#1112 – Return of Physicality for Trade – Part 2

Returning to our extensive coverage of Entertainment Attraction & Gaming Expo (EAG’22) we look at the other elements that are shaping the amusement and entertainment experience. With the conclusions of this return to a physical trade gathering – and the issues shaping the industry. 

Frictionless

EAG saw the largest gathering of e-Payment systems for the FEC and Adult Entertainment Center (AEC) businesses in recent years – showing the establishment of this payment infrastructure in the modern market. The BANDAI NAMCO Amusement booth represented Embed and their latest range of platforms and applications, including a new kiosk. 

Nayax and their operation Tigapo showed off their e-payment platform, readers, and apps. Focused on street routes, malls and FEC, the company is supporting the latest smart apps such as Apple Pay and others. Another prominent developer of smart payments for amusement consideration was Kashing with their ‘Kurvey Contactless Reader’ series, along with their mobile POS support. International developer Semnox also had a strong presence at the EAG event, having secured several FEC installations in the territory – such as in Scotland at the Codonas Amusement Park, installing the ‘Parafait’ and ‘Tixera’ systems. Another exhibitor was Sacoa Cashless System, celebrating their 30th anniversary of the division, and some 65-years in business. The company presented their new ‘K4’ kiosk, along with their ‘Spark’ latest RFID reader.

The growing deployment of frictionless payment infrastructures was represented by the UK’s own platform. Game Payment Technology presented their payment app platform at EAG, developed in collaboration with the trade association BACTA. The ‘Game Payment’ app is installed onto the guest’s smartphone and, with registration and age verification, the guests e-wallet is topped up with credits able to play activated games. The system is developed for amusement and gaming machines, with the app able to collect prize winnings via the e-wallet (transferred back onto the guest’s debit card). The platform has already been installed at several venues, such as ‘Brighton Palace Pier’ (in their Dome arcade) and AEC sites in the UK.

Game Payment Technology undertook, at the beginning of the year, the dropping of their subscription model for operators and reverted to a selection of payment packages that took a percentage from the generated revenue. This system is being rolled out across the market, with initial deployment in AEC and hospitality. It is being deployed on fruit machines, pinball, jukeboxes, and amusement platforms, as well as a new unit which works with pool tables. The trade association BACTA both owns a percentage of the operation and is presenting the system to its members. Many observers are watching closely to see how this marriage between the not-for-profit trade association and the payment app developer will grow.

Blockchain & Crypto

The latest impact of cryptocurrency on the amusement business seemed to have been missed by much of the Western media. However, during the end of February, it was announced that Warner Music Group (WMG) had entered partnership with Splinterlands, a specialist in blockchain game development. The project is to develop a first-of-its-kind “Play-to-Earn” (P2E) arcade-style blockchain game. WMG will see its artists develop unique P2E games that will incorporate NFTs and be distributed only in an Out-of-Home gaming format (not for consumer deployment), running on the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) app called ‘Splinterlands’ (with an estimated 1.8m registered users).This will employ tokenized games, unlocking new revenue streams for the artists, and allowing fans to be part of the experiencing through the P2E element. The arcade-style-games will be available only through amusement venues and details are still limited, with more information expected soon. 

In other blockchain developments, it was announced that VR arcade operation CTRL-V would be adding a cryptocurrency mining program to its franchise offering. This will allow facility operators to use their VR PC hardware to franchise cryptocurrency mining, enabling operations to participate in the blockchain and earn additional revenue. CTRL-V was one of the first operations to establish the modern VR arcade model, with their chain of franchised Canadian venues. The franchisor is now offering a means for their operators, coming out of a considerable lockdown period in the country, to maximize their down time and enter the cryptocurrency revenue scene. It is expected others will be following their lead.     

AR / MR & Gamification

The ability to offer retail operators an entertainment option, especially for those with empty units available, has seen technology attempt to offer a strong revenue solution. Away from the EAG’22 show floor, there was a solution of this approach developed by the partnership of Darabase, outdoor media technology company, and Bewonder*, a brand and digital services specialist, to open ‘Up Your Alley’. This is an innovative AR bowling game and retail experience that sees its first opening in a vacant retail unit at the ‘Churchill Square’ shopping centre in Brighton. Encouraged by signage on the unit, patrons can scan a QR code on their smartphone and then take part in an Augmented Reality (AR) bowling experience. Scores appear on a leader board, and high scorers can gain a £50 ($67) gift card. This is the same shopping mall in Brighton that plays host to the ImmotionVR virtual reality arcade.

