#1167 – Next Phase of Entertainment Innovation Revealed

The constantly evolving amusement landscape is reflected by one of the largest trade gatherings in China. As the territory grows towards leading the taste and trends, The Stinger Report is lucky to be one of the few to receive exclusive access to the event’s leading elements.

China’s Big Amusement Event

Taking place in May, the 19th Asia Amusement & Attractions Expo (AAA) 2023 was held in the province Guangzhou. Known by many as the largest amusement exhibition in the territory, the show has become a vital Chinese linchpin for the amusement trade internationally. It expected to attract some 20,000 industry professionals to see the over-1,000 exhibitors across the eight-halls of the China Import & Export Fair Complex. This was part of the World Culture & Tourism Industry Expo 2023, comprising attractions, digital sport, and VR/AR. 

It is always impossible to fully capture the enormity of the new developments across the mass of show halls, especially as many may have no relevance outside the territory. But the developments reported by our sources during the event have an international impact.

For the Western amusement trade, one developer plays a major role in supporting the industry. WAHLAP Technology took a prominent place on the show floor – their booth gave pride of place to a Toyota GR Supra sports car, celebrating the latest ‘Initial D’ street racer release. Two groups of four-player linked racing cabs were on the booth with the new game, ‘Initial D The Arcade’ (updated version 2.0 – Stage 4 release). This version is to be officially released in China during Autumn, through a partnership between SEGA and WAHLAP, building on the popularity of the street racer, and supporting the player QR code mode and popular tournament feature. A major competition on the system was held during the show, with big crowd support, and appearances from SEGA executives and producers, along with executives from Toyota.

Sadly, the hopes of the Western market seeing a resurgence in the Initial D property, even though the previous releases have done very well, is unlikely. With no server support for the Western market, licensed IP, or support, now with the new structure, SEGA has separated its amusement presence through a third party. However, strong street racer properties seem to be driving the new amusement mix in the West, and this is one game that has invigorated the market. The home-grown success story of street racer amusement was present on the WAHLAP booth, showing ‘Asphalt 9 Legend Arcade’, in both the new DX motion cockpit version, and the new VR version – soon to be rolled out by LAI Games in the West. 

Several originally-seen releases included ‘Storm Rider 2’ – the deluxe motorbike racer. Along with some other previously-seen amusement and a selection of redemption and prize machines. The booth did have a new top-down two-player action game called ‘Thunderbolt Shot’ – offering a competitive video game that could see Western deployment. WAHLAP is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the operation, along with developing its own amusement pieces in partnership with developer IGS, also manufacturers amusement pieces under contract for most of the large Western amusement corporations – such as SEGA, Raw Thrills, Adrenaline, LAI Games, and BANDAI NAMCO, to name a few. Executives from many of these corporations made the trip. The AAA’23 booth had ‘Minecraft Arcade’ from Raw Thrills on display, as another license being represented in this territory. The WAHLAP operation also runs its own China-based amusement facility operation, including the ‘Funloop Land’ chain, having become an unsung powerhouse in the amusement trade.   

A trend seen on the AAA’23 show floor and across all the amusement manufacturers’ booths, was the deployment of the new “Neon” style of cabinet for prize and redemption machines (especially the new look cranes) – as seen from exhibitors such as DreamFuns Amusement. This is a new modern and clean look, that is permeating the Chinese amusement scene, seen installed in several new style arcades in the territory. It will be interesting to see how quickly this new style of cabinet will be deployed in the Western market, and how their adoption will force operators to update their offerings in the face of looking outdated if they do not.

Another amusement manufacturer on display was Yuto Games – with conventional amusement, VR and AR investments. Along with a selection of redemption pieces, the company showed ‘Tank Superiority’ – a two-player deluxe tank simulator with driver and gunner blasting enemy tanks. The game borrows from an Injoy Motion release called ‘Allied Tank Attack’, seen back in 2013. This was not the only Injoy influence seen in Yuto’s lineup, with the company also exhibiting a racer called ‘Dido Kart 2’. Regarding the AR element, the company showed their version of ‘AR Commando Sniper 3’ – with four players using sniper rifles with scopes, blasting the enemy.  One the side of VR applications, the Yuto booth included the game ‘VR Gatling’ – a headset-based shooter.  

