#1140 – Entertainment’s Pomp & Majesty – Part 4

The next expansive coverage of Europe’s biggest amusement, attractions, and entertainment expo, along with details of developments impacting the international scene. In this fourth part we look at Machine Learning and Drone investment in the sector and developments in the crossover from amusement to social entertainment.

IAAPA Expo Europe 2022 (IAAPA-EMEA’22)

Machine Learning

The growing appearance of “Autonomous Robots & Drones” in the attraction scene continued with the growth of drone-based entertainment, and in the deployment of robotic delivery in retail, hospitality, and food, with the appearance of robotic food preparation and cocktails. Along with our previous coverage on trackless “Autonomous Ride-Vehicles”.

This was illustrated by IAAPA-EMEA’22 exhibitor Drone Interactive – the company has built on their original concept and created the new ‘Arcadrone evo’, offering three variants of the original drone gaming experience. Operators can now select between the two-, four-, and six-player enclosures, with their duelling drone competition. The new design of the enclosures offers a reduced footprint by 50-percent on the four-players, reduced pricing, and compelling audience appeal. French company Dronisos also presented at the London show, leading the charge in supplying drones for light shows, proving a strong alternative to firework displays, and offering amazing live event performances. 

As we have reported on before, robotic cleaning systems have grown in deployment not just in the commercial but also the consumer sector. And it was revealed that Amazon had made a move to acquire iRobot for $1.7b through share purchase. The company is the developer of the range of consumer cleaning systems such as their ‘Roomba’ robot vacuum. These developments are soon to have continued impact on the attractions scene, building on what we have seen in the bowling sector with their use of robot cleaning and serving systems. 

Back to the heart of IAAPA-EMA’22 and, along with “Computer Vision”, we also saw the appearance of “Artificial Intelligence” being deployed in the attraction market – from guest management to machine learning, in the offering of a tailored experience for the audience. A new company in the attraction scene, exhibiting for the first time at the London show, CONDUCTR, presented what they called their ‘Attraction Intelligence’ (AI) platform. This platform uses systems to track guests’ reactions to the experience being presented and changes the events based on reading their reactions – tracking facial expressions and movement. This is an example of artificial intelligence used in an attraction to engage with the audience, and we will not be surprised if this technology migrates into the frictionless engagement aspects of the business. 

Amusement & Social Entertainment

While still playing a major part in the interactive entertainment offering for most entertainment venues and attractions, “Amusement” has started to change and evolve under the current conditions. The launch of numerous “Competitive Socializing” venues are showing the impact of “Social Entertainment” on the sector’s future. 

Leading the charge of amusement distributors and manufactures at IAAPA-EMEA’22 was SEGA Amusement Entertainment (SAI) (now part of the Kaizen Entertainment Group) and the company presented their latest new releases in the prize, redemption, and video amusement sectors. The company also continued to promote their entry into the VR space with ‘VR Agent’, created in partnership with the Chinese developer, promoting the “attendant-free” nature of the system – a vital factor to promote to some still VR reticent amusement venue operators.

Representing new Videmption properties, and SAI presented the ICE Entertainment new title, ‘Shipwreck’, developed by Play Mechanix – a three-player skill-based video redemption title, with the players tossing balls to achieve four in a row to win super bonuses, in a pirate themed game. Another partnering was seen with Sacoa Cashless System announcing their partnership with SAI for the EMEA region, via the parts and services division – Sega Total Solutions (STS)

A new departure for SAI was the investment in the “Social Entertainment” arena (also known as Competitive Socializing, and the Adult Venue market). This move towards representing the 501 Entertainment range of social gaming, with their darts and mini-golf range, was a well-publicised move. The IAAPA-EMEA booth had an example of the ‘AR Darts’ system in operation, showing the popularity of the social entertainment system. But SAI also promoted a new range of adult venue appointed amusement with air hockey (‘PUCK IT’) and basketball (‘HOOP IT’) machines decked out appropriately. Social entertainment is representing not just the bar, but also the lounge, club, and even casino environment for the new placement of amusement. This new departure for the company also including the move into facility operation through the already reported FunBox Entertainment acquisition.

On a dense IAAPA London booth, Bandai Namco Amusement Europe (BNAE) gave pride of place to their eight-player ‘PAC-MAN CHOMPionship’ FEC tabletop amusement piece. Seen for the first time by European buyers, the American-developed simultaneous ‘PACMAN’ game style was a unique piece, looking to be a game that will find homes in both the amusement and social entertainment environments. One of the newest video amusement pieces at the show was on the BNAE booth from Raw Thrills, with their ‘Fast & Furious’ two-player motion driving cabinet game based on the licensed Universal property. The racer gave more of the signature furious racing gameplay that the company has made their own, with a unique screen layout and active motion platform.  Next to this was the Team Play, ‘Carnival Wheel’ – already covered in our reporting from BowlExpo’22.

Away from the European trade event, in Japan, BANDAI NAMCO Amusement (BNA) revealed the deployment of a brand-new concept from the company that, rather than being a pure amusement piece, was more of a unique attraction. The company was to deploy, at their ‘VS PARK Aeon’ location, for a short time, what they were calling a “next-generation ride-type attraction” which was called ‘FUNVE’. The MR-based karting attraction was developed by Toyota Conic Pro. and sees the use of the Microsoft Hololens2 AR headset with the electric kart. The unusual kart rig, rather than using a steering wheel, uses two joysticks offering movement forwards and backwards and side to side, as well as spinning on the spot. The game havs the rider manoeuvring the physical course, collecting virtual wild animals – clearly a prototype concept to evaluate the use of AR (MR) in attractions. This is the latest BNA experiment using the Hololens platform, since their life-size PAC-MAN concept (‘PAC in Town’) developed in 2017.

