#1115 – Viva Entertainment – Part 2

The second part of our coverage from Las Vegas and the Amusement Entertainment International (AEI) convention, and the other developments impacting the immersive entertainment scene during this period.

Amusement Convention

Other developers who supported the VR Summit and were exhibiting on the AEI’22 show floor included LAI Games, with the company having seen great success with their ‘Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride’ platform, now with nearly 1,000 units in the field. The company promoting their new offer, ‘Rabbids: The Big Bundle’. Along with this success and an extensive range of new amusement and skill gaming machines on their show booth, the company also had the US appearance of ‘Asphalt 9 Legends Arcade’ – the WAHLAP title developed by Gameloft that is represented by LAI in the Western market. On display was both the 5D deluxe motion version and the standard configuration, with the game proving a strong title and drawing much interest. 

Another exhibitor at AEI’22 who supported the VR summit and had a very extensive presence on the show floor was Creative Works. The industry powerhouse was representing their extensive range of laser tag arena developments, escape rooms, and eSports arenas. The company has also become a powerful player in the amusement VR scene – and on display was a small selection of their efforts. The company had the latest production version of the brand-new licensed experience ‘SpongeBob VR’, developed in partnership with MajorMega, known for their impressive ‘Hyperdeck’ VR attraction. 

In another partnership on the Creative Works booth was VRstudios, showing their ‘FURY’, their unattended, two-player attraction, designed for high-throughput, and physically active VR experiences, all within a small footprint. The Self-Service VR kiosk is based on the VRsenal ‘V2’, with the company partnering with VRstudios to supply the system as the ‘FURY’ which is bundled with title, “Hoops Madness”, a competitive, two-player VR basketball game designed specifically for the LBE environment. The company is working on a series of VR sports experiences that support a highly compelling virtual game experience, linked to a dedicated tournament and operator-controlled championship platform – with Creative Works supporting the rollout of the VR platform.  

Another exhibitor linked to the VR Summit was VRsenal, with the company presenting their ‘V2’ platform. On their booth at the Vegas show, the gathered Self-Service VR systems were running a selection of compelling VR experiences, including ‘Vader Immortal – Lightsaber Dojo’ (licensed from ILMxLab). And the new title ‘Rhythmatic’ (developed by Blackwall Lab) – launched in 2020 for VR arcade license, this version has been ported for the platform. Also available for the ‘V2’ VR kiosk was a converted version of the popular consumer VR shooter ‘Space Pirate Trainer’ (developed by I-Illusions, through Vertigo Games). VRsenal, has deployed some 500 sku’s of their original Self-Service VR kiosks, and hope that their latest ‘V2’ version will prove equally as popular.  

Well known for their development of air hockey tables, Barron Games came to AEI’22 representing the ‘Birdly’ flying VR platform from Somniacs. Barron is distributing the platform in the amusement scene in North America. The ‘Birdly’ VR experience has the rider lying on a special motion platform, moving their arms to steer their flight through the virtual world. Two experiences were demonstrated, one seeing the player take part on ‘Wingsuit’, a thrilling race through mountains; and a calmer experience, ‘Cities WeR’, flying through the city of New York from the perspective of a bird flapping your virtual wings to soar and dive. The ‘Birdly’ platform has proven a strong draw, and two examples have seen much success at the newly opened AREA15 venue in the heart of Las Vegas (a report from that venue follows shortly). Another exhibitor, representing the Chinese manufacturer iFun and their range of VR attractions, was newcomer 360action! – offering a selection of Chinese-inspired VR experiences. 

Continuing the popularity of VR standalone amusement platforms, and along with the Raw Thrills and LAI Games platforms, another name represented at AEI’22 was TRIOTECH, showing their ‘STORM’ two-seat VR system. Having seen a great interest promoting some 200 units fielded, the company had their latest game experience for the interactive ride system with ‘Sugary Slopes’. TRIOTECH also had their evergreen ‘Typhoon’ amusement motion ride system on the booth and were celebrating the latest success with the media-based attraction business, having launched, last year, their new dark ride concept called ‘Hyper Ride’. Across the show floor, exhibitor Rilix presented their ‘Rilix Coaster’, the VR Self-Service option for mall placement, as well as card operated standalone entertainment. The system is developed to be a self-contained platform, offering some ten VR-coaster experiences for all ages. 

