#1129 – Summer Sun For New Amusement

While many shelter from the summer heatwave, and the dreams of vacations define the thinking of many executives, innovation and investment still drive the entertainment scene at a pace. The holding of a hybrid (online) Chinese amusement trade event reveals the continued investment from this market into innovation, while we see new releases from Western manufacturers. All this, as Social Entertainment continues its growth as a dominant force in the sector. 

Chinese Amusement Rundown

Following on from our International Bowl Expo (IBE) 2022 coverage, the state of Chinese amusement development had been touched on, but now can be explored in detail. Taking place only a few days after IBE’22 was the 2022 Asia Commerce & Recreation Expo (ACRE). It was held as a virtual trade event, acting as a hybrid gathering for the Chinese market still being impacted by the ravishes of COVID, which saw the cancellation of the IAAPA Asia trade event. The need to hold the event to showcase the latest trends in Chinese VR and amusement business was the focus of ACRE’22, even if only able to be represented by “Cloud Commerce”.

The Stinger Report was one of the few international correspondents given access to visit the 239 gathered exhibitors on the forum site, with ACRE’22 giving an interesting snapshot of the trends shaping Chinese manufacturers. Starting with the ubiquitous VR, there were several representations of the familiar trend from this territory in the field. Surprisingly there were no real major innovations, although we saw some new approaches. Top Entertainment Technology previewed both their ‘VR Super Bike’ and ‘VR Super Car’ motion platforms with VR support; while JAMMA Amusement Technology presented their new ‘Self-Service VR Arcade’ upright kiosk, the latest offering in this range. 

Away from VR, and Mixed Reality (MR) was seen to start to make headway in this market. Denazhigu Technology presented their ‘MR Shootout’ using the latest MR glasses, allowing the players to see the environment around them, as well as overlayed virtual images. This follows on from the success of other platforms such as meleap’s ‘HADO’ from Japan. The new, Chinese Denazhigu system comes with a complete enclosure for players to explore in a fast-paced PVP shooting game. It will be interesting to see if it makes Western landfall. MR was also represented by Zhizaiyuntian Cultural Technology Co., who showed their ‘AR Telescope’ – that offered overlayed CGI on real-world images captured through the viewer, in a platform for entertainment and museum application.  

Regarding more traditional video amusement, we cover Dacheng Animation Technology (better known as Ace Amusement in the West). The company had a selection of their latest Videmption games, and a new video motorcycle racer with ‘Parkour Motor’. Meanwhile, local developer Huoshichuanyu Technology showed a selection of amusement including video racers, with ‘Mirage Motorcycle’ aimed at the Kidtainment market, and with ‘Punch Out’, a three-pad video boxing game, offering physical action. Regarding trends, the company also presented ‘Surprise Egg’, a large capsule machine with video elements, offering a new form factor in design. This system, along with others seen, are building off the success of capsule vending in the Asian market.

Gamification had also managed to seep into the thinking of the latest Chinese manufacturers, best illustrated by iFun, who presented ‘Rebo Hockey’, an air-hockey table which incorporated four-player action, and also a dedicated scoring and in-game feature shown on an integral screen. This was one of several examples of air-hockey tables given the gamified treatment, as well as several digital screen basketball hoops machines. 

The overall trends on the virtual show floor were an improvement of established brands and better form factor. However, it was obvious that the limitations of sales access to the Western market were impacting the business. Also, the issues of the changes in the VR scene, with operators looking for the next-gen in development, was forcing many manufacturers to rethink their strategies. This is the briefest of snapshots of some of the new products seen while perusing the ACRE’22 virtual site. How many of these will be taken up by Western distributors will depend on conditions to export in the coming months.

Active Amusement Rundown

As the new release schedule from the amusement manufacturers and developers gathers pace, some new developments in the Western market have been brought to the Stinger Report’s attention.

