#1172 – Entertainment’s Summer Extravaganza – Part 1

Now into summer and we start to see the developments in the industry. Back-to-back trade events have defined the latest trends in the industry and beyond. In this comprehensive, two-part report, we now look at the key events that filled the last few months. We look first at the branding and licensing landscape, and then at the Asian event for attractions.

Crowded LBE and Attractions Scene

The ability to cover all the developments across the international scene has been a Herculean task. There has been a massive selection of events over May, June and July, which have charted developments and new investments in the Out-of-Home Entertainment sector, and the new off-shoots in the market. We now give a snapshot of those events and the developments. 

The end of May saw the Global Gaming Expo Asia 2023 in Singapore, in a venue that would be visited again by the attractions industry in a couple of weeks’ time. June started off with Augmented World Expo (AWE), the show in Santa Clara, May 31 to June 2, which we covered in our exclusive report recently. 

Branding and Properties

Further into the month, we had the Licensing Expo (LE’23) in Las Vegas, during June 13-15. This year’s event added a special focus to its lineup, with sessions focused on Location-Based Entertainment Branding, building on the rollout of the theme last year. LE’23 saw 12,000 attendees, marking an increase on the 2022 event, with the 2023 event attracting some 5,000 brands to exhibit. Several of the big brands looking to the LBE scene include the likes of Hasbro – the toy brand has also diversified into movies and LBE development based on its IP. 

The turbulent nature of the market was revealed after the show, when it was announced that Hasbro would be laying off 20-percent of the staff from its film production division Entertainment One (eOne). This is part of some 1,000 job cuts across the corporation, following a drop in revenue reported. Hasbro has now looked to consolidate its position and redefine its focus, with moves into LBE. At the same time, it is planning to sell off its eOne operation, which has worked with Paramount on big spectaculars based on its IP, most notably with the robot franchise that sees the latest film, ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’, released in cinemas soon. Media speculation indicates that Lionsgate would be the most likely suitor for the film production operation.

The movie IP sector has seen its own shakeups. It was revealed after LE’23 that Warner Bros. Discovery was in final negotiations to sell off more than half of its storied films, music, and television assets for some $500m (as revealed by Hits media). In what is one of the most far-reaching sales of properties across the entertainment sector, Warner studios and assets shared with Universal are reported to be involved – although there is no confirmation at this time who the possible purchaser of these assets would be. This deal will include properties owned and operated by HBO, TNT, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery, and Quest, to just name a few. Many observers feel this could be the beginning of such developments from other studios, as the reality of current financial conditions hits home. 

Licensed videogame content was the crux of the LE’23 show – the importance of gaming to draw an audience was seen directly on the show floor from Nintendo and their latest big push on properties ‘Zelda’, and with ‘Pokémon’. Close behind was SEGA and ‘Sonic!’, as well as properties from Atlus and BANDAI NAMCO. Meanwhile, KONAMI was promoting its IP to the Las Vegas attendees with ‘Frogger’ and ‘Bomberman’. Videogame studios are pushing their game IP across the board, with other exhibitors including Riot Games with ‘League of Legends’.

The shakeup in the consumer entertainment market has been under the shadow of the Microsoft Activision ongoing completion of governmental scrutiny, regarding the acquisition. Filings from the moves by Microsoft towards their acquisition also confirmed industry speculation that the Redmond corporation had been considering acquiring SEGA, with tentative feelers sent out, but with the move eventually abandoned.

Likewise, restructuring of the videogame publishers has been evident after, earlier in the year, the “Tech Job Apocalypse” saw major layoffs. It was reported that Electronic Arts (EA) had undergone a major restructuring (realignment) of its own two distinctive divisions with EA Entertainment and EA Sports, consolidating their efforts and large range of popular IP, and restructuring their individual management.

It may be missed by some in the trade, but IP and branded properties have become one of the important elements of the amusement scene. Most recently we have seen this from SEGA Amusement International (SAI) with the success of ‘Bop It! Arcade’, based on the Hasbro toy. Also, we see Andimaro USA showing their basketball-themed arcade game, ‘Tic Shaq Toe’, based on Kartoon Channel’s “Shaq’s Garage”; and LAI Games presenting their new ‘Rick & Morty’ property.

