Apologies for the various issues plaguing the site over the past few weeks. While my hosting service has been quick to fix them when I alert them to it, it’s also not something that should be happening. I had to bite the bullet and pay for upgraded hosting services but the jump was quite a significant expense. At least the site should then be running like a dream, but that will take a few days to get set up. Hopefully the site holds until then, especially where tomorrow is our 15th anniversary.
Anyways, I’ve been a little out of it this week due to a car accident that left me with a minor concussion – no one else was hurt, and I’m alive and walking, so those are pluses. Big thanks to all those who have reached out to check on me – that’s really appreciated. To recover, I’ve been trying to limit my screen time and give my brain a rest. Fortunately, Kevin Williams sent this article along earlier this week, delving into Nintendo’s recent interest in amusement and the world of Out-of-Home Entertainment, which has also led others to jump into the same space. I’ll let him take it from here:
Nintendo and Others Return to Out-of-Home Entertainment!
The corporation revealed that it intended to spend some $2.7b on establishing a new stream of revenue through its investment into the theme park business and new Nintendo entertainment stores. While consumer brand watchers may be surprised by this entry into Out-of-Home entertainment, the reality is that Nintendo has been continuously investing in this business even before their partnership with Universal Parks, and the development of the now hugely popular Super Nintendo World properties. Nintendo’s November publication of the corporation’s second-quarter Financial Reports and Corporate Management Policy Briefing was heavily scrutinized by investors and media alike. The reporting of a very successful global consumer game and marketing brand with influential Intellectual Properties (IP), all helmed by one of the most recognized corporate mascots, (as we touched upon in a recent feature on Mario) will always generate discussion both good and bad. Much media scrutiny was focused on the plans for the currently untitled Super Mario film, but there was one line item in the report that took many by surprise.
A Brief Backstory
Already experienced in the toy and board game market, Nintendo expanded its reach into the amusement scene in 1973. This first entry would not be with a conventional arcade game, but with what would be called an amusement attraction [pictured below]. However, it was not until the phenomenal success achieved with their 12th mainstream video amusement release (Donkey Kong) that the corporation started to see the full value of the video game opportunity and created the edifice that we see today, although much of that focused on consumer products as opposed to amusement ones. The company also found success with their NES-based PlayChoice hardware, but after failing to recreate that with the SNES-based Nintendo Super System in 1991, they were more than happy to focus a majority of their resources on the vast consumer video game empire that had been built upon the back of the NES/Famicom.
The executive team of Nintendo has always kept their gaze on all aspects of entertainment towards maximizing their presence, which did result in other interesting developments in the 1990s, although they were typically handled by partners rather than developed and manufactured by Nintendo themselves. These included a partnership with Midway that resulted in the Ultra 64 marketing campaign on the Cruis’n USA and Killer Instinct games to the use of the Nintendo 64 hardware in certain arcade machines by Seta. Later when the Gamecube console was on the market, that became the foundation for another arcade platform called the Triforce, designed in conjunction with Sega and Namco to power some arcade titles including their F-Zero racing game.
Nintendo has seen how lucrative these partnerships have been over the years, understanding that there is a wider vista of opportunity for one of the largest video game and toy brands in the world, and recently the corporation has once again started to flex its muscles in these waters, resulting in new amusement, attraction, and even gaming (gambling) products, to be developed based on the Nintendo library of properties.
Among the several successes created within this scene has been the immensely popular Mario Kart Arcade GP series, developed in a partnership with Bandai Namco Amusements and currently enjoying its third iteration. Nintendo has also collaborated with their former rivals at Sega a number of times, from Luigi’s Mansion Arcade to the more recent Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series. Maybe not as noticeable, but still a strong revenue stream, is also the prizes and merchandising products based on the Nintendo catalogue, items that populate prize-centers, and crane machines across the Globe.
Here’s one game that never saw the light of day, harnessing the Mario Party IP in partnership with Capcom and Raw Thrills. This was based upon a medal game that Capcom released in Japan.
What Has the Company Been Up to?
Obviously, Nintendo has focused most of its investment on the development and continued success of its consumer video game operation. The fruits of this effort have seen their latest console generation, the Nintendo Switch, first launched in 2017, achieving sales of some 90m units globally, just four years later. This accomplishment recently achieved the accolade from some observers of being the most successful game console of all time. But always with an eye to the future, the corporation has also continued to look further afield.
The signing in 2015 of an exclusive agreement with Universal Parks and Resorts to jointly bring Nintendo game properties to life in Universal parks across the globe, was seen as a major development by the corporation. Some skeptics questioned if this could be achieved, questioning if this was nothing more than just a clever marketing partnership. Those critics would be silenced with the opening of the first ‘Super Nintendo World’ site in Tokyo (with a $578 million development spend). Part of the Universal Studio resort, the Nintendo-inspired location included bespoke attractions based upon the Mario game universe and a level of engagement through Gamification that raised the bar for other theme parks to follow.
