#1111 – Return of Physicality for Trade – Part 1

We see the return of physical amusement and entertainment trade events, and the London show starts the ball rolling – charting the new trends and some interesting developments in the international, as well as local, scenes. Entertainment Attraction & Gaming Expo (EAG’22), following postponement from its usual January fixture for obvious reasons, saw the event taking place at the beginning of March, now falling into a crowded picture of events only a few weeks before the US amusement and hospitality trade shows.

Amusement

BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe (BNAE) – we are just about to see the parent company in Japan updating their branding (expected to be reflected across the divisions). While no new videos were on display, the BNAA had developed the ‘PAC MAN Power Pellets’ redemption machine (a joint venture between UNIS and BNAA), which was on show fresh from its appearance at IAAPA’21. Meanwhile, BNAE showed a production prototype of their new ‘Harley Quinn Mallet Mayhem’. The operation continued to have a strong presentation of its third-party properties, with Adrenaline Amusement and ‘Hungry Hungry Hippos’, and Raw Thrills showing the ‘Minecraft Dungeons: Arcade’ production model.

VR amusement ride systems were represented from BNAE, with Raw Thrills showing ‘King Kong: Of Skull Island’ – with the two-player motion ride using a proprietary pneumatic system. The machine uses HP G2 headsets, with hand tracking employed in the game. Also showing a VR ride experience was TRIOTECH, with their ‘STORM’ platform – another two-player motion ride system (using D-BOX actuators). The machine uses HTC VIVE Pro headsets with mounted UltraLeap hand tracking. Another VR system represented by BNAE at the show was VRsenal’s ‘V2’ platform, the unique two station VR standalone platform, which incorporates the company’s headset and controller retention system, with an impressive large display. The machine offers a selection of games including ‘Rhythmatics’ and ‘Pirate Trainer’.

This marks the first physical appearance at a UK trade show of the newly minted SEGA Amusement International (SAI), following the Management Buy Out (MBO) of the Western sales operation. The company had a booth reflecting the size of this year’s EAG – but was still able to offer a selection of brand-new home-grown video amusement pieces for the buyers. Being seen for the first time outside of the US was the Videmption ‘Jumanji’ four-player game. Alongside this was another first, with ‘Men in Black’ – a fun shooter for all ages based on the movie property, using mounted weapons. Also presented for the first time in the UK was ‘Mission Impossible: Arcade’, the DLX version of the cabinet offering a compact two-player blaster, which can have two, two-player cabinets hooked together for competition. 

Along with the home-grown games, SAI also represented platforms developed in partnership with other manufacturers. This included the showing of ‘Jet Blaster’, developed by WALAP Amusement, and represented in the West by SAI. Also, the UK trade got its first chance to see SAI’s entry into VR amusement platforms, showing ‘VR Agent’  – the unique weapon mounted viewing platform. The two-player system was developed in conjunction with Chinese studio 3MindWave (the same developers SAI worked with on ‘ATV Slam’). This unusual VR platform offered a fun shooter experience, with the novelty of the unique combined visor-come-weapon. The machine uses a retracting headset system, as seen with other standalone VR platforms at the show. 

Although not taking a booth on the show floor, the team from Frontgrid was walking the floor in discussions regarding their brand-new release, ‘ParadropVR: Pod’. The company has built on the lessons learned from the first platform (‘ParadropVR: Rise’), and created a compact version of the hardware, also combining several enhancements to the experience, including self-service kiosk and a more integral game with customizable player characters – all supported by a leader board element which the company expects to expand into its own eSports platform. Frontgrid revealed, to The Stinger Report, that they had successfully installed their first Pod attraction at Quest in Qatar, in the center of Musheireb, in the State of Qatar.

A major presence front and center of the show was from United Distributing Company (UDC), with a wide selection of the latest redemption, Videmption and Prize machines. A strong selection was from Chinese manufacturer Ace Amusement, with their ‘Nitro Speed’ and ‘Sky Riders Twin’ – but the company also had their brand-new two-player shooter ‘Galaxy Rangers’, offering a fast-paced sci-if-blaster. Another new video release from Ace was their two-player game ‘Dream Ball’ – the players use giant inflated track balls to control their characters on screen, navigating through mazes (the game is reminiscent of the SEGA title ‘Monkey Ball’). UDC also represented the TouchMagix range of their latest popular Videmption platforms, with the likes of ‘Mega Blaster’, ‘Drift ‘n’ Thrift’, and ‘SpaceWarp 66’. UDC also represented Step Revolution, with the active rhythm game machine ‘StepmaniaX’, with an incredibly strong following in the West, being put through its paces on the show floor.

Operator, distributor and supplier, Crown Leisure, celebrating some 38-years supporting the UK amusement scene, along with their divisions Harry Levy and Deith Leisure, had a crowded booth with a smattering of the latest redemption and prize machines – such as the UK appearance of the Bay Tek Entertainment ‘Axe Master’. Other manufacturers being represented on the booth included Valley-Dynamo with the innovative ‘Jet-Pong’. The eye-catching beer-pong game system, for one-or-two players, offers a simple but well-constructed design and incorporates novel features such as the ability to use the LED display for site advertising. LAI Games was represented on the UK company’s booth, bringing over their latest smash street racer, ‘Asphalt 9 Legends: Arcade’ (licensed from WALAP for the West). The machine was seen in its DX 5D simulator race cockpit and standard race cockpit versions. Finally, VR was on the booth with Harry Levy representing a Chinese manufacturer of VR ride systems, offering passive VR experiences on motion-seat configurations, with effects.

