#1162 – Amusement Assembles in Vegas! – Part 1

The big gathering for the North American amusement trade charted both the post-global lockdown landscape, and the evolution of the amusement and entertainment scene. After a busy few weeks, with European, Indian, and Dubai amusement trade events and summits, there was a chance for the industry to shine in Las Vegas.

Amusement Expo International 2023 (AEI’23)

The trade event, that now represents an eclectic mix of what the organizers listed as Amusements, Music, Games & ATMs, Billiard & Home Leisure, Virtual Reality, Bulk Vending, Laser Tag, and Professional Service Providers & Suppliers, supported four-co-located trade events in one – for the first time. The varied mix of disparate trade sectors had been combined through the AAMA and AMOA, along with for the twenty years with the National Bulk Vending Association (NVBA), and with the Laser Tag Convention. Also, for the first time, the event partnered with the Billiard Congress of America (BCA), with their expo co-located on the show floor.

The AEI’23 started in its usual way, with the gathering of association board meeting, and several educational conferences for the varied trade interests. Focusing on the Out-of-Home Entertainment industry, one of the conference summits held in the days before the exhibition floor opened its doors, was run by the ‘Foundation Entertainment University’ (FEU) – a sold-out bootcamp for those entering the FEC scene. The co-located aspect of the trade event also saw several trade association board meetings, along with an AAMA-supported ‘VR Arcade Summit’ (more on that later). Also held before the trade doors opened, was the Laser Tag Convention.

Amusement’s Vegas Date

Amongst the four-co-located trade events all in one, the AEI’23 was a vital gathering of the latest amusement products and services, for the 2023 North American season. Along with the AAMA (American Amusement Machine Association), the AMOA (Amusement & Music Operators Association) supported the show – the trade association was celebrating its 75th anniversary serving street operators, coin-op manufacturers, and the amusement scene in general. Supported by show organizers WT Glasgow, the event threw open its doors.

Racing around some 576 booths (up from 513 in 2022), we saw SEGA Amusement International (SAI) – the independent operation is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, since its original inception as the international amusement arm of SEGA. The AEI booth was a gaggle of previously-reported prize and redemption pieces, headed by the new redemption success ‘Bop It! Arcade’. The videos included the first chance for many US amusement operators to see the homegrown ‘Drone Racing Genesis’, along with other new releases seen at IAAPA’22. One of the big promotions for the company was their virtual reality (VR) entry with ‘VR Agent’ – the “attendant free” two-player shooting game with the integrated gun visor game, developed by Chinese studio 3MindWave, in partnership with SAI. The gun visor approach was originated by the developers and is now being emulated by several manufactures seen on the show floor. Another element of the SAI booth was the promotion of their social entertainment product range, including ‘Smart Darts’ – the AR platform from 501 Entertainment.

BANDAI NAMCO Amusement America (BNAA) – showing much of what had been seen at the previous trade events, the company also had the large eight-player ‘PAC-MAN Battel Royale Chompionship Deluxe’ on the booth, in all its glory, supporting the PAC-MAN-based promotion including ‘PAC-MAN Power Pellets’ redemption. A new release was presented from BNAA’s range of Home Rec-Room properties – in support of the AEI’s co-located Billiard Congress of America (BCA) expo – with the Bandai booth split into two sections. On the BCA portion, the company revealed ‘Jukebox Bowl-O-Rama’ – a new upright cabinet for home deployment, with a unique game, and acting as a wireless home jukebox, with a singalong device. The game also includes an updated version of the original 2005 ‘Rockin Bowl-O-Rama’. This part of the booth also revealed the full lineup of the new “PAC-MANCAVE” range, with PAC-themed art and accessories. Meanwhile, at the front of the booth, the four-player standard ‘Dead Heat Unleashed’ street racer was presented.

Not at the show, it was revealed by BNAA in a Tweet that their Japanese drum rhythm game series would be receiving a limited Loc-Test in North America. ‘Taiko No Tatsujin’ was placed on test at the Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa Marketplace in Plano, Texas. This is not the first time the machine has been seen in the West, with several Round 1 USA venues installing the game. BNAA was kind enough to explain the situation with the Japanese rhythm game – stating that, previously, the hardware had been blocked from Western deployment due to the KONAMI patent. BNAA revealed they have always loved the property, and so were happy to now be able to place it on test at multiple locations, towards working on a full Western release strategy – more information to follow. 

