Japan Amusement Expo Recap

arcadehero November 25, 2023 3

Changes have greatly affected the Japanese amusement scene since the pandemic, which includes the changing up of dates and formats to amusement trade events. The Japan Amusement Expo (JAEPO for short) has generally taken place in February since 2013; and has always been covered as such on here.

However, after all of the disarray in those pandemic years (which ultimately saw it cancelled not just once but twice), the powers that be at JAIA (the Japan Amusement Industry Association) have decided to start a reformat of their event as certain companies begin to recover – rebranding it to simply ‘Amusement Expo’, changing location from the famous Makuhari Messe to the equally-recognizable Tokyo Big Sight venue, and moving it up a few months this year.

The main point of all this is, from the sounds of things, to focus more on the domestic public attendees than businesses and international visitors. For us, this is most prominently seen in its scheduling right after IAAPA… which has meant that numerous overseas visitors and companies have not been able to come, including myself. Fortunately, the Japanese game media and attendees responsible for many of the photos here have been happy to cover the event still.

Speaking of IAAPA, I’m still working on posts & videos for that, so come back later for more in that regard.

Before we jump in with this recap of the event, however, a brief disclaimer about sales:

Why Some Games Stick To Asia

“Why isn’t my favorite game being sold outside of Japan and/or Asia? Don’t they know I’d play it all the time?”

With many games we’ll discuss here, it is important to address this, as I see questions like the above on many videos.

The answer is relatively simple, but one no one likes to hear it: The lack of potential sales.

The companies we’ll be talking about here have been around for a while. They tend to have a solid idea of how games will perform in respective markets. Sure, not all of them have US or European divisions anymore, but some do and those divisions get to determine whether or not the sales are there to warrant an official release in their region.

Some games simply won’t do well in the States or in Europe. Hype on social media from disparate groups of people with niche interests, even if growing in popularity in more recent years, often mismatches real-world demand and performance. Audiences in these regions have become very casual, which is why cranes and redemption will haul in boat loads of money. Yes, video can do well – but it has to be the right kind of game. This does vary by location, as there are some places where video outperforms redemption and customers like a deeper experience. But speaking in terms of the wide, general market, Americans and Europeans who regularly visit the arcade, quick and casual rules the day.

I did see a crazy number at IAAPA showing one of the new games on test. It was #3 at the whole arcade, behind LAI’s Virtual Rabbids and a generic boxer game. The boxer machine was even making 3x as much as Rabbids.

It is not a cheap endeavor to develop and produce a single arcade game. It costs millions of dollars for something like Maximum Tune. If you are going to make a game, you have to be as sure as possible that the reward will outweigh the risk. If they aren’t bringing a certain game, then it means they’ve determined it won’t sell enough to warrant the cost so they can turn a profit (and it may eventually turn up as a grey import). Would you really want the company that makes your favorite games to go bankrupt because they listened to trends on X/Twitter instead of doing proper market research? The people who would lose their jobs certainly wouldn’t.

Anyways, let’s move on to news.

Bandai Namco Amusement

Bandai Namco Amusement did just exhibit at IAAPA, but needless to say, the differences between the two events here are stark. Some of it is down to the section above (e.g. Maximum Tune); in terms of others, the US division is looking at importing a few, but felt that production-related affairs were too far off to warrant showcasing them at IAAPA (expect to see these next year). Nonetheless, BNA had one of the most diverse and sizeable booths on show here.

This six hour-long stream archive shows much of the main goings-on:

Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 6RR+

The latest iteration of Maximum Tune made its playable debut at the event, with an admirably grand red carpet display rolled out. Setups like this featuring a real car as their centerpiece have happened occasionally at Western amusement shows, but such a thing is rare.

Bandai Namco did not feature much (if any) playtest footage on the stream, so here’s some player-filmed videos of the game:

The game is scheduled to launch in early 2024, after another test out on location.

Take this as you will since it is only one source, but according to someone not at Namco who claim they have knowledge of the situation in Japan, BNA did present Maximum Tune 7 to Japanese operators some time ago. They rejected it due to an enormous price tag, which made it sound like it would be coming with a completely new cabinet design. So that there would still be something for WMMT’s 20th, Bandai Namco instead created 6RR+. I haven’t corroborated that with any other source but they’ve been accurate in the past. It would explain why this is another update to a game that’s received a few already since its original 2018 release.