On the IAAPA-EMEA’22 show floor, LAI Games was promoting the success of the ‘Asphalt 9 Legend Arcade’ platform in Western release to UK attendees. But information of another version of this platform was revealed, with a sneak peek at a possible new direction for the game. Our friends at Arcade Heroes revealed images while on loc-test of ‘Asphalt 9 Legend Arcade VR’. This is a version of the game using a VR headset from 3Glasses, the cabinet bearing similarity to the IGS ‘Overtake VR’ (launched back in 2018), although this cabinet turned the player away from the screen to point at the audience. Both games were developed by IGS and are licensed for Western deployment. From the marketing material on display with this site test, this platform is being seriously considered for release, and could be expected to appear on the IAAPA Orlando booth in November.

Other amusement presence on the London show floor included UNIS Technology, showing their brand-new redemption and amusement pieces including the licensed IP ‘Wicked Tuna’, and the brand-new ‘Power Puck Fever’ air hockey table. The company also has plans for some major announcements during the IAAPA Orlando event in a couple of months’ time.

Electrocoin reported seeing an amazing IAAPA London attendance, with solid interest for their selection of the latest prize, redemption, and pinball, representing the STERN range. Although plans were curtailed in respect of the mourning of the Queen’s passing, and with the rollout of the new ‘James Bond’ pintable postponed. Even with this, the company saw all the other new pinball releases avidly played with strong interest in the STERN Pinball ‘Inside Connected’ tournament platform, along with strong sales reported.

Concerning Electrocoin partners, in Japan the music game genre continues to hold sway, with the news that KONAMI were loc-testing their latest title ‘Beatmania IIDX 30 Resident’ – the system comprising a selection of new tracks, as well as improvement to the presentation with a Full HD (1080p) display. As the name suggests, this is the 30th title to have been released in the Beatmania lineup since it was first launched in 1999 – and established the music gaming genre followed by a slew of different releases from beat, rhythm, and dance. For the Western market, only the partnership with Electrocoin has endured, seeing any of the BEMANI stablemates make Western landfall.

In the amusement category during IAAPA-EMEA’22, exhibitor SisyFox showed their videogame experience that uses one of the largest controllers ever. The game, ‘SisyFox’, has players manipulating a large physical trackball to steer their character on screen – offering a physical experience to the digital game play that they are trying to control. The game offering a unique experience for players and audience, falling into the sphere of active entertainment. The company is now showing new versions of the game, with the classic supported by a multiple player ‘Downhill’ game, as well as ‘Bashball’, ‘Rumble Royale’ and ‘Parkour’. 

UK industry powerhouse United Distributing Company (UDC) took space at the London show to reveal a wide selection of the latest prize, redemption, and video amusement. The video redemption aspect was led by TouchMagix who had their latest releases, including the new update to ‘Carnival Cup’ and their ‘Drift ‘N Thrift’. Also on the booth and continuing the active entertainment theme seen across the exhibition, was the latest version of ‘StepManiaX’ from Step Revolution – the music dance stage game has an incredible following in the scene. Ace Amusement was also represented by UDC, with their lineup of redemption and new video amusement blaster ‘Galaxy Ranger’ (covered in our Park Avenue coverage in June).

A new name in the Videmption landscape made IAAPA-EMEA landfall with Pug2Play – a Polish supplier of amusement pieces including a selection of represented Videmption machines, with ‘Bridge Man’, ‘Circus Jar’ and ‘Arcade Buzz’ (developed by Slim Luke Games). Also on display was a table-top two-player video-air hockey game called ‘Bumper’. Along with the amusement pieces, the company also produces their own smart card system. The ‘Pug2Play Card System’ works on an LCD kiosk platform that includes RFID readers installed on the venues’ hardware and is able to support e-ticketing and smart card payments. Harry Levy Amusement had a booth with a selection of amusement and prize machines, but there was also a surprise appearance of the Chinese-manufactured ‘AR Sniper’ (developed by Movie Power) – the game uses physical sniper rifles with digital scopes to shoot at the screen (reminiscent of KONAMI’s 1999 ‘Silent Scope’).

International Amusement Scene

June and July proved a busy period for financial reporting from the Japanese amusement and videogame sector, with the remaining amusement manufacturers and operators supplying their first quarter of the fiscal year 2023, which ended in June. This snapshot of the financial condition of these operations gave an idea of the continuing impact of COVID conditions in Japan’s amusement and gaming sector, and an idea of the resilience of the leading operations. KONAMI revealed a 3-percent decline in business profits (¥14,099m). Meanwhile, in August, Square-ENIX reported operating income down by 16-percent (¥14,430m). The company is also the owner of TAITO, as well as other amusement interests, and it reported net sales and operating income rises over the period. The returning audience to Out-of-Home Entertainment in this territory also reported increased sales revenue from GENDA (as previously reported). The growth of the gaming audience in consumer was reflected by BANDAI NAMCO seeing an operating profit up by 64-percent (¥344m), with digital entertainment the key focus. Likewise, SEGA reported a profit up by 11-percent (¥396m).

A takeaway from this reporting was that the terminal spiral of amusement business seemed to have shown signs of some positivity. While by no means returning to anything that would resemble pre-COVID numbers, there were examples of success. We have reported on the Gachapon (Capsule Toy Vending), also the move towards more entertainment than amusement orientated business, such as with Active Entertainment (such as BANDAI NAMCO’s ‘VS Park’). There are also other developments taking place, with the consolidation of facility operation business, with a series of acquisitions and joint partnerships – already reported in previous coverage.  The return of amusement business also saw the surprise announcement that the Japanese Amusement Industry Association (JAIA) would be returning to holding a physical trade exhibition – with the news of February dates for the 2023 JAEPO (Japanese Amusement Expo). Expect more details in the coming month.

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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