#1117 – Entertainment’s Immersive Drive

The 2022 March period proved a very busy time for all things to do with amusement and entertainment. Along with the Las Vegas AEI’22 trade event and Bar & Restaurant gatherings, there were several high-level seminars and conferences held during this period. We have already reported on FEU and the VR Summit, but a few days after these one of the largest events was held. 

Latest FEC Bootcamp

From the glitz of Vegas, we travel to Indianapolis, the home of Indy racing, and the home of Creative Works, who held their Amusement360 – an exclusive educational two-day seminar for start-ups and operators entering the FEC and entertainment space. This year’s event saw record breaking attendance, reflecting the interest that this business is generating, and a hunger for information from experienced voices. Creative Works gathered, along with a list of manufacturers and service suppliers, some 18 industry experts to present to the assembled delegation. 

Over the years since it has been run, first as Lasertag360 and now Amusement360, the event has become the ultimate boot-camp for new and existing operators towards the family entertainment center business, gathering leading service and product providers. The event is also known for the venue visits, and for the factory tour of the Creative Works nerve center. This year was a poignant moment, being the last time this will happen at the old venue, as the corporation makes the transition to a brand-new purpose-built factory and warehouse space in the territory, reflecting the growth of the business. 

The presentations during the event covered the full gambit of the essentials for those striking out into the location-based entertainment landscape and beyond. Presenting for the first-time representing Spider Entertainment, Stinger Report publisher Kevin Williams was able to offer the audience a deep dive into the immersive entertainment landscape, and the new investments and technologies being applied across the international market, along with the trends to watch. 

Presentations were also made from event sponsors such as Traintainment, Amusement Entertainment Management (AEM), Embed, Party Center, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Shafer Distributing, and many, many more; along with valuable keynotes, and the Creative Works team sharing their valuable wisdom. One presentation from lasertag specialists, Delta Strike, struck home, introducing the audience to a new term – “Digitalia”. This was described as meaning the tech that surrounds the younger audience, from their phone, tablets and connected console gaming. The need for the amusement and entertainment scene to keep pace with this “Digitalia” and stay relevant was rammed home during one of the facility visits.

The Amusement360 audience and sponsors visited the Woodland Bowl location, close to the event – offering a valuable and enjoyable chance for the audience to see the operation of a profitable entertainment site, still holding onto their traditional bowling roots, but also upscaling to meet the new demands of the market. The team at the facility also laid on great hospitality for the event, and it was great to see the return to business of a popular entertainment venue in a thriving area. The hunger for social entertainment was strong during the visit, seeing packed lanes and FEC arcade.

But there was a surprise in store. The organizers showed their familiar HOLOGATE VR arena, as well as a ‘SpongeBob VR’ system in the FEC arcade, and lasertag arena, running Delta Strike vests and guns, and comprising the familiar Creative Works theming. But there was something different!

Revealed for the first time, the Woodland Bowl lasertag arena was one of only three prototype venues running the ‘Limitless VR’ platform from Creative Works. This is a special system that acts as a companion to existing lasertag arenas, offering the ability for the first time to have VR incorporated into the pricing and operational model of an entertainment venue. This looks to be a momentous point in the adoption and development of this technology into the entertainment business. 

Upon entering the briefing room attached to the lasertag arena, it was obvious that along with the players’ vests and weapons, there were special lockable containers above them – these contained the VR headset and VR game interface. Creative Works has developed their own VR weapon system to use during the game, and examples of these being 3D printed were demonstrated during the factory tour earlier. The company has also worked in close cooperation with HTC, using the latest Vive Focus 3 headset for the VR experience. This is one of only a handful of Western LBE developers with early access to this platform.

Within the lasertag arena, hardly any changes were visible, except for the inclusion of HTC Lighthouse trackers in selected areas, and the placement on the floor and walls of tracking patterns. Minimal modification had been made to the space, allowing normal lasertag games to be played, alternating from VR-based experiences. Still in a pre-production stage of development, ‘Limitless VR’ was playable and showed the advance in having immersive competition within a space where the physical elements are incorporated into the virtual world – literally bringing the physical into the digital.

The final release able to support up to 20 players, we able to take part in an 80-percent complete version of the final production game. But this was enough to show the amazing progress achieved, and the opportunity this platform holds. Those operators still sitting on the fence to support VR will find it difficult to deny the opportunity, and VR will receive one of the most innovative entertainment deployments. Creative Works is incorporating a QR code queue line kiosks and a player registration system into their platform, looking at tournament and player competition support.