Mixed Reality (MR), which is also defined as Cross, Extended or Extreme Reality (XR), depending on your preference, has continued to gain momentum. It has been accelerated by the latest projection and screen technology, thus alleviating the need for head-mounted displays, and offering the level of immersion of placing the guest in the digital experience in a physical space. 

Projection mapping and immersive enclosures have been seeing an increased investment in recent months, especially the sports-related applications, as we have reported with TOCO Social, Electronic Gamebox, and the Clays, social entertainment (“Competitive Socializing”) venues. EAG’22 reflected this with exhibitor Sports Simulator – the company was showing an enclosure running their suite of object tracked sports games. The company has added to their library of over 40 games, with a new experience based on tenpin bowling, with the players rolling the ball at the screen that represents the alley and pins, which then tracks the player’s ball and represents the ball hitting the virtual pins. 

Continuing the investment in Mixed Reality (MR), we saw the launch of a new game platform called ‘Valo Arena’. This is a projected environment which superimposes the players into the game. Developed by Valo Motion, it is based on the same technology employed for ‘Valo Jump’ (the trampoline experience). It is now available in a special enclosed arena, where six-players take part in mini-games, with their whole body tracked and represented into the game on the main display via MachineVision. The platform is presented as an unattended system and as a highly active game experience. 

Many of our long-term readers will be familiar with the concept of a superimposed player experience in the game, tracing its first appearance as a LBE concept as far back as to the 1984 ‘Turbo Kourier’ from Vivid Group – a company that promoted their superimposed Blue-Screen highly-physical game experiences. We have seen others look towards this approach, including the motion tracked fighting game ‘Combatica’ from Holoplex, back in 1999. We have also seen other examples of trying to place the player in the heart of the game, with the likes of Scale-1 Portal’s ‘Vortex’. It is hoped this latest example from Valo Motion will capture player interest.

EAG’22 saw the appearance of an innovative MR amusement platform. Covered in our IAAPA Europe 2021 report, Interactive 365 took a booth at the London show to present the ‘Augmented Reality Air Hockey’ system. The machine offers several projected experiences onto the air hockey surface, while also tracking the movement of the puck represented in the experience. The system is a unique concept for the traditional amusement product, and it will be interesting to see who will be first to employ this in their social entertainment venue.

Regarding Gamification on the show floor at EAG’2, exhibitor Heddleworth Amusement showed ‘FidoDarts’ – the latest in an innovative application of the traditional game. Using a tracked darts board, a gamified experience has been created that combines darts with a digital series of minigames (based on boardgame classics) and supplied on an accompanying screen. The players’ shots account for their dice throw. This social entertainment electronic darts platform is aimed at hospitality venues such as pubs and clubs – one of the clearest examples of the crossover from traditional amusement to social gaming (“Competitive Socializing”).  

Vendertainment

An aspect of the post-COVID market has been the appearance of “Capsule Vending” – best illustrated in the Japanese market that has seen an explosion in deployment (in a recent article in News-Posteven, the industry was valued at ¥45b ($38m) in the country). A perfusion of vending capsule arcades has blossomed in malls, offering a safer business for those corporations suffering from the privations of lockdown. Capsule vending (called “Gachapon” machines) offers a simple stock-item, a cheap toy purchase for families, along with a collectability element (monthly updated toys offered). The business can chart its history in the market back some 57-years, although this year sees the largest growth rate. 

Japanese amusement factory BANDAI NAMCO Amusement has amassed a chain of some 20 of the “Gachapon” capsule vending business (the company opened a flagship facility in Ikebukuro, during 2021, with a record 3,000 machines). The market is in continued growth in the territory with, only recently, the announcement that operation Luluarq is expanding its over-140 capsule toy venue business, ‘Gacha Gacha’. These businesses are superseding profits during this period from more conventional amusement.

EAG’22 continued to illustrate the growth of the capsule vending business in the Western market. Spurred on by the same conditions seen in establishing its Japanese explosion. Capsule vending was represented at the London show from exhibitors such as All Things Nice Vending, and Tubzbrands.