Veteran UK amusement distributor and operator, Electrocoin, came to EAG’22 with a selection of their latest redemption, prize and amusement, including their previously-launched ‘Skill Shooter’, both in redemption and prize vending formats. The company has also been responsible for the opening of one of London’s latest amusement facilities, with ‘Funland’. The venue recently held its first pinball tournament – Electrocoin able to use its connections with STERN Pinball, towards supplying the latest pintables for competition, such as the European premier of the table ‘Rush’. This tournament also acted as an opportunity to present the new STERN-developed ‘Insider Connect’ application, which offers the ability for players to download an app on their smartphones to track personal scores and their profile on the company’s tables. At EAG, the company held a tournament using the application, on the new pintable. 

2022 marked a point for several classic and legendary amusement releases celebrating anniversaries. One of these was the world famous ‘Street Fighter’ property (that had been first licensed back in the day by Electrocoin, for sale in the West). First seen in the arcades in 1987, the unique punch pad fighting game was superseded by the more traditional button and joystick masher with ‘Street Fighter II’. The game would establish Capcom’s name in the arcade scene, and eventually in the consumer videogame universe – with the Street Fighter property going on to numerous sequels, merchandising and, as with all good properties, a motion picture outing with A-list stars. 

We will be mentioning another arcade property that has seen slightly more success with a movie release (‘Sonic’), but ‘Street Fighter: The Movie’ was still a reasonable outing in the cinemas back in 1994 (featuring a cameo from the head of Capcom). Now, some 35-years later, Capcom announced the release of the latest sequel in the franchise with ‘Street Fighter 6’ – sadly its amusement roots have been forgone, with no current plans for a release on this platform, with only console releases scheduled. The company (as we reported in the last feature) is now partly owned by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).  

Returning to the London show, and Instance Automatics took their usual long wall booth at EAG, to represent their wide range of amusement and services. The company was representing the UNIS line in the UK. On display from UNIS was the previously released ‘Ultra Moto VR’, the popular motorbike VR experience, and a selection of new prize and Videmptions, including the first appearance of ‘Pogo Jump’, an active jumping video game for young players, and ‘Wicked Tuna’, a reel fishing game for four players. Seen at the ACOS’21 event last year, the new DLX version of the ‘Elevator Action: Invasion’ video shooter was presented, now in a smaller formfactor. 

Cosmic Leisure had a booth packed with the latest and most colourful of the prize redemption platforms under their ‘Carnival Zone’ – these included the ‘Basketball Star’ hoops platform, incorporating LED lighting tunnel design. The influence of the Adult Entertainment Center (AEC) business on the London show was clear, with a strong attendance from the gaming machine manufacturers and sellers. Inspired Entertainment came to the show with a number of their new digital gaming platforms, including their newly released ‘Space Invaders’, licensed from TAITO. The digital reel game builds on the classic video game. 

With a smattering of FEC products and services on this year’s EAG show floor, one such example was the appearance of Laserforce – with the lasertag manufacturer showing their latest vests and light guns to the attendees. As touched upon in a recent report, the need for a dedicated customer takeaway or souvenir for the modern entertainment environment was reflected at EAG from exhibitors such as Apple Industries, represented on the BANDIA NAMCO booth. Along with new exhibitor, SMOVE, presenting their photo-capture systems for rides and venues – all supported by picture printing systems and accessories to tailor for the venues’ needs.

Amusement Facility Business

An absence, in recent years, of the Japanese amusement trade and their representatives at EAS, has been a factor in the shifting of business goals from the amusement factories (the Japanese industry has abandoned plans to hold its own show). As stated, BNAE is the only remaining Japanese amusement subsidiary operation in the West. Further consolidations were also seen in the Japanese amusement market in the build-up to EAG’22.

As we have seen with the closure and consolidation of the Japanese amusement facility business, accelerated by the Global Health Crisis, we saw the latest development in February. It was announced that Adores, a subsidiary of Wide Leisure, would be fully absorbed into the parent company, with the Adores brand dissolved. Wide Leisure is an amusement facility management and services operation and will merge Adores, representing some 30 amusement facilities across the Home Islands (including the ‘Adores Store’ and ‘Game Fantasia’ chains). Wide Leisure is operating its own chain of some 50 amusement facilities, with some under the ‘Rakuichi Rakuza’ brand, as well as a hospitality chain. This concentration of the business is marked by new investment towards the modernization and consolidation towards growth away from the more traditional approach seen from some amusement factories to the facility business. 

Corporations such as GENDA, following their spate of acquisitions and consolidations, Round1 following their expansion plans in the West, and now Wide Leisure (along with others), mark a new trend in expansion of the large complex amusement facility business – while the more familiar arcade style venues from the Japanese landscape are consigned to a footnote in the history books. We can expect further news of consolidations, acquisitions, and mergers from this business sector in coming weeks. 

Attempting to Define the Future

We have seen many terms created to try and define the changing technology infused landscape, and now we see the attempt to define the Digital and Physical crossover in venue commerce with the term “Phygital”. The origin of this term gained favor during 2020, as retail outlets looked at a more digital commerce  model to address challenges created by lockdowns This term gained more common usage in the retail industry, although has also been coined in the post-lockdown landscape to address the use of online registration services to support entertainment venues. 

Regarding Out-of-Home Entertainment, Phygital has come to define the frictionless payment elements, the use of terminals and kiosks, as well as the facility apps and online services associated with the modern entertainment customer experience. As covered by The Stinger Report in previous coverage, this can also now include the Live Play elements, as well as the Digital Takeaway, such as digital photobooths and even digital prize center kiosks.

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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