After a record LE’23, the organizers were keen to look forward to next year’s show that will be taking place on May 21-23, 2024. Continuing this year, the importance of the branding and IP will be reflected in October at the London Brand Licensing Expo – which also plans a 2023 theme of Location-Based Entertainment, with a pavilion and keynote presentations. 

Defining The New Landscape

Jump forward a few days and InfoCom (IC’23) took place in Orlando, during the 14-16. The event is the pivotal international audio video (AV) trade gathering. The IC’23 event saw an attendance of some 29,325 industry professionals, a new high for the event champion provisional AV, with attendance visiting to see 700 exhibitors. This new high proved a happy surprise for organizers and exhibitors and was reflected by a spate of innovations in the Virtual Production, Projection and LED Screens sectors. Much of the innovation on display included investment in virtual studios and immersive screen technology – elements that will be reflected again in Orlando in November during IAAPA’23 (we will go into more detail closer to that event). 

The Asian wing of this trade event was held with IAAPA Expo Asia 2023 (IAAPA-APAC’23), in Singapore, during June 14-26. The Asia-Pacific region (APAC) for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) is an important sector that has been underrepresented as the privations of the continued elements of COVID impacted the territory. IAAPA-APAC’23 marked a strong return to the area, including Singapore and Malaysia. The return to the Chinese amusement theme park format for IAAPA was the first since the last holding of the Asian event in 2019. The 2023 show saw one of the biggest IAAPA Asia events of recent times – with a positivity to get the industry back on track. The show saw some 280 exhibitors at the Singapore Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre – welcoming some 5,330-registered attendees.

The opening days of the conventions saw an IAAPA-APAC visit by delegates to Universal Studios Singapore, which opened in 2011, comprising some 24-attractions and rides for an opening reception, followed by a spectacular dark light musical opening ceremony for the event. The exhibition floor was abuzz with booths from HOLOVIS, cementing their presence in this territory. TRIOTECH was promoting its partnership with BoldMove Nation on the ‘Smash & Reload’ attraction opened in Europe – the new interactive dark ride. The company also announced their ‘Transformer’ IP-based attraction for the MENA market, working with SEVEN – working on an interactive dark ride ‘PUBG: Battlegrounds’, comprising a three-in-one multisensory attraction, with an interactive adventure as a walkthrough experience. The booth also showcased to the Asian attendees the ‘STORM’ and the ‘QUBE’ platforms. 

Moving around the show floor, and DOF Robotics demonstrated their popular ‘Hurricane 360’ – the VR dynamic ride attraction for four-riders, offering a 360 degree 7-DOF motion experience. DOF revealed the latest VR movie for the system, ‘Homeland: Rise of Nomad’, while also promoting their ‘Mission Space’ digital park. Licensing and IP brands continue to play a vital aspect in the attractions landscape – following on from what had been seen at LE’23. Exhibiting at APAC’23, Katapult represented animated movie studio Aardman Animation, with their concept ‘The World of Aardman’. 

In another example of heavy IP branding, this time from the evergreen videogame sector, IAAPA-APAC’23 exhibitor Sally Dark Ride was celebrating the immanent opening of their ‘Uncharted’ dark ride, developed in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment – and based on the popular console release, that also saw its recent debut on the big screen in 2022 (which is the focus of the attraction). It is soon to open at ‘PortAventura World’ in Spain, as a world’s first dark ride roller coaster, developed in collaboration with Intamin for this $26m attraction. It was revealed that this is one of the first immersive dark rides to include dedicated disabled and accredited person accessibility, with a special VR experience created for wheelchair and other accessibility restricted guests to use to enjoy the experience (using a vibrating platform and Meta Quest 2 headset, separate of the ride). 

