#1190 – Amazing Attractions Extravaganza! Part 6

For those who attended the show floor, the majority were wedded to their respective booths, or only able to gather a snapshot of trends spread over a handful of booths over the four days of hectic conference, show floor, and partying.

Luckily, The Stinger Report, supported by our affiliates, was able to gather its usual detailed and exclusive rundown of key trends and developments on and off the Orlando trade floor. In this sixth and final part, we conclude looking at the news and developments the show threw up for the industry.

XR Driving the Next Phase

It would be impossible to circumnavigate the IAAPA’23 show floor without being struck with the reality that XR has defined the future of the business. Be it Gamification, Immersive Attractions, or the deployment of VR, the Extreme Reality landscape is driving the latest applications in the attractions, amusement, and waterpark sectors.

It was reflected in the lineup of new trends on the show floor that MR is growing as a trend application across the board. Where VR was the zeitgeist for many years, a growing concern about the revenue viability of increasingly expensive and encumbered virtual headset hardware, is raising questions from operators closely watching their spend in the face of greater financial squeezing and global expenses. The wider application of new tech, such as projection enclosures and mixed environments, are being seen as a new draw with unique appeal.

One of the biggest impacts of the XR age seems to be the utilization of Gamification – both with traditional and new amusement. Gamified go-karting has become a trend charted from Vienna IAAPA-EU’23 to Orlando. At the same time, VR free-roaming arenas have become the latest phase of adoption, although, at the same time, questions are being raised about the encumbrance of these systems with additional charges from licensing fees – with some manufacturers looking to not apply these elements.

Along with Robots and AI – another emerging trend seen on the IAAPA’23 trade floor was the continued growth of the Immersive Enclosure scene, as more and more operators consider the alternative to the VR headset approach of immersion. But it is in the way operators deploy their hardware, especially in times of greater pressures on spending. IAAPA’23 saw more transparency regarding the revenue sharing models being proposed, and the future business of service and support subscription fees. Some observers are looking at the future of independent operators, and distributors in a new light – changes that will be felt more distinctly during the 2024 period.

Saturated VR Arena Scene

There was one obvious realisation for those walking the acreage of IAAPA floorspace, and that is there were numerous exhibitors promoting free-roam VR arena systems. On and off the floor there were examples of systems ranging from multiple four-to-ten and even 16-player enclosure/arena systems. This is a perfusion that grew on the number that was charted at IAAPA-EU’23, just a matter of weeks previously. There was also a growing concern on the viability to generate ROI from VR, including some systems that were saddled with lifetime licenses.

Many operators are now looking at a picture where they are having to upgrade to standalone VR attractions, and need to see proof that their sticker price warrants the return they will generate in a crowded market. It has been revealed that some of these free-roaming arenas are now looking at pure software licensing agreements, leaving the purchase of the hardware to the operator, with hoped for savings – compared to buying the full package. This economy-of-scale has seen prices varying significantly between systems comprising similar hardware.

At the same time, there has been an increase in those VR arena platforms that implement a monthly or yearly licensing fee. Many of these are linked to the inclusion of third-party game content, or a cloud-based operator management feature that need to be active to a live account with subscription fees. Linked to this is an arms race in new VR headset hardware, seeing multiple upgrades and hardware revisions – the operators can be excused for feeling perplexed by the situation, especially if they are to take on the installation and maintenance of their new purchases.

The need to “future-proof” purchases, and to be able to compete with the growing number of LBE VR venues opening in direct competition to standalone VR arenas in entertainment venues, have seen this aspect of the market come under serious pressure. Compared to the claimed “Attendant-Free” VR amusement systems, all VR arena platforms need at least one member of staff – seen as another friction point for some operators. The price of the hardware/software, a possible monthly subscription, and confirmation of a reliable pipeline of strong content, all factor into the purchasing decision. 2024 is looking to be an active year for VR arena business, with expected winners and losers.

Crane Games and Licensing

The IAAPA’23 show floor was also littered with a perfusion of crane machines and prize machines – in particular, the new generation of mini and mid-scale crane machines, borrowing on the popularity of the Asian machines and facility installation. Exhibitors such as Unique Anime, with their crane platforms such as the ’Muki Aries’ and ‘Sugar Rainbow’ series, are defined as toy and boutique systems. Also, Andamiro USA revealed their first modern crane piece with their ‘Crazy Toy 31’ unit. Innovation in the crane game platform was seen from Smart Industries, with their ‘JJ Bot’ concept – employing an actual robotic arm which acts as the crane.