Activities had been impacted by the Global Health crisis, but interest in the Nintendo-inspired world was so great that audiences soon flocked back to experience the wonders for themselves. One of the most innovative elements of the park is the deployment of ‘Power Up Bands’. Unique wristbands with RFID that are paired with the guest’s smartphone app to allow them to collect points and virtual items and unlock hidden elements of the physical park. The first serious application of Gamification into the theme park mix, and one that has cross-platform opportunities down the road.
Universal Parks is accelerating plans to have open their first US interpretation of the Super Nintendo World gates at their Universal Studios Hollywood, California, and then at the new Epic Universe theme park in Orlando, (all these given a tentative 2023 schedule). It was revealed that Universal and Nintendo propose multiple lands added to the basic layout – already in Japan work has started on the Donkey Kong Land, with a new roller coaster at the site. Universal has also reportedly been looking at their other resort plans incorporating elements of the Nintendo magic.
But it is this proof of concept that has galvanized Nintendo’s plans for a physical presence in the retail and entertainment scene. Before the opening of the theme park, the corporation had already opened the ‘Nintendo NY’ store in 2005. Previously known as ‘Nintendo World’, the 10,000-sq.ft., facility in Manhattan, New York had established the brand as capable of driving a retail and entertainment store offering. This was followed in 2019 with the Nintendo Tokyo store. These flagship venues will be instrumental in the approach taken in driving the announcement of new facility-based investment by the corporation.
While this does not mean Nintendo will be opening their own themed “arcades” anytime soon, the news does not rule out that plans for smaller versions of the theme park experiences, and even amusement attractions, will now be developed, going full circle on their 1973 history. New investments employing immersive technology and innovative Gamification playing major roles in the designs are presently being considered, which includes a serious investment into what has been dubbed “Retailtainment” by the industry (the marriage of retail with entertainment environments). All this building on the Nintendo NY stores tagline which proclaims, “Where Everyone Comes to Play!”
Everyone’s Doing it!
This is not the only major entertainment brand property from the movie, consumer game, and toy industry to turn their gaze to a physical presence away from the screens. Part of what has been trailed by talk of the “Metaverse” – we have seen movie powerhouse Lionsgate opening their own theme park, we have seen Netflix opening a number of branded entertainment attractions (such as the popular traveling Army of the Dead: Viva Vengeance VR attraction), and we have seen Hasbro and Mattel opening entertainment venues based around their properties, such as London’s ‘Monopoly Lifesize’ experience. These are all investments that have opened the opportunity of what some call “Retail-tainment” venues.
Other video game publishers have also started to pivot towards establishing a venue and Out-of-Home entertainment presence. Most notably UBISOFT, one of the leading international game publishers and developers has seen their properties enter the commercial entertainment scene and have even created dedicated divisions to establish a presence in the entertainment facility sector. One of the most successful VR amusement pieces has been the Virtual Rabbid’s: The Big Ride – while UBISOFT Escape Games division has been releasing location-based entertainment (LBE) VR escape games based on popular properties from the company, such as Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time.
And just as this feature was being completed news broke of a major investment by UBISOFT into the location-based entertainment (LBE) landscape was revealed. The company announced during IAAPA, that they had partnered with Storyland Studios to develop what was being called ‘Ubisoft Experience Centers’ – and that 2025 would see the first opening of these sites in France. Facilities that would combine fully interactive worlds based on the corporation’s IP and characters, employing gamification to deepen the customer experience. UBISOFT would also confirm that they were working on a large-scale project that would see the development of a ‘Ubisoft Theme Park’ – another company clearly inspired by the moves and success of Nintendo.
Industry observers expect to see Nintendo joined by other operations in the growing physical store business, the “metamorphosis of digital into physical” defining interest in the metaverse. This would become more a showroom for the brand, that can also offer a secondary business through the offering of an entertainment component. Flagship venues have been seen from apparel corporation Nikki and beverage company Guinness that include such a blend of shopping and interactive fun. Taken to its extreme, we have the example of the 86,000-sq.,m., ‘Ferrari Land’, a profitable homage to the automotive brand.
One of the largest presences in the physical entertainment space by a toy and video game brand has been seen from Lego. The company is known for its theme park resorts across the globe as well as their investment in their over 30 ‘Legoland Discovery Center’ business. These venues incorporate high-end retail with mini-attractions, showing how retail can compete with online shopping through the use of dynamic experiences. This presence by Lego in the themed entertainment landscape is about to grow, and it is this kind of competition that is influencing much of the new investment in this area of the business.
The presence of big IP in arcades may now be superseded by a dedicated presence in the towns and cities, and Nintendo continues its innovation to bring entertainment to a global audience.
About the Author – Kevin Williams is a widely-respected specialist in entertainment and technology. A regular presenter at international conferences, Kevin is also a regular speaker at the Foundations Entertainment University (FEU) and the Amusement360 events, boot camps for LBE and FEC investors. He also holds the role of one of the senior judges of the VR Awards.
Kevin’s consultancy KWP Ltd specializes in helping international clients develop immersive and interactive entertainment. Kevin has recently become Co-Owner and Technology Director for Spider Entertainment, a Global leader in Out of Home Entertainment for retail destinations and beyond. Along with advisory positions with other entrants into the market.
Kevin is the publisher 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, while 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.