#1198 – Vegas Embraces Entertainment! – Part 1

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March proved a very busy month for the Out-of-Home Entertainment industry, and the leading events all left their mark on the future of the business. We now start an extensive and exclusive review of these events, along with their developments and trends and the impacts observed, in this first part (of our three-part coverage).

Amusement Exhibition International (AEI’24)

For the US amusement trade industry’s show-of-shows, Las Vegas played host to the trade and assorted supporters. The AAMA and AMOA co-operated show comprised various co-located partnerships with the National Bulk Vending Association (NBVA), Laser Tag Convention, Billiards Congress of America (BCA) Expo – representing billiards, amusement, and home leisure. It was a crowded gathering, with the convention also supported by co-located conferences.

Two days ahead of the trade convention, conferences held included the Association board meetings, as well as the ‘Foundations Entertainment University (FEU)’, which saw a strong gathering of attendees and presentations from key suppliers. One of these included Valo Motion, presenting to the FEU gathering on the opportunity immersive attractions have on attracting a wider audience. Also held were NBVA committee sessions, while the regular gathering of the Laser Tag operators’ group was convened. This marked the 40th anniversary of the launch of the concept of the laser-based combat game on the entertainment scene. Recognition was granted to the founder of Photon (very first commercial arena laser tag game) – started on March 28th, 1984, in Dallas, TX. The date is now being celebrated as “International Laser Tag Day”!

One of the big pre-show gatherings was the ‘VR Arcade Game Summit’. The summit was supported by the AAMA board in promoting the opportunity of VR for the amusement trade, and operators new to the medium. The organizers generated several interesting sessions over the two days – one of these was a great presentation which included a panel and observations from Raw Thrills founder and industry legend (entitled “What Makes Great VR Games”). It gave a glimpse behind the curtain on what is shaping arena VR development, as well as the standalone amusement VR platforms.

The Stinger Report owner KWP was invited to present in two sessions during the event, one entitled “Envisioning Narrative-Driven VR in Entertainment Venues”. This session included the new president of IMMOTION. The company is known for its ‘Gorilla Trek’ VR educational adventure, and the corporation had debuted ‘The Great Migration’ VR experience, previewing this new content just recently at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) mid-year meeting. IMMOTION has recently undergone a major restructuring, seeing the departure of the original chair, divesting of their studio operation and the placement of their promoted president, tasked with focusing on the profitable edutainment business, and VR installation plans. The corporation has representation in Las Vegas, with their VR Shark attraction, at the Mandala Bay resort.

This was also followed by a panel and presentation entitled “Immersive Game Rooms” and the growth in “Immersive Enclosure” platforms – the focus on the presentation was to define this new scene as not an aspect of VR but representing XR and a move towards a new business more attuned to the needs of the sector. The limitations of VR with isolating headsets, with all their audience and operator issues, are now being superseded by immersive (CAVE) enclosure systems. The session, along with an exclusive industry overview from KWP, was also supported by INOWIZE developing their own ‘QBIX’ platform, as well as an operator of their system – while Dave & Buster’s midway director discussed their “Arena” immersive enclosure system, developed in collaboration with Game Volt as part of their “Social Bay” initiative. We have been invited by trade bastion Replay Magazine to write up this session and will ensure a link to it is circulated in due course.

One aspect of the VR Arcade Summit was the promotion of standardization, and a need for a simpler model for this latest generation of VR tech. VR free-roaming arenas seemed to be the key focus of new investment. Summit sponsors included StrikerVR, bHaptics, as well as INOWIZE, Tower Tag, and Worlds Beyond. Many of these developers were reflected on the AEI show floor in the “VR Free Roaming” area. The VR summit attracted a strong attendance over the two days. The discussion regarding the validity of earning results from the current VR scene proved valuable, especially as the sector seems in transition. At the same time, the drive towards proposing a universal standard VR free-roam arena galvanized much discussion – and the show floor would prove a harsh crucible for this concept.

