In another of his occasional guest features for Arcade Heroes – industry specialist Kevin Williams, takes on a ticklish subject for the industry that of change, and the ramifications it will have on the traditional amusement scene and its future.
As the amusement trade starts to emerge from the hibernation forced on it by the Global Health crisis, there have been questions raised on if the amusement industry can return to its previous business model. The issues of new competition, the impact of discussions on addressing staff minimum wage payment in the States, and the birth of new businesses that steer away from the traditional amusement model, have all come to play.
In avoiding getting too political regarding the minimum wage discussion (we would recommend if interested to see the AAMA’s position on this impact on operator’s wage bills & costs), I will focus on the new business models that are appearing with new investment as the trade* remerges from Lockdown. We’ve coined this process with the hashtag #SpringBack.
Note(*) – Not all amusement operators are able to jump back into operation as new surges in cases in some territories force renewed lockdowns – as seen in Tokyo and across Japan, with amusement centres re-closing under governmental & cultural pressure. This is the spectre of last-minute enforced closure as a new factor in business life.
-New Business Models
It is obvious that the traditional Street Route (arcades as a service) model has been under attack since the late 80’s and its last Golden Era of popularity. The amusement venue has progressed from walls of illuminated coffin-shaped cabinets to a gaming floor mixed with prize machines, videmption, and deluxe amusement/attraction pieces. The latest phase of immersive entertainment is feeding this layout, which takes up far more capital and space than what your typical route demanded.
What we have seen emerge are called “Mixed-Use Leisure Entertainment” (MULE) venues, ranging from the Food-Fun-Drink models of ‘Dave & Busters’, ‘Lucky Strikes’ and ‘Main Event’. Or the new boutique gaming extravaganzas of ‘Two Bit Circus’ and virtual reality emporiums such as ‘VRWORLD’.
Add to this mix the growth of Social Entertainment sites, such as the bowling and amusement chains ‘KINGPIN’, ‘Punch Bowl Social’ and ‘Pinstripes’. As well as the growth of novelty cocktail and gaming sites such as the mini-golf revolution with ‘Puttshack’ and ‘Swingers’. Or the immersive sports and bar sites such as ‘X-Golf’ and ‘Topgolf – Swing Suite’.
Roll into this mix the explosion in interest in ‘Indie Arcades’ – better described as bar taverns with a retro video amusement aesthetic. These have also exploded into their own chain operation such as ‘Kung Fu Saloon’, ’16-Bit Bar’ and ‘Barcade’. The creation of a “Bar-Arcade” fusion has seen this style of adult arcade, gain much interest with many social dining venues adding a pinball or retro-arcade element to their mix.
With this level of interactive entertainment experience available, the growth in social entertainment had grown leading up to the pandemic and is calculated by investors and industry observers to only grow after the ravages of the COVID are addressed. This does not mean there is no home for the traditional amusement venue approach, but it does mean that to stay relevant, the offering must be enhanced. The traditional amusement hardware business approach replaced by a more focused style of business.
We are now at a point where the token is being replaced by “frictionless” payment through smartcards. At the same time, the impacts of COVID have also forced capacity restrictions on entertainment venues, and so reservation systems are being stipulated in certain territories. A benefit in disguise, as it now forces operators to better manage and price their offering.
With that, we see a growth in attraction developers scaling down their systems to be acceptable of the needs of Family Entertainment Center (FEC) business and the new Social Entertainment venues. Manufacturers such as Falcon’s Creative developing social inclusive entertainment experiences using the latest immersive projection technology – as with the launch of their ‘GameSuite’. Likewise, we see immersive projection platforms deployed as standalone venues, such as with ‘Electronic Gamebox’ recently opening in the Grandscape mall, Texas.
The move towards re-populating recently available retail units, and mall locations has proven a driving force in new entertainment investment. As seen at the re-opened ‘AmericanDream’ mall site, they have moved away from retail, seeing the venue comprise an 80% entertainment offering. The “Retail-Apocalypse” has seen mall and property owners turn towards adding an entertainment component. The need to find the right mix essential to stay relevant. In the UAE, major new MULE style hubs have started to grow, also including eSports elements, such as with the plans to open ‘Pixel: Abu Dhabi’.
Many are charting a new “Golden Era” for the location-based entertainment business, come the end of the enforced incarceration of the audience-base. Stir crazy after nearly 12-months of lockdown and isolation from social entertainment of any kind. As seen at the end of the 1918 Pandemic, a period of social exuberance was seen culminating in the “Roaring Twenties”.
The question must be, will it be the traditional amusement industry that benefits from this – or will a new hybrid of the Social Entertainment industry emerge from this, fueled by the continued popularity of all things “Retro Arcade” in popular zeitgeist. The development of new entertainment platforms that steer more towards attraction than traditional amusement. Interesting times lie ahead!
About the Author – Kevin Williams is a widely-respected expert on entertainment and technology. A regular presenter at international conferences, Kevin is also a regular speaker at the Foundation Entertainment University (FEU), a bootcamp for FEC investors. He also holds the role as one of the senior judges of the VR Awards.
Kevin’s consultancy KWP Ltd specialises in helping international clients develop immersive and interactive entertainment. Kevin has recently become Co-Founder and Technology Director for Spider Entertainment, a Global leader in Out of Home Entertainment for retail destinations.
Kevin is editor of the Stinger Report, a-must-read for those working or investing in the amusement, attractions, and entertainment industry. Along with this, he is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market – currently working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.