It has been fascinating to see the explosion of new crane game dedicated venues springing up outside Asia and installing in US retail units. These are being seen as harbingers of a new move by audience spending, away from the more convoluted Redemption and Videmption offerings. The simplicity of the crane, and even the capsule machine offering, has resonated with the audience impacted by financial burdens and looking for value for money. The quality and popularity of the prizes and merch available now seem to drive the spend. Some sources even suggest that some operations were offering free machines, supported with pre-loaded merch, emulating a “Vendertainment” model (we will see if this catches on).

The quality of th merch and prizes leans heavily on the use of franchise (IP) branding that must be strong. It is the trend of licensing that also drove the innovation on the IAAPA’23 show floor. Proving licensing is king, and the application of licenses and brands across the theme park, attractions, and amusement landscape has grown in importance from the early 1950s, when attractions were sponsored by prominent franchises, to the point now, when movies, games and brands vie for inclusion in amusement and attractions. IAAPA’23 underlined this on and off the show floor, even. promoting the next phase with the announcement of ‘Mattel Adventure Park’ and the amazing ‘Hot Wheels’ coaster ride vehicles on display.

We are seeing ‘Godzilla’, alongside ‘Monster Trucks’, ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Angry Birds’, and Videmption, based on popular toy brands – all taking their turn. It was interesting to see, on several booths, some developers fighting over the same properties. While across the Orlando area, the Walt Disney Company revealed the latest movie tie-in with the announcement of a new ‘Avatar’ experience in development, building on the already opened themed gate (Pandora: The World of Avatar’ – 2017) with attraction (‘Avatar: Flight of Passage’) – all preparing to ride on the back of the successful movie property and coming sequels. As we covered previously, the movie industry is turning to video games for IP to incorporate while, at the same time, the theme park industry expands its movie links.

The State of Play

The 105th anniversary of the amusement, attractions and entertainment extravaganza in Orlando that is IAAPA Expo, seems the perfect point of reflection as the dust settles on a record-breaking year, if not the November exposition.

Key factors have impacted the entertainment trade across the scene in recent months and years – from the Global Health Crisis, the cost-of-living crisis, and raising global concerns in the financial markets over Eastern-European and Middle East hostilities. Through all this, the entertainment operation sector has seen increased attendance across regional and mid-scale venues, while some selected larger international resorts have seen record attendance – and some have not. The reality is also that major investment in growing chains has seen the growth of brands and, as stated, M&A moves.

Looking towards the 106th IAAPA Expo, and the 2024 market in general, world developments and political/election upheavals aside, 2024 is also an Olympic year – with all the impacts and changes in consumer spending and time allocations this normally brings. Greater impacts on consumer spending will also be felt, especially if ramifications of cost-of-living and greater financial impacts come to pass. What we can expect is a greater investment in new phases of entertainment business, as seen with the growth in “Social Entertainment”, the continued implementation of “Interactive Digital” in attractions and parks, and the growing dominance of “Immersive” across all aspects of the Out-of-Home Entertainment offering. Add to this deployment of AI and Machine Learning into the mix, and we can be sure to be ready for another wild ride in the sector.

Finally, with the end of IAAPA 2023, we now run to the end of the year. With the organizers confirming November 18-22, 2024 dates. But not all was over for the scene, as a matter of days after the attractions extravaganza in Orlando, the OCCC hosted I/ITSEC – the military and commercial simulation extravaganza that saw some IAAPA exhibitors take part. Meanwhile, in the UK, we also saw the Family Attraction Expo – offering a leisure and entertainment event for the sector.

Jumping forward to the end of the month and MAPIC, in Frace, is expecting to attract some 6,000 retail, property, and mall professionals, including influential presentations in their conference lineup, including Netflix Live Experience director, and other entertainment space developers for the retail landscape, through their LeisurUp element. While on the show floor, new tech will include DIVR Labs presenting a pop-up arena of their VR free-roam adventure platform. Along with Valo Motion promoting their new ‘ValoPark’ concept. And the show season is expected to end with Digital Signage Experience Expo (DSE) in Las Vegas – any developments from these events will be covered in following reports.

2024 is shaping up to be a momentous year for the Out-of-Home Entertainment landscape. And the IAAPA organization may have one last surprise to add to that – as on the IAAPA’23 show floor, speculation was rife that the trade organizers were in the process of considering a Middle East (UAE) event to go alongside the US, Asian, and European gatherings – we wait for further details.

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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