VR Social Evening

We will be going into more detail regarding the new entertainment venues that have mushroomed in Vegas, which we visited on this trip – and the VR Arcade Summit held their mixer at one of these new venues, where we had a chance to visit ‘Spy Ninja HQ: Adventure Park’. The new FEC venue, off strip, is the brainchild of social media royalty – megastars Chad Wild Clay and Vy Qwaint. Building heavily on their YouTube brand and enthusing their followers, the site includes ziplines, soft-play, climbing wall, redemption/amusement, and retro – as well as AR axe throwing, VR arena and escape rooms. But one of the most surprising additions was that of a “rage room” where patrons can go wild with plastic swords and axes, slicing and dicing fruit of their choice. The megastars spent some time with the attendees from the summit, answering questions and sharing their vision of this unique entry which is based on an idea had by the duo, when they used the abandoned gym site for filming, and decided to buy it and build their dream entertainment space, encapsulating their brand inside and out. This is not the first YouTuber or team to venture into opening their own entertainment space, but this proved a very striking venue and seemed to point to a serious investment in physical space by social media and streaming stars.

The AEI’24 Show Floor

On the show floor of the trade gathering, a record-breaking attendance greeted attendees. Breaking down the key areas of interest, exhibitor BANDAI NAMCO Amusement America offered a snapshot of the various business skews the corporation supports – ranging from the spares and servicing, prize and merch, amusement machines, racer ‘Dead Heat Unleashed’, and multi-player retro-recreation ‘PAC-MAN Battle Royale Chompionship.’ A new release revealed to the trade was ‘Animal Kaiser Plus’ – an updated revisit of the king of animals collecting card battler. The original series launched in Japan in 2007, and the updated version and new cabinet seem to focus on the corporation’s new emphasis – doubling down on the perceived popularity of card collecting.

Along with amusement, the rec-room and home arcade scene was represented on the BNAA booth by the ‘Bowl-O-Rama’ – combining a bowling game, karaoke, and audio system wholly for home use. This also included ‘PAC-MAN Pixel Bash’. The classic amusement pieces were represented on the booth with their ‘PAC MAN’ machine recreation. The corporate mascot was also represented across redemption and prize machines on the booth. The importance of IP protection of these classics was seen across the AEI show floor – as we will report on later in this special feature.

Another prominent exhibitor with a lot to say was SEGA Amusement International, the division of Kaizen Entertainment. The company crammed their booth with their latest redemption and prize systems, and for the video amusement, the US trade got to see ‘Apex Rebels’, the street racer – in all its big screen motion seat glory, developed in collaboration with 3Mind Wave and exclusively distributed by SAI. Next to this was the ride on snowmobile racer ‘Hyper Cross’ – developed by Baohui, and exclusively distributed. While the Videmption scene was represented by ‘Zombies – Ready, Deady, Go!’ – the four-player derby-style game with big screen action.

Changing Times for SEGA Corporation

In additional news off the Vegas show floor – the Japanese corporation who have licensed the SEGA brand to SAI were making major development changes. As previously reported, plans had been set in motion to merge the SEGA Corporation amusement division with the SEGA Toy division. And at the end of March, the new ‘SEGA Fave’ operation was revealed – comprising the efforts of merch and UFO business, the remaining amusement support and manufacturer (mainly for Japanese consumption) and the extensive toy brand – much of which will also be looking at populating the UFO and prize machine business.

The JP restructuring comes as the game developer continues to hint at its investment in the “Super Game” project, seeing some $800m investment in this cross platform mega-project which the company has bet on. All this, while abandoning the previous ‘SEGA NFT’ initiative and undertaking serious restructuring at SEGA of America, with layoff of some 60 staffers during March and rumors of more to follow. Added to which, parent corporation SEGA Sammy is linked to its own rumors of possible acquisition – we will watch this space.