A more extreme VR ride platform at the show was from EnterIdeas with their gyro-motion ‘AT360’ platform. In the final stages of development, the production prototype was presented – the developers were launching with their first ride experience called ‘DogeCoaster’, a crypto meme-based ride, and the whole platform proved reminiscent of the highly-popular SEGA ‘R360’ gyro-motion simulator. Though not on the AEI’22 show floor, there was an announcement from new Swedish developer INNTQ, regarding the launch of their ‘ROCO’ platform – a two-seater interactive roller coaster simulator. Riders sit on a special motion platform while watching a giant screen. The interactive element is achieved using a touchscreen to create the track. The company promoted the development of the system for public venues, seen as a perfect deployment for mall sites. While INNTQ may feel this is a world first, this is the fourth occasion in recent memory of a “create your own ride” interactive coaster, with examples from recent history including ‘CyberSpace Mountain’ at DisneyQuest, the ‘VR2002 Coaster’ from Maxflight, and numerous other offerings. We hope this latest outing will gain interest from the market. 

The ability to offer the latest VR experiences was an important aspect of the continual growth of the technology in the amusement and attraction scene – and AEI’22 offered the latest phases of development. Representing the Arena-style VR experience, with players standing and competing in multi-player games, Inowize brought to the Vegas show their ‘Arkadia Arena’ platform and latest games experiences, available in four- and six-player configurations. The turnkey element of the platform makes it a strong platform for operators of all stripes and experience. 

Boxblaster VR is another developer with a strong VR Arena offering, with their four-player platform featuring family-friendly content and having established some 50 units in the market. The company is working with Benchmark Games International to create ‘VR X-perience’ – a Self-Service VR kiosk player version of one of the popular kid-based VR experiences (‘Gold and Mace’); and offering one of the first ticket-redemption VR pieces, with an example on the show floor. Although not bringing a platform to the show, exhibitor HOLOGATE promoted the latest developments of the ‘HOLOGATE Arena’, which has seen success in penetrating the FEC and amusement operator’s scene. This is a very busy company working on innovative developments in the market, with new content for their arena, as well as the development of a brand new Free-Roaming platform (‘HOLOGATE-X’).  

The ability to offer the next phase of VR experience with Free-Roaming systems was represented on the AEI’22 exhibitor floor. These platforms have come in three flavors: initially using smartphone processing power with the standalone headset; then with the PC-based backpack platforms; and now with the latest VR streaming platforms using 5G. Exhibitors at the show represented the latest Free-Roaming platforms, with SPREE Interactive showing their up-to-ten-player Free-Roaming enclosure system. Aimed at a young audience with family-friendly content and bright colors, the players use the latest Pico standalone headsets. Alongside was exhibitor Shaffer Distributing who represented VEX Solutions. The VR company was showing their own scalable Free-Roaming experience, with their ‘VEX Arena’ allowing players to compete in groups within their space. 

The importance of tournament and eSports competition for VR was rammed home by the first-time appearance at AEI of Phenomena. The company has developed their VR eSports Free-Roaming platform and were running heats during the show. The company had the ‘VR Esports Arena’ on display, accommodating up-to-four-players within the eye-catching space, using the latest wireless VR headsets from HTC (Vive Focus 3). Phenomena has developed four versions of their turn-key arena system, to accommodate four, six, and eight-player groups. The systems all connect to be able to provide tournament events, allowing operators to get involved in this growing aspect of the digital playscape. Another exhibitor at AEI’22 with a long pedigree in VR eSports was Virtuix, promoting their ‘Omni Arena’ platform.    

Regarding Augmented Reality (AR) technology on the AEI floor, TouchMagix was promoting their extensive Videmption range, with ‘Mega Blaster’ and ‘SpaceWarp 66’ represented on the Elaut Group booth. The company was also promoting the success of their ‘SPARK Augmented Reality Bowling’ platform. Brunswick has partnered with TouchMagix to deploy this revolutionary AR bowling platform into their lanes experience for operators. Most recently it was announced that selected ‘Stars and Strikes’ bowling venues would be installing this platform, offering themed AR games on the lanes, including well-known IP such as Angry Birds. 

