#1189 – Amazing Attractions Extravaganza! Part 5

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 the fifth part, we conclude the new amusement releases, and then look at the new developments the show threw up for the industry.

Continuing New Amusement Opportunities

Turning to Andamiro USA – as come to be expected, a slew of IP laden prize and redemption properties. New releases included ‘SuperStar2’ – a new prize merchandizer machine, the latest in a trend for amusement vending (Vendortainment), with a proven formula in this design. Marking a growing trend in the North American amusement scene, Andamiro USA entered the crane machine business with their new release, ‘Crazy Toy 31’ – a stylish, high-quality, crane system reflecting the modern look and illuminated lines that are being seen deployed for the modern amusement scene. High-quality prizes and merch are. filling these machines, building on similar trends seen in the Asian market.

Andamiro also showed ‘Pump It Up: Phoenix’ – launched earlier in the year with the updated competition and PIU network. The system shipped in the new ‘PIU LX-55’ cabinet, with shipments having started back in August. The PIU platform is represented in Europe and the Middle East by BNAE. Another product represented was the RILIX VR system, supported by the licensed ‘Spongebob Squarepants VR Bubble Coaster’ – the system is also being represented through SEGA Amusement International (SAI) in Europe and the Middle East markets. Speaking of rhythm gaming, and Step Revolution was at the show with their latest ‘Step ManiaX’.

TouchMagix came to IAAPA’23 with new games, ‘Pop It!’ and ‘Carnival Cups Crane’, along with a new line of ‘Pudgy Penguins’ merchandise. The company is reflecting the trending crane and merch scene. The company’s projection tracking platform, ‘SPARK’, has proven itself in the bowling scene with its interactive lane platform, with Brunswick. It was also reveasled that this technology was being employed on the new ‘SPARK Duckpin Bowling’ platform. At IAAPA’23, TouchMagix revealed a new application for their tech (athough not on display) – ‘MagixPool’ offers the interactive projection mapped and ball tracked experience, being an obvious consideration for Competitive Socializing with this gamified pool table. The company also had a new Vendortainment concept with ‘Crazy Prize’ – playing for capsule toys.

Across the Pavilion floor, Costal Amusement showed ‘Bullseye: Crack Shot’ – content developed by ACE Amusement. The latest “metal gun game” Videmption seems to have superseded the evergreen lightgun arcade game, with a slew of similar shooting gallery videos.

Meanwhile, over on the WAHLAP Technologies booth was their ‘Asphalt Moto Blitz – DX’, developed in partnership with IGS and the original game creators Gameloft. Following on from its appearance at GTI’23 earlier in the year, it threw its hat into a crowded motorbike racing amusement scene, with Raw ThrillsSEGA, and UNIS. The WAHLAP booth also included a selection of new prize and redemption releases, including the eye-catching ‘Thunderbold Shot’ ball launcher, with digital playing field, and ‘Alley Oop Blitz’ digital hoops game.

UNIS Technology has been executing a masterful marketing teaser campaign, which has seen the last eight weeks leading up to IAAPA’23 promoting a new release, finally presented on the booth. The continued arms race for big, deluxe, multi-screen motion-based arcade racers was marked with the launch of ‘Bigfoot Mayhem’. Ticking all the boxes of large screens and network motion racing, the game also included a major licensed branding in a highly themed deluxe cabinet. This was the latest outing for this monster-truck franchise in the sector, as seen on the DOF Robotics booth. UNIS also had a surprise new take on the popular whack-a-mole format, presenting ‘Godzilla Vs. Kong Smasher’ – a four-unit cluster, with players whacking their selected monster. Another example of the movie IP power playing its part in new releases.

Distributors and sales representatives presented many of the new releases, with representation from Player OneShaffer DistributingMoss DistributingKomuseCoast to Coast Entertainment (on the Elaut Group booth), and Family Entertainment Group, along with the North American trade association AAMA. One new twist to the amusement operation model was presented by Amuze, who promoted the concept of revenue sharing amusement and crane machines at no cost to the operator. The spiralling prices and hidden extra charges of operating the latest hardware, are seeing revenue sharing adopted across the industry.

