#1197 – Entertainment Battleground for Success

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The momentum in the international entertainment scene continues apace. Along with international trade expos promoting the latest trends, we also see the reshuffling of partnerships and venue openings and closings in the immersive space. The entertainment scene is also seeing upheavals in the consumer game studio and media sector, with inevitable knock-on effects to the wider landscape.

Trade Event Cluster

2024 gathers pace and sees a gaggle of amusement trade events internationally. Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries (IAAPI) held its 22nd event, gathering leading amusement products and service providers in the continent’s largest trade event. This year, a sub-event to the show was ‘IAC Connect’ – representing the Indoor Amusement Centers (IAC) business that is burgeoning in the territory. The largest number of new FEC openings took place in the recent years, and the Indian market is seen as one of the strongest new sectors in the industry.

Moving further afield and the Dubai Entertainment Amusement & Leisure (DEAL) show was held in the UAE city, celebrating a momentous 30th anniversary. The show, covering both the amusement and attraction scenes, saw exhibitors from the key corporations for the area.

Amusement Services International (ASI) had their familiar strong presence, and this year marked an anniversary of their own, celebrating their 25th year in the sector. The distribution powerhouse had representations on booth from SEGA Amusement International, showing much of the new video and redemption line seen at EAG’24. LAI Games came to both shows with their new racer ‘Smash’ – dirt track competition – seen for the first time for many attendees, along with their other video ‘Air Strike’. ASI also represented the TRIOTECH range, including the new ‘SuperBlast’ and VR ‘STORM’ platforms.

Another powerful force in the territory, distributor Warehouse of Games (WOG), came to DEAL’24 with their lineup of represented platforms and supporting the drive in VR on the show floor, presenting the HOLOGATE arena system rocking the new game ‘Ghostbusters VR Academy’. WOG was also representing the Adrenaline Amusement range, and Raw Thrills, promoting their new VR attendant-free blaster ‘Godzilla Kaiju Wars’. The VR scene at DEAL’24 saw several familiar names exhibit at the show directly or be represented by their sales agent in the territory. VR arena systems with the Esports Arena from Phenomena partnered with HTC VIVE. Also Lasertag.net and their VR platform. Along with Another World and their VR arena platform, promoting over 1m players satisfied across their network of machines. The Park Playground also had a booth at the event promoting their standalone and franchise facility VR offering.

Concerning other amusement on the floor, United Distributing Company (UDC) took their usual place of honor on the show floor, representing their partnership with third parties such as ACE Amusement and Step Revolution, along with other titles. The larger immersive attractions were represented by exhibitor DOF Robotics with a booth promoting their attraction range, including their VR experiences. Meanwhile, Movie Power brought to the show their ‘VR Space Ride’ – an enclosure attraction for four riders on unique motion seats, viewing a VR soaring-style ride experience using DPVR headsets. Meanwhile, NDK Attractions represented their VR thematic simulators. Exhibitor AMEGA Entertainment havd their F1 full-race-car simulator on booth, as well as promoting their range of immersive game tech – including their Esports container concept.

The immersive enclosure scene was represented with several examples, including Chinese developer Chfuntek, who premiered their new ‘Tennis Simulator’ – using a digital screen, and smart sensors to track the tennis ball launch, supplying real-time motion capture to accurately monitor player’s ball flight speed and trajectory. The enclosure is targeting bars and restaurants, resorts, entertainment centers, FECS, sport bars, and events. The MR scene was even represented by the appearance of Battle Kart, looking for franchisees – the operation is already seeing the opening of an installation running their immersive projection mapped karting platform in Dubai.

Jump to the States and the TransWorlds Interactive Entertainment Show took place in St Louis, MO, comprising Halloween, Christmas, and Dark Zone events (previously known as the Room Escape Show). The scare show element saw immersive horror represented by VR from Hero Zone, with their free-roam arena thrilling audiences. Christmas VR ride simulators were seen from VRPark with a sleigh ride experience – who also had a scary Halloween-themed VR ride experience. The event attracted all the service providers and suppliers for these elements of the live event sector, especially the scare and Halloween businesses. Its popularity is indicated by the show’s record attendance this year.

In the build-up to the AEI’24 convention later in the month, the IAAPA North American Summit prompted a visit to Las Vegas ahead of the amusement extravaganza. Delegates were going on tours of local entertainment venues in the city, including a visit to the Sphere and AREA15 hub. The IAAPA gathering was promoting the growth in Location-based Entertainment (LBE), and the worth of the Family Entertainment Center (FEC) market, which was valued at an estimated $110.97b by research firm 360iResearch. Shake-ups in the conference and seminar sector for this industry are seen with the latest news that, in the UK, the Family Attraction Expo has merged with Farm Business Innovation, Leisure Food and Beverage and Holiday Park and Resort Innovation, to form a new combined event called The Land, Leisure and Tourism Show (LLTS). The event will still be held in its November show window – more details will follow.

Changing Immersive Landscape

Dreamscape Immersive – the immersive VR arena experience chain revealed that their flagship location at Westfield Century City in Los Angeles, opened in 2018, will be closing its doors permanently in March this year. This venue had hoped to have been a harbinger of a venue rollout via a partnership with investor AMC Theatres, at the time coming on the back of a $30M Series B funding round the year before – supported, along with AMC, by IMAX and other A-list investors. The Dreamscape immersive VR arena-scale chain has seen a bumpy ride after raising vast investment sums – with the second site in Dallas closing in 2023, along with Ohio, and NJ sites, followed by the Dubai site, all that year. The company also saw their partnership to install two VR experiences within the ‘Harry Potter New York’ storefront shuttered after only 18 months. This leaves the Riyadh and Swiss centers remaining.

