#1154 – Amusement Established at London Show

The amusement and attraction trade regroups and restructures to start the 2023 season with a bang, and a purpose. The industry may have a calendar of events scheduled for the year, but the developments and trends on the various show floors are very much more than planned, with many new developments pointing to the new future for the industry internationally. 

The first trade event of the 2023 season started with Entertainment, Amusement & Gaming International Expo 2023 (EAG’23), affectionately known in the trade as “The London Show”. Organized by bacta UK trade association for the amusement and FEC sector, it was held at the ExCel Conference Center and totalled some 70 exhibitors (17 of which were making their EAG debut), occupying 78 stands across 8,000 sqm of space. This was the first return to the traditional timing for the show since the truncated March event last year and, although it had a compact exhibition floor, the event did not disappoint this year.

Leading the charge of exhibitors was SEGA Amusement Integrational (SAI), taking their unusual back wall position at EAG, with a booth filled with their latest prize, redemption, and amusement. EAG’23 allowed the UK and EU operators, who did not make the trip to IAAPA’22, a chance to decide on new purchases. Previously covered new videos included the motorbike racer ‘Storm Rider 2’, and the new ‘Drone Racing Genesis’ with its unique controls. VR was present at the show, but not as prevalent as seen in Orlando, with SAI showing their ‘VR Agent’ shooter. While redemption is not a focus of The Stinger Report, interest in several platforms was of note, including SAI’s ‘BoopIt!’ licensed on the popular Hasbro toy. 

Another aspect of the SAI booth, also mirrored on other booths, was the inclusion of “Social Entertainment” applications of the amusement and games on offer. SAI included their partnership with 501 Entertainment and their AR ‘Smart Darts’ platform. This year’s EAG included a seminar session that reported on the impact of social entertainment on the traditional amusement trade. And we will be reporting on further developments in this sphere with news of a dedicated conference covering the “Competitive Socializing” scene later in the year in the UK.  

BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe (BNAE) – Taking a centralized presence at the show, the UK and EU distributor and sales agent for third parties had a booth filled with prize, redemption, and amusement, along with services for operators and merchandising. BNAE was representing a new series of platforms on their booth (following on from SEGA Amusement Internationals announcement of their ‘Sonic Sports’ range), with BNAE revealing production concepts for their new social entertainment ‘Street Range’ of prize machines, based on their heroic mascot. In-house developed ‘PAC-MAN Baller’ is a heavily stylized hoops machine, air-hockey table ‘PAC-MAN Pinger’, while ‘PAC-MAN Roller’ is a skeeball machine with strong styling and LED display. All these units were “concept artwork” with the styling being finalized. The official release versions are expected to be revealed at Amusement Expo in a few weeks’ time. PAC-MAN was also represented with the ‘PAC-MAN Battle Royale Chompionship’ tabletop, next to the ‘PAC-MAN Pixel Bash’ retro cabinet.

The company was not the only one promoting the PAC-MAN property for all its worth. It was announced that BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment (the American entertainment subsidiary) had a partnership with energy drink producer G Fuel, launching ‘G Fuel Power Pellets’. The new drink, based on the IP, was launched in a pre-order only collector’s box. The latest example of the mass promotion of the popular mascot is a factor being seen across the amusement and gaming scene, with Sonic, Mario, and Space Invader incursions into greater public presentations. 

Returning to amusement and EAG’23, and another home-grown BANDAI NAMCO Amusement property came with the EU appearance of the new racer, ‘Dead Heat: Unleashed’. Fresh from its IAAPA’22 reveal, the street racer was continuing a theme seen across several booths at the London show. Next door to this was the first European appearance of the Adrenaline Amusement ‘NFS Takedown’, based on the popular EA property. Continuing the quartet of street racer titles entering the amusement scene and, fresh from its IAAPA-EMEA’22 and IAAPA’22 showing, came the Raw Thrills ‘Fast & Furious: Arcade’ deluxe motion simulator multiscreen racer. Raw Thrills brought a new release to the BNAE booth at EAG’23 with ‘MotoGP VR’ – surprisingly one of only four VR amusement properties at the show. 

