#1202 – Thirty Years of Sting!

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This marks an important point in the history of our news and views service. A momentous period of some thirty years covering developments in the digital Out-of-Home Entertainment landscape, as well as being instrumental in offering observations that have, in their way, shaped these developments. We now look at this landmark in the service’s progression.

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of The Stinger Report

The very idea that The Stinger Report would be celebrating over 1,200 issues, let alone 30 years of supplying near-weekly coverage of the Immersive Out-of-Home Entertainment international scene, is a pause for reflection. The Stinger started as an answer to, at the time, draconian editing of trade articles for the then-popular amusement trade publications – it is now sobering to consider that the report has outlived most of these very publications.

In 1994, it was the creation of, first a faxed, then emailed observation resource, on developments and trends in the amusement, attraction, and entertainment landscape. Grown from a hobby into a resource that many have come to depend on. A first to become an email newsletter style format, a first to focus on observation rather than advertorial coverage. And the first to chart many of the trends we take for granted. Revealing terms commonly used today such as “Videmption”, “CineTainment”, “Xergaming” and “Vendortainment” to name a few. Attempting to define the terminology used by an industry about new trends and aspects that have not been properly defined. Most recently, we have been one of the first to report on the impact which “Machine Learning” and “Generative Artificial Intelligence” (GenAI) will have on the entertainment sector, while the rest of the trade is oblivious to the approaching tsunami.

This has been carried on with the explosion in social media, and our reporting on these platforms. The Stinger Report has created trending hashtags such as our #TrendWatch and the #RobotsareComing tags, as well as the nostalgic #BlastfromthePast. All these are carrying on The Stinger’s drive towards charting trends and connecting the elements that established this industry as one of the most innovative, even if it is still gripped by those in positions that still find it difficult to understand the true potential of the sector. The birthplace of the videogame industry, the video amusement industry seems to have been trapped in a spiral of confusion, unable to grasp the opportunity. A danger that the walled garden some have built around the industry will strangle it, only allowing others to drive the future.

Charting “Thirty Years of Sting”, we must be reflective of how much the media landscape has changed reporting on the burgeoning   amusement and entertainment arena. At the time of the start of The Stinger in 1994, it was the gathering together of a loose affiliation of likeminded executives in the amusement development scene – sharing information that was felt to be kept from the industry. Fighting against “Gatekeepers” exploiting their positions over others in the business. As an occasional feature writer on the subject, it was the inability from the then trade magazines to write without censorship and the influence of advertisers that forced the hand towards creating an independent resource of coverage. Not breaking corporate confidences but covering, honestly, the scope of the sector – so all could benefit, not just a few.

From the original name of “The Watercooler Report” to “The Stinger Report”, from the laborious paper faxing to the electronic and then electronical mail dissemination. Surpassing some 20,000 subscribers and then being syndicated by other media, have all come as major milestones in what is still an independent observation channel. Started at a time when video amusement and CGi development was redefining the industry; with smash hits and technical tour de forces like SEGA’s ‘Daytona USA’. The Stinger worked hard to define the trends. Even now, as we enter the latest chapter in the service’s history, with the partnership with the LBX Collective, the impartial and observational style of The Stinger Report continues unabashed.

This new chapter sees a new phase of investment – with the new Stinger Report web page on the LBX Collective portal, a growing subscription, and we also see the report get a dedicated audio version for those that want to listen to the service on-the-go. We have also uploaded the archive for the report from the last four years (a first in this sector) – with plans for a complete archive going back as far as possible, giving an exclusive “searchable” snapshot of the immersive entertainment landscape. The LBX Collective has major plans in this sector, along with the weekly “Sound Off” podcast offering a chance for frank observation on issues shaping the LBE scene.

We are thankful to the collective – which has recently invested in acquiring the Birthday University and the Experience Academy educational events, to help educate the future industry leaders and entrepreneurs (expect news on planned sessions for these coming events). Also, Stinger Report friend Arcade Heroes has signed on to also support the LBX initiative to grow information interchange in the industry. Regarding these efforts, expect some surprise returns of features from The Stinger Report’s past, such as a return of our well respect “Industry Awards”.

How the amusement and attraction industry sources its information has seen fundamental changes over these last thirty years. When we first started to fax out our early copies of The Stinger Report, back in the 90s, the trade media landscape represented the only source of information. The amusement trade at that time had numerous media outlets, magazines avidly sourced by industry professionals internationally. From Amusement Business, Amusement Europe, EuroSlot, Play Meter, Coinop Review, Amusement Journal, Cash Box, Coinop Journal, and others. What seems to have superseded many of these periodicals is the rise and rise of the internet. What some in the traditional amusement trade saw as a fad, or “flash in the pan”, that would never replace printed media – much of the amusement and attraction trade receives their information nowadays exclusively from online services.

A reflection from the long history of The Stinger Report, reminds us of the backlash received when we moved from a printed fax circulated service to an electronic fax, and then email circulated service. How certain (long departed) members of the industry complained that we had unfettered access to their membership through circulating an email, and that the internet should be “limited” regarding access members of the trade had to information. Luckily, these draconian views were expunged, and outdated attempts at information control have been addressed by more cooler heads – but there still is an issue of how information is shared. We are happy that the service has continued to offer its unique observational coverage of the trends and developments in the sector, but it is obvious that conventional access media is finding the current market a difficult one to navigate.