The company has pivoted towards an educational brief with ‘Dreamscape Learn’ – seeing the immersive environment used for University and School educational experiences. This is launched in partnership with Arizona State University, deploying a version of their ‘Alien Zoo’ VR experience to teach virtual biology, and already seeing some 25,000 students taken through the syllabus. Overall, the LBE VR venue scene has seen a tempestuous period leading up to the global lockdown and beyond. Operations which received considerable media coverage and investor funding included IMAX Arcade, Nomadic, and TheVOID, being just some of those that rose and fell.

As previously reported, there have been some new partnerships created during this period of development in the market. We covered the announcement concerning Bay Tek Entertainment’s partnership/acquisition with Major Mega, the developers of the ‘Hyperdeck’ VR-based enclosure attraction. This will see the manufacturer and representation of the platform now retained by Bay Tek, along with working with the operation on new projects. The ‘Hyperdeck’ platform had previously been represented by Creative Works.

Creative Works was in the news with the announcement of a strategic partnership with Valo Motion – famous for their active entertainment platforms using MR technology. The partnership will see the ‘Valo Arena’ computer vision based immersive entertainment enclosure system represented in North America by Creative Works. The company has also consolidated its partnership with StrikerVR – the developers of the ‘Mavrik-Pro’ shooting interface that has been incorporated into the ‘LimitlessVR’ free-roam arena platform from the corporation. The arena system supports up-to-16 players and, along with the HTC Focus 3 headset, the inclusion of the haptic feedback gun system from StrikerVR offers a new level of immersion to players.

Consumer Game Job Apocalypse Continues

The impact of the global financial conditions and the growing slowdown in consumer videogame publishing was reflected in several more announcements for the beginning of 2024, following on from job losses in 2023. Sony Interactive Entertainment added their name to the list of publishers restructuring, with the news that they intended to reduce their PlayStation videogame divisions globally by eight-percent – representing 900 positions. This included the closure of the London PlayStation Studios (famous for their game development and work on the original PlayStation VR platform). Meanwhile, US and European AAA game studios are run by Sony, such as Insomnia Games, Naughty Dogs, and Firespite – along with other studios seeing reductions of workforce. Several major game releases have also been cancelled as part of these reductions.

This announcement came after Sony management confirmed, in Japan, they had been “disappointed” with actual sales achieved for their PSVR2, finding conditions “difficult” according to media reports from well-placed sources. Sony has of yet to release any sales numbers regarding the market penetration of their VR headset successor. Indications continued to reveal a less than successful market release for the PlayStation 5 supporting headset, with a noted less-than-expected lineup of new first-party VR game releases for the platform. Meanwhile, sources close to the corporation revealed the testing of PC compatibility for the headset. This would be a major move by Sony to allow PC content onto their ecosystem and would be a serious admittance of needing to consolidate market share by inviting the PC community and their games, to run the hardware. A statement many Sony supporters said would not be possible at the time of the launch of the VR hardware.

The obviously less than stellar performance in sales of the PSVR2 hardware is a further indicator of a slowed interest in consumer VR. Also, a suggestion of mishandling of the Sony VR legacy, with the very London studio being closed, having created several important VR game titles for the original hardware. It was suggested by some sources that UK-based management and development resources, which had driven the launch of this new phase of Sony VR investment with creating the PSVR, had been unceremoniously dumped by Japanese management who took over the development of the PSVR2, attempting to create their own private thiefdom. A thiefdom in what had been projected as a lucrative new market for all things VR – but a market that had failed to achieve even the most conservative of speculated sales numbers. Sources are suggesting the PSVR2 is underselling its predecessor considerably. Management heads are expected to roll for this failure to achieve its promise.

The consumer game VR scene was whirling with more news of game studios in this sector being impacted, by both a change in fortunes for the technology regarding less than expected sales of games and hardware, and the winds of change impacting the video game development scene in general.

The news of new video game job losses comes as 2024 shapes up, already, to be an impactful year for the industry – with sources claiming that some 6,400 jobs had already been lost across numerous video game publishers and studios. This chases the 2023’s total of over 10,000 positions lost for the entire year, reflecting a growing momentum in restructuring the videogame industry after years of record growth. The global health crisis and resulting lockdown was a perfect storm for console gaming, as well as mobile game apps and consumer videogaming in general. Many publishers and developers increased their workforce during these golden conditions, however, as seen in social media and tech corporations, the increased hiring is now hit by a wave of redundancies as the reality of the situation and the need to restructure takes hold by saner heads.

Along with publishers and game studios, the supporting services of the videogame industry have also been hit by layoffs and restructuring. This has included the video game media – as previously reported, several prominent online videogame and entertainment portals and news services have shuttered their online services. Or actioned major job layoff plans as they look towards possible acquisitions or mergers. This was underlined a few days after the Sony announcement that the AAA game publisher and developer, Electronics Arts (EA), would be carrying out its own restructuring with 670 layoffs of staffers – representing five-percent of the workforce. This is the second round of layoffs at EA in the last 12-months, with a previous 800 job cuts in March last year – all part of restructuring that will see several projects in development cancelled, as the corporation focuses on IP that can deliver significant returns. As previously reported, Activision Blizzard, the other major game publisher, had seen their own significant job cuts following acquisition by Microsoft. And this is only expected to be the tip of the iceberg for 2024.

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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