One of the big new releases presented to the influential UK and EU buying sector was on the BNAE booth from partner TRIOTECH. Launched in Orlando in November, the company brought ‘QUBE’, their unique four-player motion seat shooting experience, building on the proven technology of their Dark Ride theater. The platform at the show generated a lot of interest, fitting into the formfactor more familiar to the smaller seaside and leisure entertainment mix of amusement placement in the UK. Along with street racers, the shooter genre was a popular one at this year’s EAG’23. Raw Thrills also has their four-player ‘HALO: Fireteam Raven’ on display, as well as the latest update of ‘Big Buck Hunter: Reloaded’. Also represented from their array of third parties were the digital capture platforms from Apple Industries.

United Distributing Company (UDC) – The distributor had a crowded booth at the front of the show, with the latest new releases across the scene of amusement, prize, crane, and redemption. Regarding amusement, their affiliation with Chinese manufacturer ACE Amusement was on display, along with mounted shooting videmption such as ‘Dinosaur Era’, and videos such as the two-player ‘Dream Ball’ (using enlarged controllers), and the four-player top-down racer ‘Nitro Speed’. But the brand-new shooter on the UDC booth from ACE was ‘Bulls Eye: Crack Shot’, another pistol shooting skill game, building off previous releases in an eye-catching package. The UDC booth also represented their third-party relationships with the latest selection of Touch Magix hit videmption titles – finding strong interest from the UK and European market, with ‘Space Warp 66’, ‘Dicey Jump’, and ‘Drift ‘N Thrift’. Meanwhile, Team Play was represented on the UDC booth with the eye-catching ‘Carnival Wheel’ redemption piece. 

The crowded booth also included the appearance of ‘Step ManiaX’ from the team at Step Revolution. The amusement rhythm game has proven incredibly popular as one of the future available offerings in this genre – and the company presented their brand-new DX cabinet configuration with the latest software library. The machine was avidly played during the show by members of the music game fan community, also following on social media. The music rhythm game amusement scene is about to see some major changes in the coming months, and operators are seeing an upturn in interest in this style of “Active Gaming” (both amusement and exergaming).

Crown Leisure / Harry Levey – Also taking their space at the entrance, the corporation comprising the sales and distribution company was another representing many decades of experience across the scene. Along with the gaming, redemption and prize machines, the company had a selection of new amusement from third parties they represent. Crown’s booth played host to the LAI Games smash hit ‘Asphalt 9: Legend Arcade’ with the DX 5D simulator variant. Regarding new releases to whet the appetite of operators looking for new thrills, Crown represented their Chinese ‘9D’ VR simulators. Meanwhile, a new Chinese shooting game, ‘AR Sniper’, like that reported on in our IAAPA’22 coverage, was being played. One of the surprise hits of the show was also on the Crown booth, with the Chinese redemption ‘Demolition King’ from HY Technology. The swinging wrecking ball demolition videmption offered an interesting enclosure and fun game. The title was very reminiscent of the original concept originated by Two Bit Circus, with their ‘Demolition Zone’ attraction 2018. 

Instance Automatics – Representing the amusement placement of their gaming and prize machine range, the company also represented third party UNIS Technology, who brought their latest amusement redemption such as ‘Wicked Tuna’, and their latest immersive entertainment. Pride of place was given to ‘Sailor Quest VR’, the incredibly popular, two-player VR mounted shooting experience with 5D effects – this was the UK’s first taste of the next-generation amusement VR offering in a self-contained platform. 

JNC Sales – Along with supporting an extensive range of crane and prize machines, the company was one of those continuing the support of the Chinese line, this time from Nitto Amusement and their brand-new shooter ‘Zombie Crisis’. This is a two-player wave shooter machinegun shooter (with the same guns reminiscent of the 2008 shooter ‘Razing Storm’ (NAMCO)) and, in a crowded shooting game scene, this looks a fun addition to the mix. JNC also included several Nitto Amusement videmption offerings, with ‘Zombie Bowling’ continuing the theme with a physical/video bowing game. As well as a fast paced four-player top-down videmption racer – ‘Bump ‘N Smash’. 