Goldstorm Pirates

This sequel to Deadstorm Pirates has been testing in both Japan and the US for some time now, as covered first on here. According to Bandai Namco Amusement America, they didn’t bring it to IAAPA as it’s still super early and they prefer to have games ready to order now at shows like that. Foregoing BNAA’s preferences, Bandai Namco themselves decided to use this opportunity to promote the game, even though it is scheduled to launch next winter. Only one stage is available here but it goes on for “5-10 minutes.” I haven’t seen any footage for it here however, so have this photo:

Bike Dash Delivery

Accompanying Goldstorm Pirates, another new Bandai Namco title first previewed on test this year made its formal debut at the expo – a completely original work, Bike Dash Delivery. It sounds like this game is a fun combination of Crazy Taxi and Prop Cycle, and from what a BNAA rep at IAAPA told me, it’s even faster paced than Crazy Taxi was. Other users in Japan seem to enjoy it and also compare it to Crazy Taxi combined with Uber Eats. Still not sure when this one will be ready yet, although hopefully it should come around some point surrounding Goldstorm’s release later next year.

Other

Alongside the above new releases, Bandai Namco’s booth had plenty more on offer. Some things of note that I couldn’t find clear images of – Dead Heat Unleashed was seen on hand again, though still seems to be only for the west, and for those interested in Tekken, there was an arcade setup available… but like a recent test at one of Namco’s locations, apparently it was running the Steam version of 7 instead of the coin-op one (!). Links to other news from their packed display follow:

Idolmaster Tours reappeared after its JAEPO 2023 reveal and location tests

Gundam EXVS2 Overboost had an exhibition match between top players

An update to their Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure battle royale arcade game will launch on Dec. 6th

After not appearing at IAAPA, Taiko no Tatsujin was there in a special mini area

Their line-up as it was presented in a official catalog, which also includes a kids fishing game

Konami

The company that many love to hate, Konami of course had a big presence at this event too. Theirs was seemingly one of the first to have any confirmed details back in February, when we learnt that their Konami Arcade Championship promotional tournament was returning for the first time in a while.

However, it was later revealed that this would be receiving its own space in another hall at the same venue on the same date, despite usually taking place across several days and on Konami’s own booth in the past… and to make matters worse, there has been a growing controversy in factions of the communities surrounding their games, most notably Dance Dance Revolution, where certain overseas players have been disqualified from competing.

This is a disappointing (but arguably not surprising) can of worms, that has now led to news outlets like Bemanistyle ceasing their photography coverage for the foreseeable future. But it is nonetheless positive to see Konami continuing to turn out big at events like this.

Polaris Chord

Front and center on Konami’s booth was this brand new Bemani title, Polaris Chord. Announced back in August and tested out on location during the last couple of months, the version of the game shown at the expo was in a new cabinet design than the one seen on said tests. Some new content was added to boot, so it does still appear to be fairly early on in development with no ETA. By the sounds of things, some attendees waited two to three hours in line for a try of it!Some have already said that this title seems to take a few cues from Sega’s ever-popular Chunithm, and the addition of a second vertical display would definitely support that notion. The difference here appears to be that Konami’s game draws heavily upon ‘V-Tuber’ culture and the fans of such character styles…

Here’s 4Gamer’s playtest report, but there are also quite a few other tweets out there about it by the likes of Bemanistyle.

Other

Konami was also showing off the new DDR Mini, produced in association with Zuiki, the Japanese toy electronics manufacturers who have previously made a mini version of the retro Sharp X68000 computer and, particularly of relevance here, some Densha de Go home controllers.

This is about it for anything else of interest in video – the rest of Konami’s booth was taken completely up by a selection of new medal games, crane machines, and prizes. Which does unfortunately reflect the wider trends of the industry in Japan right now, however on a more positive note, I have it on good authority that Konami are still looking at expanding their amusement presence in the US and even beyond. This may not be through the typical distributor relationships though; it seems like they have been very cozy with Round1USA, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is strengthened from there.

Sega

Sega had a wholly different area at this expo than at IAAPA, although this probably would require a bit of explanation as to why. Suffice it to say, one should expect what Sega Japan and Sega Amusements International takes to shows and sells into certain markets to continue to be very different. Their booth here was notably bigger than the quite low-key one seen at the last JAEPO, though, and was even the largest of the show overall, with one fairly big surprise reveal.

Virtua Fighter

Sega’s most prominent activity came from AM2’s legendary Virtua Fighter series, although not exactly with the new-new version that some would hope for. Sega initially announced that they would be holding a streamed match between professionally-licenced players on Virtua Fighter eSports, the latest version of Virtua Fighter 5. That first released in 2006 on the Lindbergh hardware, and Sega must be fond of it as VF5 is still the basis of the current remastered version, released in June 2021 on their arcade digital distribution platform ALL.Net Pras Multi 3 as well as consoles internationally under the ‘Ultimate Showdown’ title.