During IAAPA-APAC’23, attractions such as 4D theaters and flying theaters were represented from several exhibitors, including Simtech Systems promoting their latest flying theater technology. The need to populate these attractions was evident from exhibitors such as TheJuice and Red Raion. Chinese manufacturer Dinfone Culture took a booth at the show, running their attraction ‘Dinfone Warrior’ – a six-rider vehicle moved players into a 4D screen enclosure, where they could get a demonstration of the capabilities of the company’s ‘Naked-Eye 3D’ giant arc-screen theatre, 6DoF motion experience.

Another Chinese manufacturer was EPARK Electronic Technology, showing their latest air hockey table. Meanwhile another exhibitor showed an air hockey system comprising all the new elements of strong curb appeal from its illumination, and a strong social entertainment appeal with a new game style. Deployment of VR into the theme park and resort business was represented on numerous booths – application of VR in waterparks and pool-based deployment was seen from Ballast VR, with the company revealing their new ‘DIVR’ immersive underwater VR snorkelling adventure, ‘Play – Time Racer’, offering the Asian region the unique aquatic virtual reality experiences already installed in 45 locations.   

Regarding VR attractions, it was revealed by exhibitor Brogent that they would be installing their unique VR ride attraction at Siloso Beach on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, being close to the location of the convention, and part of the top destination of the area, attracting nearly 19 million annual visitors. The new attraction will be part of the AirCombat experience operated on the island. The experience is based on the same fighterjet VR experience we reported on during IAAPA’22.

At IAAPA-APAC’23, VR in amusement was on display from the likes of UNIS Technology (Hong Kong division), bringing ‘Sailor’s Quest VR’ to the show, while LAI Games also had their evergreen ‘Virtual Rabbid’s Ultra HD’ on show. In the IAAPA-APAC’23 Chinese pavilions, we saw several VR platforms repeating what we reported on from our AAA’23 coverage from our Guangzhou contingent. FuninVR attended IAAPA-APAC’23 with their VR motorcycle platform (‘VR Racing Moto’) and their two-rider VR simulator (‘VR Battleship’). Yuto Games also had their upright VR kiosk, with the integrated gun and headset tethered system.  Movie Power was also exhibiting their range of new VR.

HOLOGATE made the trip to the Singapore event to present their new ‘HOLOGATE Arena’ with the Ghostbusters property. Speaking of Ghostbusters, it was announced that another immersive entertainment manufacturer had partnered with Columbia Pictures Location Based Entertainment (and Sony Pictures Entertainment) – with Immersive Gamebox announcing ‘Ghostbusters: The Cursed Collection’, the latest IP license to be added to their immersive enclosure experiences (along with ‘Squid Games’, ‘Paw Patrol’, and ‘Angry Birds’). Immersive Gamebox was exhibiting at the IAAPA-APAC’23 event for the first time promoting their system. 

Another example of an Immersive Enclosure was revealed from exhibitor Attraktion! who presented their new content with ‘PlaNeo’ and with their license of the ‘Angry Birds’ IP – a tracked enclosure game based on the hugely popular Rovio property. The company was offering a selection of content, not supported by this licensed property. Rovio was in the news following their acquisition by SEGA, in another example of how important IP is for the retention of future audiences. Innovation in technology application for the attraction and resort management teams was also reflected on the IAAPA-APAC’23 show floor. Frictionless payment was seen across the show with a slew of smart card and mobile app providers, such as EMBED, accessor, Intercard, Sacoa and Semnox. While facility management and marketing needs were reflected from developer ROLLER and others.

Mirroring the time of change being witnessed in the Asian amusement and attraction scene, the trade association surprised many with the new dates for next year’s event. It was announced to selected sponsors that IAAPA Asia 2024 would be taking place in May 27-30, at the Bangkok, Thailand convention center – this following on from the 2022 IAAPA APAC Summit held in the country. And it is expected that a lot will have changed in the APAC region by the time of next year’s show! IAAPA Asia 2023 clearly reflected a reinvigorated amusement and attractions scene in this territory, although there was much to consider regarding how the Asian market was attempting to bounce back, and their influence would be the same on the international 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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