As stated, the Woodland Bowl venue was only one of three locations with a ‘Limitless VR’ prototype test installation. Creative Works is moving at some pace to have the first completed installations ready for a major reveal in time for November’s IAAPA convention – promising additional surprises. Amusement360 proved valuable this year, charting the drive and advancement that the amusement and entertainment scene can look forward to, moving ahead.

Big Developments Rock “Eatertainment”

One of the biggest developments in the location-based entertainment (LBE) business took place a matter of weeks after the Amusement360 event. In what would rock the amusement and attraction facility industry to its roots, the news was broken that two of the largest so-called “Eatertainment” chains would be merging.

It was revealed in April that Dave & Buster’s would be acquiring their leading competitor Main Event Entertainment, for a reported $835m. This agreement would see D&B taking control from current owners Ardent Leisure Group and RedBird Capital Partners. This will see D&B’s some 140 facilities, and Main Event’s 50 facilities combined under a single operation that will be helmed by the current CEO of Main Event, though it is unlikely at this point that the brands will be combined, as each is felt to support their own distinctive offering (D&B targeting young adults, and Main Event families and children).

This acquisition and merger will represent the latest major move in defining the FEC and LBE business and is expected to see ripples spread out across the sector, that will obviously be followed by more developments. This was seen with news that, in Texas, the Circuit of the Americas race circuit, famous for their NASCAR weekend, has started the process of building a massive amusement park which they intend to open in 2023. The chairman of the operation announced the development plans, revealing the space will comprise two major coasters, over 30 attractions, and amusement. 

At the same time, the continued growth of the eSports sector was impacted with the latest developments. eSports bar and restaurant franchise, Kappa Bar, was acquired for Meltdown Bars. This merger will result in the newly-named Kappa Meltdown Group, which represents some 28 locations in Europe and the UK. In other eSports news, it was revealed that Formula One motor sports racing team Williams Racing had revealed their plans to make a serious investment into the eSports space in the coming years. This follows announcements of partnerships such as with Resolve, announced last year, in support of the company’s popular ‘Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS). Physical sports and digital competition are becoming seriously intertwined. 

International Developments Internationally

March and April had a plethora of trade events impacting by the COVID variants rise at the beginning of the year, forcing other major events to reschedule, and so forced a logjam on news and developments which we will try and clear now.

For many, soon after AEI’22, the next major international trip was taken to the UAE to attend Dubai Entertainment Attractions and Leisure (DEAL) expo. The event attracted some 300 reported exhibitors and saw a reasonable turnout of local and international attendees (final numbers were not available at this time). New developments and partnerships marked the crowded show floor, with Frontgrid, developer of the ‘ParadropVR: Pod’, having a demonstration version of the VR game system and working in concert with Amusement Services International (ASI) to represent the immersive platform in the territory. ASI was also instrumental in another VR attraction, announcing their partnership with Meta4 Interactive towards rolling out across the region their ‘TRANSFORMERS: VR Battle Arena’ four-player VR experience. 

The other major amusement distributions and service force in the territory exhibiting was Warehouse of Games (WOG) and, along with their partnerships with numerous amusement manufacturers, they also presented some new hardware to the Dubai audience – such as having TouchMagix unveil their latest new Videmption platform, ‘Whacky Tracks’. The new game offers a fast-paced video game style, with the players selecting from three colored buttons to navigate their locomotive on screen, going the furthest distance to receive tickets (in a game aimed at kids and young players). This game was shown alongside the previously released ‘Mega Blaster’ and the all-new 65’’ ‘SpaceWarp 66’ cabinet.

DEAL’22 also played host to the ‘Leisure, Entertainment & Attractions’ (LEA) conference, by territory association Middle East and North Africa Leisure & Attractions Council (MENALAC), organized in conjunction with DEAL’22 organizers International Expo-Consults (IEC). This event marked the major developments that have impacted the UAE entertainment sector, as well as the great challenges moving forward. The area playing host to the Expo 2022 Dubai, with the World Expo event held for the first time in the United Arab Emirates, saw a vast attendance with the return of international travel. This whole area has proven an important business for the industry, and continues to reflect great investment and development.  

Regarding developments in the international amusement and entertainment scene emanating from the UAE, it was revealed that the crown price of Saudi Arabia’s Electronic Gaming Development Company (EGDC), had acquired a 96-percent stake in developer SNK. The investment was reportedly made through the subsidiary of the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation (the Stinger Report has covered other investments into this sector made by the operation). SNK Corporation has moved from being Japanese owned, through several hands,  towards control by a Korean business. EGDC had taken a 50-percent controlling share in SNK back in 2020, and this further acquisition of control will shape the future for SNK and its owned properties – with interests reported to include future video amusement and consumer game releases, and even the development of an entertainment venue business based on the world-famous properties.

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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