But the fundamentals of the amusement distribution model in North America were in flux. Many observed, during Gala, that things were changing in the market, and IAAPA’23 underlined the move by some operators to direct sales, and the impacts that would have. Only a matter of days after the Orlando show, and it was announced by Player One Amusement Group (P1AG) owners, the Canadian cinema giant Cineplex, that they would be selling the amusement solution operation to OpenGate Capital for $155m. The sale will not impact the work P1AG does with Cineplex but will result in eventual restructuring of the operation. This is expected to have ramification throughout the US distribution scene (see following coverage on M&A deals impacting the entertainment scene seen at the show).

Speaking of issues that are shaking the distribution and sales in the amusement scene, several of our well-placed sources walking the floor for The Stinger, came back with the same curious observation. Again and again, reports from operators suggested that boxing games were seeing amazing revenue compared to any other amusement (even brand-new VR systems). One operator shared their revenue numbers, and their cluster of boxing machines was seeing three times the revenue than any of their redemption or videos. This perplexing situation was being put down to a variety of reasons, consisting of players wanting pure physical activities (active play), a change in the player mix at sites (more older guests), and a feeling of fairness with these kinds of skill machines. Whatever the reason, many operations will be thinking about buying more boxing machines this holiday!

In Conclusion – While a wet show outside, the outlook for the industry seemed very bright. Expectations had been reported as seeing some 40,000+ attendees – and the organizer’s press release stated a record breaking 41,200+ total registrations, along with a record 1,147+ exhibitors, seeing sold-out conditions. It was reported by some sources that the actual exhibitors broke the 2019 record coverage, dispelling the ghosts of the post Global Health Crisis impact.

Outdoor exhibits were impacted by the rainy weather conditions in Orlando during the show, even seeing the flooding out of some exhibitors. Weather impacted but did not stop the drone show. However, it was not just the drones which struggled in these conditions, the rain impacted the technology for many who ventured outdoors, with sodden badges unable to be read by the card readers!

The new economy of scale is impacting the promotion and elements of the momentous event. IAAPA is expecting to undergo continuing changes, to adjust to changed market conditions – as well as a changing of the old guard regarding executives based with the organizers. The show is seeing changes that will include a new awards ceremony and show floor layout (details to be revealed). But, beyond the Orlando show floor, what other developments were charted during the event?

Mergers and Acquisitions

The amusement and attractions sectors were still reeling from the Six Flags and Cedar Fair merger – seeing the largest regional theme park company merging with Cedar Fair to create a $8b operation, and a brand-new mega-force in the industry (tentatively branded Six Flags-Cedar Fair). This merger has underlined a spate of M&A across the sector. One question raised by this latest development was the impact it would have on the industry and other parks – one of those being Sea World Entertainment, that has been looking at negotiation with Cedar Fair, which inevitably faltered. The troubled operator will now find itself in an unusual position following the merger and could be helped to find a new suitor as investors look to cut their own part of the buying frenzy that will ensue.

As part of the M&A, we have also seen reinvestment into operations to hope to consolidate their positions. One such example was ROLLER, who announced a $50m round of funding into the cloud-based venue management software platform. This latest round of investment is led by global software investor, Insight PartnersROLLER have maximized its market penetration with some 1,500 leisure and entertainment venues deploying the platform.

In the amusement trade, a matter of days after IAAPA’23, further M&A impacts were felt with the announcement that Player One Amusement Group (P1AG) would be sold by owners Cineplex for $155m to OpenGate CapitalCineplex, one of the largest of the North America cinema operators, will continue to work with P1AG after the acquisition, but it is expected that a major restructuring of the amusement distributor will be undertaken – with long term ramifications for the North American amusement distribution scene in general. Cineplex’s statement on the sale indicated this was done to strengthen their balance sheet, as they grapple with their core business. It is expected this development will change the power balance in several territories served by P1AG, and the impact on other amusement distribution operations is inevitable.

Obviously, these changing times will see highs and lows within the sector and, following the cost of living and financial issues of world affairs, it is expected to see more ripples hitting the sector. An example of such was the news that the heavily publicized Matteson Square Garden, ‘Sphere Las Vegas’ venue, that recently opened, was having trouble. The venue only opened its doors a matter of months ago, with an amazing exterior and sell-out U2 concert performance, employing the immersive digital screen environment (part of their residency). It was revealed by the Las Vegas Sun that the Sphere Entertainment operation company had lost its CFO, who resigned, while at the same time, an operating loss of $98.4m was revealed (though the company reported this was “not a result of any disagreement with the company’s independent auditors or any member of management).