Slow Death of Consumer Media?

The longevity of The Stinger Report is even more interesting in the face of upheavals in the way the markets currently consume their news and views. An example of the death of traditional media in this sector has seen the disappearance of numerous print publications, most recently seeing Play Meter shutter after 44-years. We also saw the shuttering of Tourist Attractions and Parks, along with numerous web news services suspending operation – age and conditions of the market playing their part. That is just the amusement trade in the West, not including the Japanese amusement publications shuttered or those in other territories, as the industry moved away from traditional news services.

In the B2C (consumer videogame) sector, the media scene has been hit by the “Media Apocalypse”, with major online news resources for the consumer sector shedding jobs and closing. Most recently we have seen Vice Media announce they will lay off over a hundred of their staff and suspend publishing content on their website, restructuring for a possible sale of the business. This follows on from news that online media service Buzzfeed would also be cutting jobs within their operation. Many of the online consumer entertainment media services depend on investor capital to operate their business, but the cold hard reality of offering a service that advertisers and consumers were willing to support has come home during the current climate. Last year would see a total of some 19,000 media job positions axed from services such as Vox Media, Gannett, and The Washington Post. And further rounds of layoffs are expected to be announced later in the year from other prominent access media services.

The end of an era for the first phase of digital online media has been charted by momentous upheavals and restructuring of business operations. It was announced that Warner Bros. Discovery will be restructuring its business Rooster Teeth, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Discovery Global Streaming & Interactive Entertainment. This will see the ceasing of key operations with over 150 job losses. The media entertainment business includes movie, podcast, and comedy series. The Rooster Teeth operation has gone through a series of owners, with this latest closure marking an end to a tempestuous period of investment and decline. Another consumer media service seeing disastrous conditions is Kotaku, having seen numerous staff layoffs, and with many reporting that the service had been the maker of its own demise, as it favored an adversarial (hit-piece) approach to videogame reporting.

Other B2C news services were impacted with the news that online giant Google would be laying off, in March, additional editorial staffers. This in addition to the 1,000 let go at the end of 2023. This followed the abandonment of a partnership with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to develop a video channel to compete with indie YouTubers. This news was supported by the announcement that WSJ was intending to lay off, from their video and social media side of business, some 11 staffers, following a February 25 layoff of newsroom and editorial staffers. Concerns were voiced that a number of these services were laying off staff but were now pivoting to using AI-created editorial services, as reflected in complaints regarding several clearly generated features published online, that were hastily removed when outed.

Future of Information Circulation

How people consume and obtain their news has been fundamentally changed by the rise and dominance of social media. And with that, 2024 has started to see the change in the way that these online news media services have been promoted and supported. The impact of layoffs across traditional access media, and their respective online platforms, has also been impacted by changes generally in the way that independent online news and views sites have been throttled.

Stated to address the rise in bot and AI generated sites, and news services that regurgitate other resources news (scraping content), the likes of Google have implemented policies to address how their search engine promotes independent media sites. At the same time, Meta has changed the way their ecosystem works, mirroring what has been seen with X (previously known as Twitter) and YouTube – as their social services manage their traffic. Bloggers are seeing a sudden drop in traffic as the new AI-powered Google search engines change their experience – March saw a major drop off, with search results not being sent to these sites. These moves will have a knock-on effect, also, to how the trade receives their news with the changes in search results. Yet another example of the impact of AI on our daily lives.

The explosion in deployment of what are usually referred to as “Generative AI” or “General AI” applications (now called “GenAI”) can be seen in the way that new search engine tools supply AI-based observations on the search terms entered. This has had its own impact on the information searched for and how many individuals get their industry and social information. That these “Large Language Model” (LLM) search tools are “stripping” existing media for their information has proven a bone of contention – and several test case legal battles are being organized regarding how these smart search engines generate their results, noting the need for proper accountability and recompense for the usage of other people’s copyrighted work.

Many in our industry now gain most of their information from social media, supplying much of their information from Facebook and, specifically, specialist Facebook forums. This is also mirrored by those who use LinkedIn, or even some who are members of specialist Reddit forums. The danger of these uncountable forums has been seen in recent years, acting like “Chinese Whispers” in spreading incorrect information, or being less objective than claimed. At least one forum was found to be an undeclared sales portal for a company promoting only their own beneficial information to promote their product lines and services. Pressure to control social media that could have its information manipulated has been seen in the US Government war on the platform TikTok – legislation passed to see the sale of the Chinese-owned social media corporation in the next nine months, alongside ongoing legal ramifications.

Likewise, in the commercial entertainment and attractions scene, there have been complaints that the remaining trade media is being impacted by the inclusion of undeclared “Advertorial” (paid-for editorial promoting a company and their services and products). Along with this, the concern of “Press Release Bashing” – where media services only reprint press releases, with no objective observation on the information being circulated, exacerbated using bots. Editorials being replaced for just reprinted promotional material. Important developments in the trade left to those “Chinese Whispers”.

In conclusion, we would like to thank all our supporters, advertisers, and sponsors for their involvement with The Stinger Report over these thirty years. We look forward to revealing our forthcoming report and further informing our readership of the next developments in the service, and our plans to continue supporting what we see as a vibrant and exciting aspect of the entertainment landscape.

About the author

Brandon Willey

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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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