Electrocoin – On a booth filled with amusement and redemption previously covered, including their ‘Skill Shooter’ video, the company had some hidden treasures – and is also working on a new concept, demonstrated to VIPs, which will be presented later in the year. Electrocoin continued their close partnership with STERN Pinball, bringing to the show the first UK trade appearance for the licensed pinball table ‘James Bond 007’. This is another iconic table from the company, which was revealed last year as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations for the legendary movie master spy. Showing the changing times in amusement, Electrocoin was offering a special ‘Pinball Rental Option’ for operators to consider, especially supporting hospitality sites wanting to add this entertainment to their mix.   

Licensed property seems to define the modern amusement trade – along with the number of licensed IP amusement pieces, merchandise and prizes were redolent IP targets. EAG’23 exhibitor Whitehouse Leisure International had a laden booth of the latest licensed merch, including that marking the 100th Anniversary of the Disney brand (Disney100). Many of these prize elements are specially configured for crane machine deployment. Several exhibitors had the new style in small-scale crane machines, aimed at younger players. 

In other amusement news, the Japanese industry is marking several important factory anniversaries in 2023. One of these was marked at the beginning of the New Year with the announcement of TAITO’s 70th Anniversary – the legendary amusement and video game developer launched a new webpage that will promote the year-long celebrations of this momentum anniversary.

TAITO has been a legendary figure in the amusement trade, founded in 1953 (TAITO Trading) as an importer of jukeboxes, vending machines, and even vodka, into Japan. The company would go on to develop its own electromechanical game and pinball machines. By 1973 it would move into the video amusement scene, with its first game ‘Elepong’, but it would be the success both in the home territory and international market of the first ‘Western Gun’ (known as ‘Gun Fight’ in the West), and then the phenomenal hit in 1978 of ‘Space Invaders’, that would cement TAITO’s place in the market. The company would go on to define the Japanese amusement scene and even enter the venue operation business with the ‘TAITO Station’ chain, opening in 1979 an American division (TAITO America) as well as close European roots. International presence ended in 1995 with the closure of the US arm and, in Japan, following management failings over the years, the company restructured and was acquired in 2005 by Square ENIX becoming a subsidiary of the operation (TAITO Corporation). The company comprises a successful consumer game operation, including the manufacture of their own retro-platforms, along with their amusement machine manufacturing, and amusement store divisions (comprising arcade, capsule, sticker machine, and UFO machine centers).

TAITO has continued to innovate in the games market, and launched its own ‘TAITO Live’ arcade game live broadcast channel, able to play UFO machines (‘TAITO Online Crane’) and other games. At the same time, the company has invested in a new entertainment center offering, called ‘X-Station’, including immersive entertainment systems. All this and the extensive plush and prize item operation, along with merchandising and licensing of the corporation mascot ‘Space Invaders’, and many of their other popular IP. TAITO has signed lucrative agreements with Nintendo, as well as Arcade1UP, to license game characters and properties. The 70th anniversary of TAITO saw the creation of several pages celebrating the pivotal properties that also marked anniversaries.

It was revealed that the ‘Space Invaders’ 45th anniversary would be marked with a dedicated webpage, promoting the year-long celebration. Tagged “45 Years of Exploring Space”, the new page promised to include history and new merchandising and products based on this leading IP, which has become the corporation’s mascot. The previous 40th anniversary had been marked by a Tokyo exhibition called ‘Play! Space Invaders’ that included interactive game elements, such as a mass-multi-player recreation of the original (called ‘Space Invaders Gigamax’). The exhibition also included memorabilia and merchandising and had been intended to be a traveling exhibition. We await to see what TAITO and Square ENIX plan for this milestone. Returning to EAG’23, and Space Invaders was represented on the Inspired Entertainment booth, with their coin-pusher based on the property, athough sadly not celebrating the anniversary.

Speaking of the Japanese amusement trade, and EAG’23 shared another trend with the market. EAG’23 exhibitor Tubz Brands had a booth that included extensive capsule “vendortainment”, supported by KwikPay, offering a frictionless payment and smart app support. Capsule gaming is still to fully find its feet in the EU and UK market but is growing in popularity.