It was also revealed that the iconic globe structure cost $2.3b to construct. The remaining management seemed confident they were building positive momentum and would be addressing the current issues. Higher than expected costs for operation and development were suggested by some observers as causing these financial irregularities. It was reported that the venue had earnings of $4.1m from events, with $2.6m from licencing and advertising, during the three months ended 30 September. The renting out of external advertisement on the Sphere’s screen was started in July, while hosting the sold-out U2 residency from September.

The venue is expected to announce a new lineup of performances in coming months, including specially commissioned content – and saw heavy publicity during the recent F1 Grand Prix in Las Vegas. Coinciding with this news, it was also revealed that plans to roll out the Sphere concept to other cities had hit the roadblocks, as the London mayor and local government rejected plans to build a second entertainment site in the UK capital.

The Other Show!

Although not appearing on many of the Western amusement trade’s radar, The Stinger Report has been actively following the changing landscape of the Japanese amusement factory scene. Still impacted by COVID and the financial downturn across the market, the Japanese amusement trade is fighting a battle of survival; and, in reinventing themselves, there have been changes in the promotion of the business.

Part of this change has been in the new Gashapon toy vending stores superseding Pachinko, the explosion of UFO Catcher only stores, and the updating of the amusement venue presentation. This was reflected also in the relaunching of the trade’s gathering – with a new name and moving to a one-day event in November, rather than its normal February fixture.

The event is now entitled ‘Amusement Expo’ (AE-JP’23), located at the Tokyo Big Site in Japan. In the following week after IAAPA’23, AE-JP’23 had been organized by Japan Amusement Industry Association (JAIA), working hard to redefine the perception of the Japanese amusement factories and their venues. BANDAI NAMCO Amusement exhibited, with several new releases purely for Home Island deployment. One product that is scheduled for international release was ‘Gold Storm Pirates’ – the environmental cabinet game seen on the booth. Meanwhile, the latest in the racer series were seen with ‘Maximum Tune 6RR+’ and ‘Bike Dash Delivery’.

Also exhibiting, CAPCOM representing their ‘Street Fighter 6’ property, though not representing it as a new upright amusement release, but regarding demonstrations of the new ‘Street Fighter VR’ experience. Competition gaming was represented with a festival for the public, including a BEMANI tournament (although with no international invitees – which ignited a feud across the Western BEMANI online scene that is sure to reverberate). KONAMI Amusement is holding the event, along with other staged gatherings. The company also marks the coming 25th anniversary of the ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ series.

SEGA Corporation also took a booth, with their latest update to their street racer with ‘Initial D The Arcade’ – showing its tournament chops (seen during the big AAA’23 China presentation). Another new update and network tournament release was ‘Virtua Fighter 3tb Online’ – now conscripted into the eSports scene and being played in championship form at the event. The system supports the ALL.Net P-ras infrastructure for network play. Classic arcade cabinets from the leading factories were also on show in a museum exhibit on the floor. This celebration continued on the TAITO booth, which had more 70th celebrations.

Also exhibiting was operator GENDA GiGO Entertainment with their 270 strong locations. The Japanese amusement venue powerhouse GENDA Group had acquired all the shares in prize machine merchandising wholesaler Ares Company of Japan, and the agreement will hope to power the prize procurement network and prize selection for the GENDA amusement facilities, including the GiGO chain. This is the latest in a series of acquisitions from the company, looking to grow its reach. The booth was also hinting at possible Social Entertainment elements being added to their amusement mix, with the new ‘FLIPS’ poker room facility added to selected GiGO sites.

One aspect of the growth of new thinking in the Japanese amusement scene has been the explosion in “Live Play” remote gaming machines, played live via a smartphone and online app. Overall, the one-day trade and public day event saw 9,000+ attendees, some 5,000+ being public (with no real international trade representation due to the IAAPA proximity). This is in stark comparison to the 14,000+ for the February JAEPO event. But this new show was an evaluation event, looking at a new format and new approach going forward, and news of how these changes will be implemented in the 2024 season will be revealed soon.

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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