ACE Amusement is a name that has become respected in the Western market, especially through their partnership with UDC in Europe and beyond. The company showed their twin upright shooter, ‘Bullseye Crack Shot’ – the cartoon skill shooter also offers a redemption feature. ACE also has their brand-new video on display, called ‘Air Strike: Warplane’ – a sit-down air combat game. Along with a host of mounted water shooters, and prize redemption pusher machines. ARCCER Amusement was another prominent exhibitor with a selection of amusement, redemption, and prize machines. The big push on the booth was the latest version of their ‘Dance Battle’ system – what they call a “somatosensory dance game machine”. The system uses an illuminated dance stage to track the players’ movements along with the music game. The company also showed their ‘Dance Club 2’ music rhythm game, using the touchscreen interface. 

Another well-known amusement developer at AAA’23 was Tecway, with the company launching several new redemption and amusement pieces, including the appearance of ‘Star Raider’ – a two-player ball launching game, but incorporating a translucent overlay display, adding scoring and game elements to the physical action, in a very eye-catching innovation.

UNIS Technology took a prominent space at the Guangzhou show. A selection of new games included the presentation of ‘Emoji Frenzy’ – the new four-player game was developed in partnership with The emoji Company. The game was reported to have been well received well by attendees. This is the latest game based on the popular brand, following on from last year’s launch of ‘Emoji Party’ and ‘Emoji Roller’. 

Taking place at the same time as AAA’23 was the South Korean PlayX4 – the country’s largest games business trade event. One of the exhibitors was Andamiro and the company had a big development with the public appearance of the much-rumored latest version of the popular dancing stage series. The company showed ‘Pump It Up: Phoenix’ – the latest in the 20th anniversary releases of the game, and a release in a new cabinet. This new cabinet has incorporated the modern trends of the market with LED corner lighting, along with new speakers and subwoofers to, as the marketing stated, “unleash the wall of sound”! Along with this, the cabinet uses a new 55’’ HD 4k display – with the machine featuring an extensive library of music, many of which are popular songs across the series’ history. This was all supported by the PASS card system, logging into the online PIU tournament service.

The Pump It Up (PIU) players community had been ripe with information on the future of the series. Some were pointing to recent internet stories that the music game was about to be returned. Now, with confirmation that the game series is continuing, the only thing left is to hear details of its Western placement. Well-placed sources close to Andamiro USA suggest that it is likely the new version will be getting a summer release in South Korea first, with a US release to follow – offered as a new cabinet, or upgrade to existing units, as a hard-drive or box kit. We have expectations to see the new release on the IAAPA Orlando booth in November.

China Also Reveals VR Dreams

Returning to AAA’23, and VR made a significant impact on the trade floor – as has been seen over the recent years. The AAA Expo was also partnering with the VR/AR Fair (World Metaverse Ecology Expo), held in conjunction – as part of the World Culture & Tourism Industry Expo. For the amusement trade, some of the interesting new virtual reality tech being revealed included the following.

Exhibitors were showing the new investment in VR for the territory, including Movie Power – presenting an extensive lineup including ‘VR Super Agent Simulator’, with the upright kiosk featuring a tethered gun visor system, as seen from other VR kiosks. The system was deployed in a twin kiosks configuration. The company also had the presentation of their ‘Sky Ride’ theater enclosure – with four guests sitting on special motion seats within an enclosure, experiencing a flying theater style VR ride with 5D effects. Also on the booth was their ‘VR Space Ride’, the full 360-degree motion VR simulator motion system. The company promoted their latest 4k created content, offering an upgrade to existing machines in the field. And, along with all the VR, Movie Power presented their 6DoF motion, three-screen display, racing simulation. 

FunInVR Gaming – taking pride of place on their booth was the ‘VR Magic UFO’, a five-seat motion VR simulator with a 360-degree rotational motion envelope. With over ten experiences available for the platform, riders wore DPVR headsets and were blasted by 5D effects during the ride. The smaller, single-rider ‘360-degree VR simulator’ was also presented with its dynamic experience. Also on display was the popular ‘VR Racing Moto’ – a futuristic motorcycle VR game system, with motion and effects while riding the cycle. Along with VR, the company also demonstrated their AR head-mounted display game experience.

Another exhibitor with a lot to show was Empower VR with, at the front, their ‘VR Space Planet’ 12-rider simulator, looking like a giant UFO, along with their six-seater bench ride, ‘VR Flying Theater’. Away from just VR installations, the company also had their ‘Hornet Racing Simulator’, a three-screen motion base racing cockpit. Meanwhile, inside a special enclosure, the company had their ride motion system and large screen theater system. 