Regarding capsule gaming and, in Japan, where we have seen an amazing upturn in the deployment of this vendertainment platform, it was revealed that GENDA had opened some 10,000 “shop-in-shop” store machines of their popular chain of capsule toy machines, under the ‘GORON!’ name. The company started 2023 with news that they would be continuing to expand the brand within their GiGO chain of amusement sites in the territory. Regarding the GENDA GiGO Entertainment operation expansion plans, it was announced that the first overseas GENDA venue would be opening. The new site will be located in the Mitsui Shopping Park Ratsubo, Taiwan, called ‘GiGO Rottopo and Taichung’. The site will comprise 250 amusement pieces of cranes, redemption, and games. 

At EAG’23, “Frictionless” was continuing to make an impact in the amusement scene, with the ePayment providers including Game Payment Technology, IDEAL Software, Payter Cashless, Sacoa Playcard, Semnox and, Nayax/Tigapo (with Embed represented on the BNAE booth). In another example of the changing face of payment, jukebox and music entertainment provider Touchtunes presented on their booth their ‘Go Cashless’ platform, offering a phone app and card payment only system for customers to access the music and video entertainment on their jukebox. The UK amusement operator scene is embroiled in the evolution from a cash-based operation to the needs of a modern ePayment industry. 

In unusual timing, the ATRAX Expo amusement trade event in Turkey took place a day after EAG’23. On a much larger scale covering leisure entertainment, amusement, and attractions, ATRAX’23 is held so local Turkish entertainment developers are able to present their new products. Several sales executives made the trip from London to Turkey to attend. AMEGA Entertainment took a big booth to show their eSports container system, as well as examples of the racing simulators and immersive ride attractions.

In Conclusion – EAG’23 was a buyers show, and the order books reflected a strong show with a healthy orderbook. As one industry veteran explained, the operators in the UK had a very good 2022, and with that they have focused on looking to buy this year. The industry reflected both the duality of being in a buying mood, while also concerned about the continued financial conditions the world finds itself in. 

While orders were taken and positivity shown, there were concerns, nevertheless. The biggest being the size of the event, while confirming an increase from 2022’s 72 booths to now 78 stands, this indicated a show in slow regression rather than in full growth. Also, there were serious omissions, and a number of major names decided to pass on the show, including many of the VR suppliers from 2020. Some exhibitors talked at the bar gathering (there was no Foxes “show party” this year), and agreed the event will need to embrace a major reboot. With the departure of the previous show organizers (Swan Events), this first event under new bacta management was seen to pump the brakes leading to new changes for 2024. One suggestion was for the show to move to a mid-February (rather than January) date. This would still fall within the Spring buying cycle but would also allow some distance from the “Christmas malaise”.

A move in dates would also close the gap to ICE, and so benefit from attendance and allow Northern UK and EU distributors two bites of the show cherry. Another suggestion for the show was a total rethink on its structure and support. The expense of the ExCel venue for some exhibitors was a concern. There was also a suggestion that not holding the seminar session at far away rooms and instead returning to the show floor, would help with the attendance seen this year. But the biggest suggestion was the addressing of the focus of the event – moving more towards a FEC and social entertainment business focus, and away from the traditional street route format. All issues that will be discussed in bacta board meetings over the coming months. 

The EAG show was marked with a tinge of sadness as ceremonies during the event marked the passing of several industry stalwarts from the UK trade. Our condolences to their friends and family. But all in all, EAG’23 was a great shot in the arm for the amusement trade and a successful start for the industry at the beginning of the year. Now all eyes turn to the UK and the next big event – that of the ICE London gaming and casino show, also to be held (but to a far larger scale) at the ExCel convention center. 

But with the time we have before the February ICE London gaming show, there were some developments in the surrounding area to these shows that has a direct impact on the future of the Out-of-Home Entertainment scene. The following report will cover the explosion of London and UK-based Social Entertainment venues that have been opening, and their part to play in shaping the new future of this industry.

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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