#1186 – Amazing Attractions Extravaganza! Part 2

For those who attended the show floor, the majority were wedded to their respective booths, or only able to gather a snapshot of trends spread over a handful of booths over the four days of hectic conference, show floor, and partying. 

Luckily, The Stinger Report, supported by our affiliates, was able to gather its usual detailed and exclusive rundown of key trends and developments on and off the Orlando trade floor. In this second part, we look at VR and the mix of Arena systems presented to the business.

All the Fun of the Arena

One of the popular presentations at the show was from Creative Works, once again creating a great buzz on their spiralling booth (which some nicknamed “candyland”), as the company presented a wide variety of VR, amusement, and LBE attractions. The big focus was ‘Limitless VR’ – the only free-roam platform with physical obstacles. The latest update supports a six-player size format and the ability for players to create accounts to unlock features and skins. This is now enhanced to a flexible 16-player capability, offering venue flexibility. Improvements to the graphics and the haptics for the gun are also rolled into this update. 

A new feature allows “bot” players (NPCs) to take empty slots during slow days at a facility that can insert AI bots. All games are now supported by a player app to track their stats and scores. One of the key features the company was promoting was the important aspect of their free-roaming platform being ‘License Fee’ free – removing what is seen from other providers with the added monthly license fees which are imposed on operators. 

Creative Works is riding on the golf renaissance and building on their escape room experience with ‘Lucky Putt’, incorporating into their own kiosks’ control and digital caddy, supporting food and beverage ordering, and offering a strong gamified social golf element – with automated scoring. The system has now been rolled out at several venues and is driving a social entertainment vibe. Along with previous released amusement pieces, Creative Works was promoting their extensive escape room and lasertag arena work.

Continuing the penetration of VR into the scene, and Hero Zone had a hectic booth demonstrating the running of the VR free-roaming content, including the new release ‘Dead Ahead’ – the latest zombie blaster in a long roster of blasters. The system employs HTC Focus 3 standalone headsets via wireless support, for eight players. SPREE Interactive was promoting their 100-turnkey installations worldwide, choosing IAAPA’23 to present their new ‘VR CyberRealm’ arena enclosure designed for a ten-player capacity – all powered by HTC Focus 3 headsets, supporting three new VR laser tag titles. 

Exploring Digital once again brought their ‘Megaverse VR’ arena to the IAAPA show – a flexible VR area enclosure for operators of varying sizes (proclaimed the “world-first interactive virtual-reality theater”). Able to accommodate 12 players, the system at the show was running the newly acquired IP ‘Zombie Road’ – added to their 12 current titles, with six installations in North America. The company also used IAAPA’23 to launch their new ‘Megaverse 2.0’ platform, with a flexible footprint to support a wide variety of venues – supporting from six-to-ten and even 12 players. 

Amusement Products (AP) came to IAAPA’23 with their usually crowded booth, celebrating some 60-years supporting the attraction scene. Along with the bumper car and ball pitching attractions, the company represents the VEX Solution range of immersive VR arena systems, with their ‘VEX Adventure’ and ‘VEX Arena’. AP is the exclusive distributor of the platform in North America and, at the show, a ‘VEX Arena’ was giving demonstrations of their hyper-reality free-roaming VR experience. 

AP was also representing the MR landscape with their gamification package for go-karting with their ‘PowerUp’ platform, offering game targets on the physical raceway with slow-downs to avoid, and power-ups to collect while racing – bringing a gamified element and repeat business to a traditional attraction. The platform is also supportive of LED light strips to the go-kart body, customizing the offering. These are some of the latest examples of gamification through technology regarding traditional entertainment offerings. 

The presentation of reliable hardware support for the excessive number of VR platforms was seen from HTC VIVE – the VR headset manufacturer, and Asian VR entertainment supporter. Their booth at the show held demonstrations of partner products, such as from StrikerVR – with their new VR arena interface (‘Mavrik-Pro’) offering force-feedback and recoil, shown on the HTC booth, but also represented on the Creative Works booth as part of their ‘Limitless VR’ platform. Also from CleanBox – the UV light cleaning platform for VR headsets and other items in regular contact with users, was a ubiquitous component on many booths running VR during IAAPA’23. 

The company (through HTC America) ran on their booth a ‘VR Education Program’, inviting VR operators to offer observations on utilization – presented by the VR Collective – a supporter of the “Virtual Reality Operator Networking Event”, an invite-only event held off the IAAPA’23 show floor in the Universal Drive area. This event gathered interested IAAPA attendees to a mixer with panel sessions, including PICO Interactive revealing more information on their new ‘Pico Neo 3 Enterprise’ headset. Meanwhile, the AAMA presented observations on the results of their VR operator survey. All this and Phenomena presented a live demonstration of their new ‘VR Esport Arena’ game, ‘Omega Protocol’. The holding of a mixer that acts as a great event establishes closer links with those in the sector.

Concerning the VR headset scene’s impact in LBE, we have already reported on HTC’s presence on the show floor. Also, other headset manufacturers were making inroads, but also suffering from the impacts in the consumer scene. Midst swirling rumors that PICO Interactive owners ByteDance were planning to close their VR division, the reality seemed to point to a major downscaling of the operation – even though, at IAAPA’23, many manufacturers favored this hardware. Another VR headset developer, DPVR, also had a strong presence on the show floor with manufacturers – this Chinese developer has become ubiquitous in their home territory, synonymous with the 9D early VR imports. The company scored a big deal this year, being the chosen headset of choice for the new Raw Thrills ‘Godzila’ VR piece (report below). Raw Thrills has previously partnered with HP for their ‘King Kong’ VR system – just before HP pulled out of VR manufacturing. 