We thank our friends at ArcadeHeroes for supplying more details on one well-known video amusement property making a return to the scene. It was officially confirmed that the slash-‘em-up property ‘Samurai Shodown’ was about to be released back into the amusement scene. We had leaked information that pointed to the SNK property being in development, but in an official reveal, ‘Samurai Shodown V Perfect’ was confirmed to be about to be released, solely developed, and manufactured by exA-Arcadia in partnership with SNK, on the ‘exA-Arcadia’ platform. The game has started location testing at Round1 and Leisure Land chains in Japan. The exA-Arcadia platform incorporates proprietary technology that will allow the new game to feel as responsive as the original Neo Geo MVS hardware, which ran on a CRT – even with the new game hocked up to an LCD monitor with zero input lag. Regarding a Western release, exA-Arcadia have established a presence outside of the Japan scene, with claims of 1,000 cabinets throughout the world – although there is no word on plans for this release’s schedule. SNK is majority held by Saudi Arabia’s Electronic Gaming Development Company (EGDC), who are also working on other developments using the properties retained by the operation, including their library of SNK licenses.

exA-Arcadia represents an example of a company filling the vacuum left by the collapse of the Japanese amusement factory structure, launched in Japan in 2019 (the situation of the Japanese market is covered later in this report). Along with their partnership with SNK, exA-Arcadia has been entering into co-development agreements for other content to populate their ‘exA-Arcadia’ platform that currently retains 25 game titles. It was announced that the company would be rolling out new titles such as ‘Touhou Perfect Sakura Fantastica’ – a stylized shooter, based on the licensed Touchou series. The other is ‘P-47 ACES Kai’ – based on the popular shoot-‘em-up series. It was first released as ‘P-47: The Freedom Fighter’ from JALECO in 1988 as a JAMMA kit; and the next in the series was ‘P-47 ACES’ launched in 1995. While JALECO had released the games, they had been developed by NMK – a popular Japanese developer that closed its doors in 1999, with JALECO also closing in 2014. The IP for previous JALECO game properties is now owned by City Connection Co. Ltd., and the rights have been offered to develop the ‘P-47’ property for the ‘exA-Arcadia’ platform. Both these games are also on location rollout and are part of an expected 50+ game titles planned, although specific release periods for each title have not been announced.

Regarding another of the more established amusement properties, and the UK market has become the test venue for the reappearance of an established brand. It was revealed that the first shipment at the Electrocoin owned ‘Fun Land’ amusement venue in London (covered recently in our facility report), of KONAMI’s new ‘Dance Dance Revolution: A20 PLUS’ had arrived and was operational. This will be followed by shipments to other UK and EU operators. The game is the latest incarnation of the popular DDR BEMANI dancing stage amusement piece. This system differs from the Japanese release launched there in 2020, marking the 20th anniversary of the range, and is released as an international variant. The version on test has been Westernized with English text and music selections.

Japanese amusement factory KONAMI and UK amusement distributor Electrocoin have had a long association, with the legendary distributor one of the few companies to still have direct association with the operation. The close relationship has allowed Electrocoin to help direct the Japanese amusement R&D team to create a version of the DDR release that will be suited to the unique requirements of the Western market. Electrocoin will start the process of selling this BEMANI powered machine in the UK and EU markets, being presented on their booth during IAAPA Europe in September, when we will have a full report. A possible US release is also being considered. Previously, Betson Enterprises had represented the KONAMI range in the States, but that partnership was terminated some time ago, and a new distribution partner is being considered. The dancing stage genre of music rhythm games has proven a strong revenue generator, with Andamiro USA selling their ’Pump It Up’ series, as well as StepMania’s ‘StepManiaX’ series of releases all finding popularity.

The dancing stage game category has been a very physical series, even appearing in the “Exergaming” category used in physical fitness classes in education and appearing in 24 Hour Fitness venues. Another example of the deployment of amusement style entertainment as a fitness platform (all part of the “Active Entertainment” approach), was seen announced by UNIS Technology. The company revealed their new ‘TekyGo! Play Arena’ – using the unique ‘TekyGo! integrated children’s exercise platform to create an exergaming enclosure – offered in two- and four-player installations. The Kidtainment system uses a video game combined with the trampoline system, used by the players to create an active entertainment for children’s minds and bodies (aimed at six-years old and under). This interactive physical game experience is seen for deployment in FECs, activity centers and leisure venues. It is also expected that this system, along with other new releases, will be seen at IAAPA US in November on the UNIS booth. 