Another well-known name in the Chinese virtual reality entertainment scene exhibition was LEKE VR – the company used the event to launch their new VR simulator range, with a six-rider VR motion simulator, an updated version of the ‘LEKE VR Corps Pro’ upright VR kiosk. Also, their ‘LEKE VR X-Space’ free-roaming arena for up-to-six players, and their ‘LEKE VR 360 Cinema’, a two-rider 360-degree motion platform experience. The company is also known for their extensive VR park rollout across the territory, which is being upgraded to the new hardware.

Other new VR developments saw VAR VR reveal their interpretation of the popular upright kiosk tethered gun visor system, with ‘VART VR Shooter’. Another interpretation of the visor and gun combination, with a design for the kiosk to have three players taking part of the game. 

The supporting World Metaverse Ecological Expo event also had presence from the hardware manufacturers, with DPVR taking a booth. The company stated that they are in 85-percent of Chinese manufacturers’ VR seats and amusement systems. They have recently launched their new ‘DPVR E4’ headset with 4K display and enhanced features – examples of which were put through their paces on the booth by attendees. 

Many of the Chinese VR manufacturers are still heavily promoting their “VR Arcade” or “VR Park” opportunities to Chinese retail venues. Mall operators are installing an off-the-shelf ‘VR venue’ comprising a selection of the most popular Chinese-built VR systems. These still ride high on the novelty factor of VR with the audience. 

Regarding the other part of the World Culture & Tourism Industry Expo 2023, and the 2nd Digital Sports Industry Expo (DSIE) was held – launched last year as part of the five-year “Sports Development Plan” promoted by the Guangdong Sports Bureau. This is an important sector for the Chinese government, with expectations that, by 2025, the industry is expected to reach 5 trillion yuan, or $782b (based on research). This saw some new sporting platforms which also included new technology. The main show also included theme park and water park attractions on display and proved a gruelling three days to cover. 

In Conclusion – For those who attended the 19th Amusement & Attractions Expo (AAA), they also ventured across to the 4th Tourist Attraction Equipment Expo (TAEE) and the 2nd Digital Sports Industry Expo (DSIE) – all this and the World Metaverse Ecology Expo/VR/AR Fair & Summit. This was one packed calendar of events, easily surmounting the IAAPA Orlando event in being a marathon on the trade floor, but also an important microcosm of trends shaping international industry. 

It was surprising to see how many Western executives from the amusement trade made the trip to China to attend the event – reflecting the importance of this territory for businesses and manufacturers. Especially so regarding how much certain key fabrication is completed by companies in this small part of the Chinese territory, with Guangzhou representing an epicentre for amusement as well as VR manufacturer and development. The importance of this group of events, for some executives, is surprising considering how little coverage it actually generates (other than our exclusive reporting). 

It will be interesting to see how much of this energy is repeated in June, with IAAPA Asia in Singapore only a matter of weeks in the future. Having these big China shows separated by only 65-days will put the pressure on. Although IAAPA Asia is more focused on the theme park and resort market, AAA does also include many elements of this market. Adding to the confused China scene, the 15th GTI Asia China Expo will be taking place a few days ahead of IAAPA Asia – with all these events forcing some international exhibitors and attendees to toss a coin regarding attendance. 

VR Standardization

Building on the continued investment in VR reflected at the Chinese show, the international sector has been working towards growing its adoption. A need to help this process was reflected by the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA), who’s Executive Vice President attended Amusement 360. Building on its long history of education and sharing information, it was revealed that the formation of the ‘VR AAMA Standardization Sub-Committee’ is formed of seven volunteer committee members, towards sending out a survey to VR operators and developers to collect information from the trade on the issues and pain-points of operating VR hardware. 

This new sub-committee of board members of the AAMA is advised by Bob Cooney, who has been retained for the VR summit work and to assist in crafting the survey to collect actionable data. This is then shared with the membership towards “standardization” of VR hardware and to address those issues. The questionnaire was scheduled to roll out to operators and location owners to supply information for the survey which will need to be completed by June. 

This standardization approach is hoped to build on what was last seen from the AAMA on their standardization of card payment – and even earlier still, the work the AAMA undertook with the adoption of the ‘JAMMA Standard’ that changed the face of the video amusement scene back in 1985. This VR standardization initiative builds on the previous “VR Collective” educational group formed by Bob last year. We will report on the initial findings from this survey when revealed by the association.

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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