AEI’24 Other Showings

Returning the Vegas mega event and another leading light was Betson Enterprise, representing a considerable range of releases from partners Raw Thrills. Previous releases include ‘Fast & Furious Arcade’ in both deluxe and standard configuration, and the new configuration for ‘Minecraft Dungeons Arcade’ in two-player colors, with new levels. Raw Thrills’ entry into the VR scene with their updated ‘King Kong II’ comprises five unique adventures – offered as a new platform or existing machine upgrade. The other part of the company’s VR series includes the new ‘Godzila Kaiju Wars VR’. While another in the VR series is ‘MotoGP VR’, which was giving its latest outing. The Play Mechanix dimension was represented by ‘Big Buck Hunter Reloaded’ in big and standard offerings. The system is finding a strong following in the bar and tavern market, with their latest championship tournament seeing a big take-up of competitors as always.

The other side of this coin was Incredible Technologies, with their famous ‘Golden Tee’ latest iteration on display. The corporation is the originator of the tournament connected gaming system and also has its own big bash in celebration for its Championship tournament events each year. The latest game in the series, ‘Golden Tee PGA Tour’, was presented, along with a walk down memory lane with some early examples of the game. Other key exhibitors taking space included Smart Industries, with the company having the ‘JJ Bot: The Avatar’ (from Smart) robotic crane machine in pride of place – developed in China as part of the “PrizeBender” line. Crane games proved a ubiquitous trend across the scene at this year’s show, with new generations of crane systems exhibited from Seasons and other.

UNIS Technology had a crowded booth with many videmption and redemption pieces. Video amusement was represented with the off-road racer ‘Bigfoot Mayhem’ – with its two screen and active motion cabinet. One of the major developments underway from UNIS is their new range of ‘Toy Box’ crane machines – eye-catching and embracing the latest styling, the systems also include a promotion screen that can be used for venue advertising, seen as a striking promotional tool.

These crane machines were also supported by a major licensing agreement with Funko, that will see this merch available exclusively for their new ‘Funko Funcade’ platform. Another UNIS IP license on display was the Emoji redemption line.

Amusement Source International represented a crowded booth of new releases, including new videos ‘Overtake DX’ developed by WAHLAP, as well as ACE Amusement releases ‘Sky Riders’ and the latest in the popular gun game genre seen with ‘Super Shooting’ – as well as ‘Sniper Strike II’, and a new video mounted gun shooter called ‘Thunder Attack’, developed by a Chinse game house and with the game adding a card collecting element to the blasting action. The shooting game genre was represented on the Jet Games booth with their ‘Mega Shot’ and ‘Big Shot’ range of metal gun games, seen in DX and standard configurations. The gamification of the traditional amusement piece was also in evidence with ‘Quick Toss’ – the latest hoops machine to incorporate a digital display.

Bay Tek Entertainment also had a crowded booth with the latest redemption and prize pieces on display. The show happened following the announcement of the MajorMega acquisition – and they had one example of the operation’s projects with ‘SpongeBob: Dynamic Duo VR’, along with promoting the ‘HoloDeck’ attraction. Meanwhile, noteworthy booth presentations were seen from Innovative Concept in Entertainment (ICE), as well as from Elaut Group and their division Benchmark Games International.

Regarding LAI Games, this was the first US outing for their new racer ‘SMASH’ DX. Seen at IAAPI’24 and DEAL’24, the US scene got its first look at the new offroad racer with colorful motion racer design, continuing the current trend in styling seen from amusement manufacturers. Also seen was ‘Asphalt Moto Blitz DX’, also developed by WAHLAP, continuing the popular series. The latest version of this was presented by the US amusement trade, with ‘Asphalt 9 Legends Arcade VR’ – the immersive racer, using a tethered HP Reverb headset. More conventional video amusement was seen with ‘Air Strike’ – child-friendly air action, with a motion seat, developed by ACE Amusement in collaboration with LAI.

Adrenaline Amusement also had a presence at the show, with the DX and standard versions of their street racer ‘NFS Heat: Takedown’ – based the popular gaming IP. The company also showed their ‘Drakons: Real Keepers’. Meanwhile, TRIOTECH came to AEI’24 with their popular range, including the new look ‘Super Blaster’ shooting spectacular – supported by the evergreen ‘Typhoon’ amusement ride experience, and the VR equivalent with the interactive ‘STORM’.

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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