The employment of more active entertainment experiences in a more “Exergaming” (exercise and game) convergence, targeting a younger player demographic, was illustrated with the announcement of a new entertainment facility opening in China. A new indoor playground facility, for young children to get exercise, was launched by Aeon Fantasy China, the subsidiary of the Japanese amusement facility operator Aeon Fantasy. The venue, called ‘Morley Sports Center’, is a concept focusing on the theme of “play + exercise”. Addressing the lack of exercises for the younger population, the facility using frictionless connectivity, and many digital-based game experiences, also tracking the achievements of the children, with information based on their exercise achieved sent back to an app for guardians and parents to monitor, offering guidance. The first of this new concept was opened in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, and is expected to be rolled out across the country. 

Concern Regarding Japanese Amusement Future

While KONAMI and TAITO have released new music games as stated above, there has been a serious concern regarding new video amusement genres being seen coming from the leading Japanese factories, with a near drought of new amusement releases from BANDAI NAMCO and SEGA. Many point to the impact of the post-lockdown market on the buying power of the remaining amusement operations, as well as a change in focus, as SEGA divests its amusement venue business and BANDAI NAMCO focuses on its capsule machines and new venue projects.

In Japan, there was a new video amusement release from SEGA with ‘Pokemon Corogarena’ placed on test the year before – the video game is based on the popular Pokemon property and is more of a medal (token) game than a pure video game. In the pure video category, KONAMI, along with their music games, released ‘Bombergirl Rainbow’ – the latest incarnation of their popular maze bombing game based on the legendary IP, with four-machine networking and new levels. But from BANDAI NAMCO, the only real movement in video amusement was seen with the launch of ‘Mobile Suit Gundam Arsenal Base’ – a card battler based on the evergreen Gundam IP. Players select physical cards that are deployed on the machine and used in combat with other players.

Obviously, the one thing that all these “new” releases share is zero international release plans. The games are far more focused on the home market than considering any re-development for a Western audience. Most of the Japanese amusement trade is becoming isolationist to Western markets – looking to cut investment into this sector, as seen with the management buyout by SEGA Amusement International (SAI). This leaves BANDAI NAMCO Amusement as the only remaining Japanese satellite distributor in the West, dependant on third-party products. However, promises of more suitable Western releases are still made, with claims that racers, such as ‘Initial D’ and ‘Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune’, will see their latest versions released in Japan and also make Western landfall – although this was hyperbole, with no reality. Though there is one aspect of Japanese amusement that may make US landfall soon, (details to follow!)

What the future holds. Many Western amusement distributors and operators have written off hopes of seeing another big release emanating from Japan, while some still place hope in occasional music game opportunities. The latest successful racers have come from China (Wahlap Technology) and the US (Raw Thrills), with the independent SAI in the UK continuing to make new video releases. With the abandonment of the ‘JAEPO’ amusement trade event and the capitulation of private distributor events, the only microscope on the Japanese amusement trade has reverted to the ‘Events & Amusement Expo TOKYO’ (held during June this year) and becoming the largest trade event of this kind in the territory for leisure, amusement, and eSports.

The ‘Events and Amusement Expo’ was a component of the ‘9th Japan Event Week 2022’, attracting some 210 exhibitors and seeing some 34,737 attendees over the three days, while conducting stringent COVID measures – as reported by show organizers RX Japan. Along with eSports professionals and live leisure entertainment providers, the amusement trade was present, although many of the major factory names stayed away. Reflecting the current situation, the once influential Japan Amusement Industry Association (JAIA) looks to find its footing in directing its members in a changed landscape.

The hope is that, as more of the COVID measures are rolled back in Japan, we will see the trade find itself in a better place – able to take stock. The first examples of the shape of things to come was seen with GENDA (who acquired control of the SEGA amusement facility business), reporting operational profits of their combined ‘Genda GiGO Entertainment’ facility business, and seeing a returning audience. What will happen to the previous dominance of the Japanese amusement factories over the market has come to an ignominious end, and IAAPA in November will reveal the new power-players, with new entrants like exA-Arcadia picking up the pieces that will chart the future of the video amusement scene.

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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