#1200 – Vegas Embraces Entertainment! – Part 3

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Following on with our Vegas coverage, we conclude this three-part series from the AEI’24, BRE’24, and social entertainment landscape. We cover the hospitality crossover at the Bar and Restaurant Expo, and also look at the Game Developers event and its LBE implications – concluding our three-part coverage.

Bar and Restaurant Expo (BRE’24)

A tale of other events happening as AEI’24 took place, seeing the rebranded Bar and Restaurant show gathering its own record attendance. Co-located with the World Tea Expo, and linked to Pizza Expo, the event offered a great snapshot on the impact that the hospitality and general F&B scene has on amusement and entertainment. The Bar & Restaurant Group is part of the Questex Travel & Hospitality Division.

The amusement presence at BRE’24 was much more focused on the entertainment needs of the hospitality scene. The bowling scene had a strong influence with Brunswick Bowling taking their usual impressive booth space, and also promoting their ‘Duckpin Social’ – string bowler platform, offering a social entertainment vibe. Brunswick also has links with AEI exhibitor TouchMagix through development of their ‘SPARK Immersive Bowling’ platform. Also representing the scene was QubicaAMF Bowling, and US Bowling Corporation – all representing the social entertainment aspects of this sport, as it pivots into its boutique phase of adoption.

The F&B scene was in full swing during the show, and one of the key trends being put through its paces was that of service robotics. Numerous booths presented delivery robot platforms to help address the service industry’s impacted workforce. Bear Robotics, United Robotics Group, Robot LAB, and ToDo Robotics were just some of the exhibitors presenting a wide array of platforms – ranging from serving to cleaning and drink/food preparation. Where the hospitality sector leads, many other service industries will follow. For many attendees staying at the numerous casino resort hotels for the show, the number employing serving robots as bellboys and servers spoke of the growth in ubiquity of this technology. There are over 10m unfilled jobs in the US workforce, according FigureAI, a company in the robotics sector focusing on AI-empowered humanoid autonomous robots in the workforce, valued at $2.6b, and only founded in 2022.

One surprise offering in entertainment on the BRE’24 show floor was the appearance of Kiddleton. The company was promoting their franchise Gashapon and crane game franchise operations. The company is part of the Genda operation in the USA. They had on show their stylish crane and capsule vendors – offering a high-quality package, with access to quality merch to populate these machines with. This was another indicator of how big the new generation of crane business could be in the States after taking Asia by storm.

One trend that was prevalent off and on the show floors of AEI and BRE was social entertainment. The bar show had an appearance from Lasertron – along with the AR-based axe throwing, the company came to BRE’24 with their new AR darts enclosure. Combining the social entertainment seating and table service, with touchscreen gaming and selection, the company was obviously building on the winning formula of their AR axe throwing enclosure. The traditional darts board was removed for a projection display board, comprising mini games for the players to compete on, offering a “Competitive Socializing” element to the mix. These games are encouraging social play beyond just a show of skill.

Reflection on BRE’s future!

It is these crossover trends of social entertainment and amusement that were offering some great opportunities. BRE’24 saw a record attendance for the rebranded gathering, with an attendance of over 12,370 coming to see an increased exhibition floor of some 500 exhibitors. The proximity to AEI and Pizza Expo meant all benefited from this crossover. But sadly, the powers that control the show scene seem to want to negate this – as it was announced that the BRE organizers confirmed their dates in the same Vegas conference location for 24 to 26 of March 2025.

The AEI show will be taking place four days earlier, missing out on sharing the attendance and the business opportunities. Many industry executives, on hearing this news, were dismayed that they were being forced to choose between one show or the other (especially for those who must also attend CinemCom the following month in Vegas). The importance of Social Entertainment and the lubrication of Hospitality in its growth will now be walled off from the amusement trade once again.

Social Entertainment Explosion in Vegas

While many may have been dismissive of the relevance of the F&B exhibition in comparison to the traditional amusement trade event. The relevance of the BRE’24 show could be seen reflected in the explosion of “Competitive Socializing” (CompSoc) that populated the Las Vegas scene. Ignored at the industry’s own risk, CompSoc has mushroomed in a city dependant on offering the latest entertainment, and examples of the key trends in the sector were either opened or in the process of opening. Stinger Report owner KWP was able to attend many of these during the visit for AEI’24.

One of the much talked about new CompSoc openings in Vegas was Play Playground – located in the Luxor casino resort, this impressive 15,000-sq.ft. venue was as named an adult playground, with physical puzzles and activities, all gamified by a scoring system. A very impressive US entry into the CompSoc scene, and one to watch. Also at Luxor, the continued investment into eSports was brought under the microscope. The Luxor: Arena had been given massive promotion, but this eSports gaming space now seems to have fallen on hard times, with the gloss of casino eSports still failing to achieve the hyped promise. Also, around Vegas, eSports was represented by the Velocity Esports site – who had taken over the previous Gameworks facility, to turn into a bowling and eSports mecca.

The investment into gamification and social entertainment was also seen in the golfing scene, with the new opening of Atomic Golf. In direct competition with the Vegas TopGolf location as a social entertainment golf shooting range, the Atomic Golf location includes a much higher styling factor and MR-based putting using projection mapping, upping the gamification factor. This 99,000-sq.,ft., flagship site part of Flite Golf & Entertainment operation,

In more conventional social gaming, transplanted from the UK for US application in the hot bed of Vegas, we saw the opening at the Venetian Resort Casino of Flight Club: Social Darts. This recreation of the gamified darts experience, with cocktails and food in a social setting, follows on from the opening at the Gold Spike casino of a 501 Entertainment ‘SMART Darts’, set up as part of the new social environment at the casino to woo the new patrons. There are also plans for a gamified crazy golf installation to come to the Strip, as more and more operators dabble with social entertainment.