Returning to the AEI’23 show floor with TRIOTECH – rushing through a busy few weeks, first from the DEAL’23 show, the company brought to AEI’23 their ‘STORM’ VR platform, launching during the show a brand-new experience called ‘Creepy Castle’ – an early version of this was teased during IAAPA’22. The VR ride-game uses the platform’s gesture recognition to turn a VR ride experience into an interactive game, as the riders attempt to collect icons to build up their score as they ride through the creepy castle. Next to this was the brand-new ‘QUBE’ – the four-player motion seat and shooting ride enclosure has been generating high ROI at the first locations to get the machine. The Stinger Report is seeing this machine as a perfect gateway for operators unable to consider a ‘XD Interactive Theater’ – but who want to benefit from its drawing appeal.

Betson Enterprise – came to the Nevada show with a big event, opening a new distribution facility in Las Vegas for their sales and parts operation. Meanwhile, on the AEI’23 booth, the company represented a varied range of amusement. Taking pride of place was Raw Thrills, who had a lineup of the popular ‘King Kong: Skull Island’ VR ride-game amusement system (a trending genre in the scene). The final production version of ‘MotoGP VR’ was also seen, scheduled for April release. Dominating the booth, the continued trend of the “deluxe street-racer” game was seen, with ‘Fast & Furious Arcade’ DX. All this and Raw Thrills’ division Play Mechanix had another new offering at the show.

An interesting diversion for the amusement giant into the pinball scene was seen with ‘Pulp Fiction Pinball’ – based on the popular 1994 movie property. This is a unique development by Play Mechanix and was exhibited on collaborator Chicago Gaming Company’s booth – two production prototype tables were on display. A retro-inspired, old-school, flat playfield design table had been first revealed a few days previously, at the Texas Pinball Festival. It was reviewed by Pinball News to only have a limited 1,000-unit production run in a special edition, and a limited run for the commercial table. This is a unique entry into the “Retro-Play” trending market, manufactured by Chicago Gaming and based on the design by Play Mechanix, who developed the game at the request of the film’s director, who wanted a themed pinball based on the property. The “Retro-Play” collectors scene seemed to be serviced at the show by the likes of STERN Pinball and with new developments such as this, as well as the new development from American Pinball with their stylistic ‘Galactic Tank Force’ release. 

Returning to the conventional amusement scene at AEI’23, and UNIS Technologies had a packed booth for the company, with their latest redemption and prize machines. This follows the surprise success, at IAAPA’22, of ‘Sailor’s Quest VR’ – the unattended two-player motion shooting VR ride-game extravaganza. The company had the game at AEI’23 for the amusement trade, revealing they had already shipped 150 units of the platform – of the IGS developed amusement piece. UNIS also revealed they were using a new headset for the previously launched ‘Ultra Moto VR’, now running with the HP Reverb VR headset, as a replacement to the previous 3Glasses Chinese headset which was originally shipped with the amusement piece. The company is offering this new HP system as an upgrade path. 

Taking a space on the show floor of AEI’23, LAI Games had an eye-catching lineup of previously reported products, including the HD updated ‘Virtual Rabbids’ VR ride-game. Amusement releases also included a lineup of the trending “deluxe street-racer” ‘Asphalt 9 Legends Arcade’ DX. Company representatives confirmed that they still intended to release the VR version of the street-racer, though enhancements will be made to the final release from that seen at IAAPA’22. LAI at the show also presenting their big, licensed amusement piece, with the ‘Rick and Morty: Blips and Chitz’ redemption pusher. 

Adrenaline Amusement – representing their own crowded lineup of the latest amusement and redemption. Presented on their booth was the trending “deluxe street-racer” game property, with their arcade exclusive of ‘NFS Heat: Takedown’ in the new DX motion variant, in support of the standard version previously seen. The DX cabinet uses their unique motion platform / seat system.

The importance of strong distribution representation for the diverse range of amusement, prizes, and larger attractions, was reflected at this year’s AEI’23, with representation from the likes of Shaffer Distribution and AVS Companies – a company that also had a presence at the neighbouring BRE’23 show (we will cover this later). 

Amusement Source International – had a crowded booth with the latest prize and redemption, and some surprises. The amusement distributor was showing some Chinese third-party representation, such as ‘Zombies Crisis’ – as we reported in our EAG’23 coverage, the Chinese video amusement two-player shooter was developed by Nitto Game and was being represented in the West by JNC. A bigger surprise was to see the company representing VR amusement pieces, such as WAHLAP’s ‘Overtake VR’, and the Movie Power ‘VR X-Spy’ – a upright kiosk with a similar gun-mounted VR display. Regarding AR, the company also showed ‘Sniper Strike II’, the four-player, through the sniper site shooting experience. 