Licensing & Brands

Merchandizing and prize elements are an important part of the guest experience and the takeaway, and embracing the latest IP and brands is essential. EAG’22 continued to reflect the importance of brands in the entertainment landscape. Exhibitor Whitehouse Leisure presented a range of licensed merchandizing items, prizes and plush. This included official licensed products for IP holders such as Marvel, Walt Disney, Universal, Sony, Dreamworks, and others. Across the floor, PMS International, a wholesaler and distributor of brand products from prizes to decorations and toys for the amusement business, also represented an extensive range of the latest brands and characters. An under-reported skill for many facility operators is the ability to populate their prize center and crane games with the latest populate merchandizing, to draw the holiday guests to try their skills. In a constantly changing fashion parade, this year’s hot-ticket-items seem to be Sonic and Jurassic World.

The use of videogame IP to sell merchandizing and products has continued apace, reflected at EAG’22. The success of the ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ film properties has seen the signing of the third movie between SEGA and Paramount Pictures. This being weeks before the second movie is to be released. And at the same time, the corporations have signed an agreement that will see the universe of Sonic expanded, with Paramount+ (the corporation’s streaming service) launching an original live-action series called ‘Sonic’. This comes at another point of change as the owners consolidate operations, dropping the Viacom and CBS (ViacomCBS) name, and now all will be known under the Paramount Global banner. This comes as stock in the corporation suffered a one-day plunge as investors questioned the direction of certain IP, including the confusion regarding ‘Star Trek’ properties. Likewise, another videogame property, ‘Uncharted’ (based on the Naughty Dog developed and Sony Interactive published game), is seeing its debut as a big budget movie made by Sony and, even following mixed reviews, took a first place at the box office with $44m across some 4,200 North American theaters.

The hunger from streaming services for content has seen a number look towards specially commissioned programs based on well-known videogame IP. Along with Sonic, the character from the smash game ‘Cuphead’ (published and developed by independent Studio MDHR), turned into an animated series, has taken Netflix by storm with ‘The Cuphead Show’. This is the latest investment in unique content. Meanwhile, the toy division of LEGO has started to roll out a selection of toy kits based on the ‘Horizon’ console videogame.   

The cinema sector continues to consolidate in the face of the continuing questions on the viability of the market. This question has increased with the explosion of the streaming service business, and the alphabet soup of new subscription services. The impact of the debts incurred over the lockdown and before had been best illustrated by the announcement that the $79m debt, to former shareholders of the Regal cinema chain, now owned by Cineworld, would be given a stay on payment after the previous court settlement. This is a limited reprieve for Cineworld who, after another court ruling, has a $700m damages bill to pay to competitor Cineplex for a failed 2018 takeover. All the debts are starting to grow, and no matter returning to big movie box offices, the need to consolidate the business under reinvestment has grown.     

In Conclusion 

EAG’22 had expected to see over 5,000 buyers over the three days of the trade event. The show had attracted over 60-corporations. Obviously smaller than in previous years, the postponement, post-lockdown market, Brexit, and the limited exhibition spend from manufacturers also mindful of the IAAPA EMEA show in London in September, all played their part. There was an obviously heavy gaming bent to the show, with amusement and entertainment feeling to have been lessened on the floor. A question was of how much of this was due to current conditions, the impact of ICE’s own postponement, or the trade association (BACTA)’s greater emphasis on the Adult Entertainment Center (AEC) sector – they all played their part. However, show organizers felt positive with the attendance and confirmed a return to a January (10-12) date for 2023.

Regarding the other big amusement and gaming event for the London season, ICE (International Casino Expo) had also moved its dates under the pressures of the beginning of the year. It is now scheduled for April, and several EAG exhibitors will be making their way to take part in that gathering. But there were some questions hanging over ICE’22 – sources revealed that several key exhibitors for ICE had decided to take a back seat, with a number of prominent exhibitors deciding not to make the trip to London at all. We hope to get more information on the status of ICE’22 from the show floor in April – and if this could be the first trade event impacted by post-Brexit positioning.  

For the rest of us, in March, a crowded calendar of returning physical trade events continue. And with that a return to the States for many international travellers in the sector. First, we will be covering new trends and developments in the market, and then following will be reporting from Amusement Expo (AE’22) and Bar & Restaurant (BR’22). This will be followed by a momentous Amusement360 – becoming an essential bootcamp for developers and operators in the FEC, amusement and attraction scene, hosted by Creative Works, and which will also be seeing a presentation from Stinger Report owner and Spider Entertainment co-founder. Watch this space for the full rundown.

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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