-player interpretation of the screen shooter, with all the JET magic and applying many of the lessons learned from the smaller shooters – with a bigger screen, better guns, and more fun. This game feels to be one to watch – when it is fully released. 

The popularity of video racing games seen on the BNAE booth with Raw Thrills and Adrenalin Amusement titles next to each other. LAI Games came to the show with ‘Asphalt 9 Legends Arcade’. Meanwhile, the Italian distributor ELMAC had the Chinese-developed ‘Speed Driver 5’ and ‘Parkor Motor 2’ titles on show. 

UNIS Technologies had a strong presence, with a selection of their new redemption on show, and the European appearance of their VR title ‘Sailors Quest VR’. Likewise, the TRIOTECH two-player ‘STORM’ amusement piece was seen on the Nigelhell booth, while their four-player ‘QUBE’ amusement theater was on the BNAE booth. Also, many pinball pieces were fielded on various booths, with even a few digital examples, such as the Marsaplay from Spain.  

The Chinese amusement scene was represented on several booths – ACE Amusement attended the show with active video ‘Surf League’, their racing video ‘Nitro Speed’, and a water shooter (‘Wild Thing Wipe Out’). One name on the Vienna show floor that will be familiar to long time readers of The Stinger Report will be TAB Austria, developers of one of the first touch screen tabletop amusement and gaming systems, and the company had a selection of their ‘Fun4Four’ tables in various sizes on display. 

A new technology trend for application in amusement, although not at the show, was announced from ELAUT Group – the company is fielding a live streaming of arcade games called ‘Livecadia’. This platform will allow online arcade gaming, and the platform offers a customizable progressive web app that allows arcade owners to operate their own site. Players sign up, browse which game they want to play, with the experience supported with an online prize store. This is very similar to the Japanese “LivePlay” machines that we have reported the growth of. It will be interesting to see how Western operators take to this approach. 

Fabrication & AI

One of the less reported new trends sweeping the entertainment and attraction sector is “Automation”/“Fabrication”. IAAPA-Europe’23 had an example of this regarding 3D printing, with Massivit3D tasking a booth at the show to present their large-format 3D printing platform, an exact example of turning the digital into physical. Examples of the sculptures and designs rendered on their hardware were populating the booth. 

The appearance of other trends included “Machine Learning”/“Robots”/“AI”. This was illustrated by the surprising appearance from Beckhoff Automation, with the company showing their autonomous movement system, moving special blocks around the display, able to move remotely. The system is already being used in visitor attraction displays and, with their partnership with PIXERA, the system is integrated into projection mapping to create a unique display system. It is expected that this autonomous movement system will be seen deployed across more entertainment venues in the coming months. Adding to the appearance of trackless, robots, and drone systems, French manufacturer Dronisos was seen at the show, promoting a range of indoor and outdoor drones shows for entertainment. 

In conclusion – IAAPA-Europe 2023 broke several records, seeing verified attendance of some 12,289, to see the gathered exhibitors across the three halls. The venue proved a strong location to do business, with several key exhibitors commenting they had seen healthier business enquires compared to previous European events. 

The exhibition hall placement was next to what is described as the “World’s Oldest amusement park”, The Prater, with its iconic Ferris wheel that played a part in receptions and events during the expo. Overall, many were liking the city, but not the prices for hotel rooms. The event clashed with a banking convention that saw all local hotel prices balloon for those who could not book months ahead of the show. Show organizers confirmed IAAPA Europe 2024 will see the traveling event return to Amsterdam, during 23-26 September 2024.

Industry Developments

News from the sector during IAAPA-EU’23 reflected the changing times for amusement and attraction business, with some good and some bad news.

Regarding park business, Disney was in the news for all the right and wrong reasons. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the corporation’s founding (originally called Disney Brothers Cartoon Studios), and now the largest entertainment corporation, Disney revealed plans to spend $60b on theme park and cruise line divisions over ten years. When taken into consideration what the corporation spent previously during the same period across all these elements, it came across as a slight lowering in new investment. And had an adverse impact on stoke prices. 

This was followed by news of a hike in annual passes and ticket pricing for Disney parks and attractions – along with parking and services. This comes on the back of collapsing stock prices, reaching record lows, and media criticism of management’s strategic decisions following continuing layoffs.

All this is seen in the face of Disney’s Japanese and Chinese parks reporting they are looking to expand their operations. These parks having reported noticeable year-on-year rises in revenue. Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo resorts are managed under license by their respective subsidiaries. These operations are prepared to invest in new attractions and expansion to capitalize on their positions and stay relevant to their local audiences – while also defending against competition, as seen with the opening in Japan of ‘Super Nintendo World’. 

Regarding Water Parks business, news was broken that FEC chain CEC Entertainment and California Dreamin’ Entertainment announced a multi-year licensing, entertainment, and marketing partnership, that will bring the ‘Chuck E. Cheese’ iconic brand outside its traditional four-walls for the development of a new branded children’s and family-themed area in the new water park. This came with news of further IP moves, with the launch of the ‘Chuck E. Cheese Pizza’ food item, arriving in Walmart stores nationwide.

Branding has been increasing exponentially regarding new entertainment developments and their application. While the iconic mouse at CEC sees new deployment, news was revealed that Nintendo is also looking at their property’s life beyond the console. It was revealed that the ‘Animal Crossing’ property will be part of a new experience in the Seattle Aquarium – a mixture of scavenger hunt and themed environment will greet guests. The aquarium is partnering with Nintendo of America on the unique project.

Taking place after IAAPA-EU’23, the Brand Licensing Expo (BLE) in London reflected the growth in branding and IP crossing over into LBE and resorts. The event reported the LBE sector is a $3.29b market, expected to grow 30-percent by 2030. And it is expected that investment will only grow in the creation of physical venues based on popular brands, incorporating immersive entertainment which has already seen success internationally. This was reflected in the news that movie streaming service Netflix will be entering the location-based entertainment scene with the launch of ‘Netflix House’. 

This planned immersive entertainment venue will be a venue that allows guests to immerse themselves in popular shows, with rotating installations of these IP – supported by food and beverage. This will build on what has already been seen separately from Netflix, with pop-up installations over the years, such as the ‘Army of the Dead: VR Experience’ and the ‘Stanger Things: Experience’. Along with Netflix, Sony, Hasbro, and Nintendo are just some of the names eyeing a permanent LBE venue entry.

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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