One of the unusual booths at the show was a giant black wrapped box with “Coming Soon” stamped on the side. This was the VRsenal booth, along with ‘Zombieland: Headshot Fever’, the VR kiosk gun game launched last year and based on the movie license. The company was running invite-only tech demonstrations, inside the box, of their new game experience concept. Still shrouded in secrecy, a new holographic-style display and unique tracking system were being promoted, offering a highly physical immersive experience, placing the player in the heart of the action. The company is developing this unique concept with a proposed rollout for 2024 (we will share more details when we can). 

Virtuix was promoting their established ‘Omni Arena’, now comprising some eight compelling VR games – all as part of this VR enclosure system, with four-player omni-directional treadmills, and all with a strong eSports competitive narrative. Also on the show floor was KAT VR, showing their own ‘KAT Pro’ omni-direction treadmill for VR locations. The company was showing their system in operation, focused on VR arcade operators looking for 2.0. VR deployment. 

Mixing the Realities

Under the XR umbrella and moving away from VR, there is also MR (Mixed Reality) that combines all these elements and also comprises “Video Projection Mapping” (VPM). This technology has started a new trend in the scene, that hopes to sidestep the inefficiency of the encumbrance of VR headsets.

Defined by us as “Immersive Enclosure”, these systems have generated serious operator interest, with the ability to wrap the players within a digital environment (“Virtual Space”) through projection enclosures and offer a more inclusive immersive experience. The requirements of the attraction and amusement sector have shown up the limitations of VR headset application in this space. Placing the guest within the virtual space, without the need to encumber them with a head-mounted device, brings operational and investment opportunities. However, this also fundamentally addresses the key aspect of attraction immersion, removing the isolation of headset usage, when most of the audience are playing in groups. 

Example platforms on display included from exhibitor INOWIZE – presenting their ‘QBIX’, six-player enclosure that was covered in the IAAPA-EU’23 report. Now, at a press event, the company revealed updates to the platform, including new content ‘Thieves of Glory’, a game developed in partnership with Immersive Planet, a design company for entertainment concepts. INOWIZE continued their original investment into VR, but with a new approach to their offering – ‘Arkadia 2-Player’ is a “VR Kiosk” recreation of the game experience previously achieved with the original ‘Arkadia’ tethered enclosure. The kiosk system offers a platform able to be applied in venues of all size, all in a turnkey package. It was announced that the operation had entered into a new exclusive sales agency agreement for North America with the VR Collective

Falcon’s Creative Group, one of the leaders in promoting the concept of immersive enclosures, presented at the Orlando event their ‘ON!X Theater’ – a real-time interactive 4D theater experience developed internally by Falcon’s Licensing interactive shooting theater design. Across the way and Attraktion! promoted their extensive flying theater work and their new immersive enclosure system which we reported on in Vienna. The company’s ‘PlayNeo’ multiplayer digital enclosure was fielding ‘Angry Bird’ content – one of many benefiting from the Rovio property, just following the acquisition by SEGA in August for about $700m.

Another immersive enclosure offering was from NeoXperience – targeting over-16-year-old players with the new content ‘Nightmare 1347’, with the game presenting axe and object throwing at a projected screen enclosure. The ball throwing technology had been aimed at a younger audience but was now embracing the opportunity that social entertainment proffers. 

Another ball tossing platform provider, Playmind, offers a digital screen immersive game – initially seen with the large LED, outdoor screen, ball tossing system. The company launched, at IAAPA’23, the new compact and trend specific variants. The revamped ‘PLAYBOX’ platforms include a new design marquee and enclosure – targeting large locations for up-to-four players. The system is now supported by the ‘Playbox Online Platform’ (POP), offering operators full control via a cloud-based system. Released for the first time at the show was a new amusement sized version, scaled as a redemption ticket variant (‘PLAYBOX Mini Premium’), for two-players. All this was supported by new content – seeing ‘Dino Rampage’ released across the ball tossing platforms. 

Newcomer to the show, Arcade Arena, under the tag line “Social Casual Gaming”, wowed attendees with their projection mapped enclosure, offering a compelling experience and turning the walls into touchscreens with added interactive console, as part of the room experience – which has been three years in the making and uses LiDAR depth sensing to track up-to-ten players. Promotions included the fact that there was no need for any wearables to get into one of the ten games. Currently installed in a few US venues as a proof of concept, this platform came to IAAPA’23 to find other interested parties. 

Other new entrants to the Immersive Enclosure trend, being defined in the scene as “headset free experiences”, included Fivestone Studios. Known for their media-based CGi work for attractions, the company has launched their ‘Cosmic Escape Game’ – a digital and physical interactive experience based on an escape game premise for up-to-eight players. Working in partnership with The Escape Game, the experience sees its first installation at their Opry Mills (Nashville, Tennessee) location, with plans for a full rollout across their 37 venues.     

Soft Play launched their new immersive environment called the ‘GamePark’ (GPX), an enclosure with projection mapping that offers interactive entertainment, with the player wielding a wand to interact with the digital environment, while fully immersing the players within the enclosed experience. Meanwhile, FlashPads presented their new game, using their interactive floor platform, now in its own turnkey enclosure which also includes ticket dispensing. 

It was interesting that many developers of these new systems would describe them as “VR-like experiences” – underlining the immersion being achieved without the limitations of head-mounted display application in commercial entertainment.

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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