One of the venues which has supplanted social entertainment in the Vegas mix is AREA15. The zombie VR trend is represented at AREA15 with ‘Army of the Dead VR’, given a permanent home for the Netflix popup attraction, which we reported on when it visited London. Having been closed at the venue, the attraction reopened in March – employing the same hardware with some tweaks. Meanwhile, within AREA15, there was other VR on offer with the Virtualis VR and ‘Oz Ride’ (Backlight Studios) installations, as well as a centrepiece attraction of a ‘Birdly’ platform. Outside of this, VR has not really embraced the F&B element, and the SandboxVR on the Strip does not include the robotic bartender seen at London’s franchise site, neither these installations.

Concerning other aspects of social entertainment in the AREA15 mix, the retro arcade theme is represented inside with the Asylum Bar – previously an independent operation (known as the Emporium), the site owners have acquired the operation and undertaken rebranding. This space also plays host to simulation – with Grand Prix Racing sim – seeing four Base Performance Simulation (BPS) racing cockpits offering a competitive play experience. The golf sim scene is represented at AREA15 with the franchise site Five Irons. Likewise, gamification is applied to axe throwing with the social venue Dueling Axes.

Outside the AREA15 unit and Immersive Experience is represented with the second Illuminarium facility – the immersive projection space, offering both wildlife and space-based experience, along with an after dark session, is still working hard to establish its promise. The popularity of the AREA15 entertainment hub has seen the announcement of the new development of the site to include additional F&B attractions – as well as a second facility launched in Orlando for 2025.

Some $807m in new entertainment projects is scheduled for completion in Vegas for 2024. Most Las Vegas casino resort hotels incorporate a rudimentary FEC component, and much of this is undergoing major rebranding and redressing to attract the entertainment crowd. The news that fewer and fewer members of Gen-X and younger Millennials do not partake in gaming beyond that done on smart devices, has forced the casino sector to look seriously at re-imaging their operations to incorporate a CompSoc or entertainment offering. Concerns are being voiced that Gen-Z may not frequent casinos at all!

In the greater Competitive Socializing landscape, increased investment and developments continue apace. F1 Arcade prepared to open its first US venue in Boston. While XP Factory, owners of the Boom Battle Bar chain and Escape Hunt escape room operation, reported significant growth following the acquisition and restructuring, with sales reaching some £44m ($55.7m) – rising significantly on previous years. This marks an improvement in operating margins and is expected to be reflected in greater business investment and growth. New entrants like PLAY Playground are just the tip of the iceberg regarding new investment in this scene.

Game Developers Conference (GDC’24)

Taking place at the same time as the Las Vegas extravaganza, in California, was the Game Developers Conference (GDC’24) – the Mecca for consumer game development, an industry that is experiencing a major restructuring and massive job layoffs. GDC hoped to offer a melting pot of development resources and new technologies – and AI was inevitably promoted to streamline the development process for AAA game titles.

LBE had an impact on GDC, with Sandbox VR inviting consumer game developers to several mixer events at their LBE venue, adjacent to the convention. This was done in partnership with HTC VIVE team, with Sandbox VR having moved fully over to deploying the HTC Focus 3 headset tech. SPREE Interactive, the developer of a free-roam VR platform, also exhibited during GDC’24, educating the consumer developer scene about the opportunities in Out-of-Home Entertainment for strong immersive game content. Technology demonstrators included OptiTrack – promoting their platform for motion tracking, including their work with location-based entertainment deployment. The booth had technical demonstrations from motion capture specialists OnPoint Studios.

Several panel sessions during the Californian game development event reflected the difficult conditions for establishing VR in the consumer sector. There were discussions about the impact of changes across the scene with the entry of Apple and their vision of an AR, rather than VR, future. GDC took place only a matter of weeks after the announcement from Sony regarding major layoffs from their VR game studios and closure of the London office. Other developers and publishers seem to have turned off their unquestioning support of VR – and we are seeing a seeming drought of AAA development for this medium.

One aspect of GDC’24 was the trends being discussed – GDC is known to be a melting pot of ideas, but also a frank evaluation of opportunities compared to the exuberance of the likes of CES. While AI was seriously discussed during the game development event, the realities of this technology were also placed into perspective. Claims of “everything powered by AI” were tempered by the likes of Nvidia who, while presenting serious tech demonstrations empowered by AI, also announced their observations that it will take at least five years for Artificial Generative Intelligence (AGI) to achieve most of its promise (what the GPU developer called “strong AI”).

The reality from Nvidia seems to point to a longer path towards adoption of any applications that can keep up or surpass human endeavours – the mega corporation’s hardware is powering many of these AGI developments. The need to manage the message regarding when real AGI will start to be serviceable is needed, to ensure share price speculation and manage the hype, before it does damage to reputations – as seen with the frenzy promoting the Metaverse.

Meanwhile, many game developers vented concern at the prospects of AI development impacting their employment – a new element compounding the “Job Apocalypse” hitting the sector. So much so that game developers voiced their anger and fears in a “GDC United Scream” – seeing a local space outside the convention venue mobbed by assorted game developers to scream their opposition to AI, the general situation of job insecurity, and the dropping sales in the industry.

The demonstration hoped to garner media coverage (a tactic that can trace some of its thinking back to the organized strike action in the recent actors’ and screen writers’ Hollywood strike). There are concerns of corporate redressing (resetting), game studio bloat, AI, drops in game sales, and the game media implosion – all this and with the backlash to “Gamergate II” shaping this outpouring, according to the organizers. GDC’25 is expected to reflect the reality of major layoffs and industry resetting to address years of bloat – with many more layoffs expected in the coming months.

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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