Andamiro USA – following the recent appearance of the parent company during JAEPO’23 the previous month, the US division brought their big developments within the company. What we alluded to in our IAAPA’22 coverage was revealed at AEI’23 – the full launch of the production version of ‘Spongebob SquarePants: VR Bubble Coaster’, the VR ride-game experience developed in partnership with RILIX, and based on their two-seater VR system. An early production version of the concept was seen at the previous Orlando show, but here in Vegas, the full version of the experience was launched – incorporating an interactive game element, with the players turning their head to shoot bubbles at targets as they raced round the zany coaster course, set in Spongebob’s undersea home of Bikini Bottom.

This RILIX platform has been developed to support this new licensed property, developed in partnership with Andamiro, holders of the popular IP. The two-seater VR system was using subwoofers in the bench seats and supplied the VR experience using PICO Neo 3 headsets. RILIX, who exhibited on their own booth, had an extensive range of amusement, rental, and vending machine VR simulators, sold across 25 countries. All of these ‘RILIX Coaster’ units offer a passive VR ride-game experience, compared to the new interactive system developed in partnership.

Regarding other developments, the music game amusement scene saw Andamiro presenting ‘Pump It Up Prime 2’. Not a dedicated cabinet, as some sources had suggested, but an upgrade kit for existing machines. This follows on from the ‘Pump It Up XX 20th Anniversary Edition’ that was seen on the IAAPA’22 booth. Speculation has been high on social media amongst the PIU player community, regarding rumors circulating from the series developers in Korea, that this new release would be the last amusement version of the game planned. 

We hope to have more details on these developments, especially linked to our previous reporting of BNAA’s plans for a Western release of ‘Taiko No Tatsujin’, as well as the Step Mania release – are we about to see a new resurgence of the “Music Games” genre in the amusement sector?

Benchmark Games International, a member of the Elaut Group USA and Touch Magix distributor, exhibited a pair of two-player linked, deluxe versions of ‘Mega Blaster’ and ‘Space Warp 66’, offering a big Videmption play with an optional “Super Bonus” marquee header. Showcasing a collaborative effort with Touch Magix, Coast to Coast Entertainment, another member of the Elaut Group USA displayed their ‘Carnival Cups Crane’, which won a coveted ‘AMOA Innovator Award’ for combining compelling video game play to the tried-and-true claw crane action. Regarding a VR showing, the Benchmark partnership with BoxBlaster VR bore fruit with the final production prototype of the upright VR kiosk, which was running ‘Gold and Mace’ – originally reported on at IAAPA’22. The “VRXperience” cabinet has been going through extensive testing at a nationwide LBE chain to ensure it is ready for primetime.

exA-Arcadia – following their major presence at JAPEO’23, the company came to AEI’23 with a lineup of ‘ARC-1’cabinets, boasting that over 35-games have been announced. Six examples of the new modular cabinet in its two-player and four-player configurations were on display. The return of Indie amusement development was also represented at the show, since the heady days of 2019. We saw indie developers dip a toe into the amusement waters, with developer Alan-1 showing ‘Avian Knights’ – a two- and four-player cabinet, recreating the Atari game play of ‘Joust’, with the game cabinet including FX effects such as wind and rumble, with the three-button joystick game; as seen in a pre-production version of the final release in the summer. It was turning some heads on the show floor.

A Show of Many Faces

It needs to be understood that this year’s AEI was specially demarcated due to the affiliation with the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) co-locating their BCA Expo with the amusement event. The show floor had a separate section (divided from the main show floor) for the first time. Snooker, pool and billiards exhibitors, manufacturers, and service providers were taking space in this area. The space proved a talking point for some attendees, with some industry representatives finding it hard to see the fit for this element with the amusement trade. 

Some exhibitors were favoring to exhibit on this side of the divide – while the likes of BNAA split their presence. One such who choose the BCA side was Incredible Technologies – a company with a multiplicity of presence at the Vegas events that week. Along with their new releases, they were excited to announce the “Golden Tee Golf World Championship”, which would be returning to Las Vegas in July. The original-eSports-style event will see, this year, a prize pool of over $150,000. The company also had a presence at the other entertainment show in Las Vegas that week (see the following Bar & Restaurant Expo coverage). 

Making a splash at the Vegas show, along with the billiards exhibitor, was pinball – representatives came from their appearance at a recent pinball event (‘Texas Pinball Festival’), held a matter of days before AEI’23. These included representation from American Pinball and Chicago Gaming Company. As we have already reported, there was the surprise appearance of the limited-edition version of ‘Pulp Fiction Pinball’ developed by Play Mechanix in collaboration with Chicago Gaming Company. The retro aesthetic was turned up to the max with the appearance of ‘Galactic Tank Force’ from American Pinball. While we normally do not report on the traditional pinball scene in The Stinger Report, we have been following the “Retro-Play” trend seen on the AEI’23 show floor – and spilling over into the hospitality sector.

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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