Large projection tracked experiences were also represented on the AEI’22 show floor, with exhibitor Media Vision presenting their game ‘The Great Bazookaball Time Transporter’ – using a pneumatic cannon to launch balls at the screen, with a Western game narrative, in a very compelling system for audiences. This compelling “Gamification” of the experience was also reflected from developer Fun Spot and their contactless tracking technology that can turn active climbing experiences into interactive competitions. Funovation was at AEI, representing their creative line as well as their ’Minigolf.io’ system – offering a unique minigolf floor that has dynamic elements which can change the layout of the course, selectable from a smart device.  

In conclusion regarding AEI’22

The show reflected some 513 booths sold (representing 160 companies) and 3,278 registrants. This marked a growth in the trade event’s coverage, against the 2018 and 488 booths. However, it was visible that a large portion of the increased booth attendance was represented from the gaming machine fraternity – the large booths from Adult Game Center (AGC) manufactures were showing up the smaller amusement offerings, with even one of the gaming machine operators winning the AAMA (American Amusement Machine Association) best booth award. These AGC exhibitors dwarfing the spend of conventional amusement and vending companies.

The discussions round the various bars and clubs during the trade convention were very telling of the mood of the trade, with speculation on the impact of the Global Health Crisis on the industry. Calculations from well-placed sources estimated that some 35-percent of amusement operators had been culled during the crisis. It was also estimated that the amusement trade would be seeing more fallout, as operations in difficult positions succumbed to pressure. More mergers and acquisitions are expected, as well as the inevitable backlash and tightening of belts. The need to find new trends and support innovation was paramount.

Following the previous situation regarding inviting VR directly into the heart of the amusement trade event, the new drive behind the VR Summit, as part of the AEI Educational format, was a welcome green-shoot – and it is hoped that further investment will be made to bring more voices into the fold towards shaping the road ahead for the industry. Playing its part in the explosion in immersive entertainment. At the same time, the social entertainment scene was represented a few days after AEI, by the new look Bar & Restaurant (BR’22). The show was much more mooted compared to the Nightclub show predecessors, but there were several examples of the impact that competitive socializing is making regarding inroads towards the hospitality sector.

Consumer Developers Assemble

Taking place around the same time as AEI’22, in California, the Game Developers Conference (GDC) was held – having drawn the consumer game industry developers together for a series of show floor exhibition elements and an extensive conference lineup. This included the inviting of HOLOGATE to present to the assembled consumer game developers, on the path the company has taken in defining the LBVR sector, and the plans going forward. Several other amusement and attraction content developers also attended the consumer game trade event, illustrating the crossover that is gaining momentum. 

Concerning developments in the consumer and VR content landscape that took place during these events, news of the continued investment, acquisition and merger developments in the entertainment trade continued. News broke, after the event, that leading developer nDreams had announced a $35 million investment from Aonic Group. This major raise will allow the company to continue to work on cutting-edge VR and conventional game content. The company has also worked extensively in the LBVR scene, such as developing the ‘Far Cry VR’ experience for Zero Latency in partnership with Ubisoft.

It was also revealed that VR streaming platform developer, LIV, has been able to raise $8.5m in Series A funding towards building their platform. The mixed reality system allows activities in VR to be superimposed, with use for streaming both by content creators and consumers. The company is working on a new ecosystem that is powered by their platform, placing users directly in the “Metaverse”. While Netflix, the video streaming major, has made a third game studio acquisition by taking over Boss Fight Entertainment

Regarding GDC’22 – the organizers of the show revealed that actual show floor attendance for the event was 12,000, down some 59-percent from the record 29,000 attendance of pre-pandemic GDC 2019. The organizers had created a “Hybrid” component with the event, supporting virtual visitors along with those at the San Francisco convention center – although the drop in attendance was still a telling aspect of the future of business, regarding how many studios and developers are prepared to pay for attendance to these trade gatherings. Questions were raised regarding how much the show organizers will have to change their formats to accommodate the changed landscape for live event business. 

This serious impact on consumer event organizers was illustrated with the news that the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) had fully abandoned its plans to hold any kind of event, dropping first its physical, and then digital, plans from the event organizers, the ESA. This is a troubled event, impacted by lockdowns and industry concerns on the shows’ value proposition, but the event team were bullish in a statement that they intended to return in 2023 – we shall see.

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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