However, the promotional player match was not all. The big surprise announcement made as part of this was that an earlier entry from the series, Virtua Fighter 3tb (originally released in 1997 for the much-loved Model 3 board), would now be receiving the VF eSports treatment too on the APM3 platform. Updated with several new online features and a few neat music additions (the higher-quality ‘arranged’ soundtrack, plus even one or two new pieces composed for the game but previously unused are now selectable), this is dropping soon in Japan on the 28th. Booth visitors and the professionals got a first-look play, though.Even if a true sequel in Virtua Fighter 6 seems unlikely right now, it is worth pointing out that regardless of the ‘black sheep’ status it still somewhat holds in western territories, VF3tb had a 2010s resurgence at key locations in Japan like A-cho and Mikado (where the game has remained popular to this day), so this is a nice gesture towards the VF hardcore. For now, it also sounds like the reissue is going to be arcade-only, but it’s possible they’ll offer it on consoles at some point. Here’s an interesting story about it at 4Gamer (JP only), in which VF series producer Seiji Aoki and the fellow in charge of APM3 at Sega are interviewed.

Other

As well as the usual focus on prizes, medal games, and the new Eiketsu Taisen card battler seen previously at JAEPO 2023, Sega had the latest version of Initial D The Arcade on hand. This was to present a new leg of their ongoing national tournaments. Sega didn’t quite go all-out for this like Bandai Namco did with WMMT… although in all fairness, they did already bring out a display similar to BNA’s for the Chinese launch of IDAC with Wahlap at this year’s AAA Expo.

A new version of Sega’s aforementioned Chunithm rhythm game series was additionally announced as part of the event, and will launch next month.

Sega also had a new interactive kiddie ride based on ‘Pui Pui Molcar’ there, via CA Sega Joypolis. Sometimes these have made their way out West, but not always.

And not quite an arcade video game… but for those who are fans of the Persona role-playing console game series by Atlus, Sega decked out one of their new photo booths for it. Some deeper history links there, as before Sega bought them up in the 2010s, Atlus actually collaborated on their Print Club machines that popularized the concept in Japan.

Taito

Celebrating 70 years, Taito had plenty to showcase in spite of their smaller booth size, even if much of it was prizes. A team of theirs was in fact at IAAPA, and it was slightly larger than I expected, although I didn’t get a chance to chat with them (I saw them as I was on my way to the airport and they were on a smoke break). As it currently goes, Taito haven’t had their own booth at IAAPA for a while now, which is a shame… though if they did again, I imagine it wouldn’t be like exactly this one – very nicely themed after a Taito Game Station:

Here’s a stream from their side of the event in Japan, which includes a crane game championship – first time I’d heard of such a thing. That starts about 2 hours in and takes up the remainder of the video. There is also coverage of their Bemani Pro League team, Tradz, and an anime made to celebrate their 70th.

Street Fighter 6 Type Arcade

Since Capcom’s amusement division has dwindled over the years, they hand bigger releases over the likes of a company like Taito. There was interest at the beginning of the show for this December release, but I was sent a photo showing a very empty line from some time later in the day. It’s tough to promote an expensive game like this that has a guaranteed console release pulling the rug out from under operators. The official SF6 Type Arcade X account can be found here.

Taito also had some zombie actors wandering around the booth to promote their new theme park experience called Kurayami Train.

Capcom

Capcom’s presence here is an interesting one, as they haven’t appeared at a JAEPO for some years now. Seems like they’ve taken the reformatting as a chance to keep their name out there in an industry where they’re still involved, though as noted above, slightly less so today. Following on from the latest Type Arcade release carried by Taito, another Street Fighter product was unsurprisingly the main attraction of their booth… BUT, despite notably getting tested out at one of their locations earlier this year, I was told it is not planned to be an amusement release now – just consumer. That would be Street Fighter VR.

Street Fighter VR, Japan Amusement Expo.

Other Exhibitors + Areas

There were some exhibitors other than the more recognisable game-maker names, though fewer than the JAEPO events that came before. One that garnered a bit of attention was Sansei Technologies, who are well-known to theme park attraction fans, but not so much associated with the traditional Japanese arcade scene, partly due to them not appearing at events like this before. They had some giant robotic attractions on display, including this transforming bot! Additional photos can be found here.

Another relative newcomer to the event, but more arcade-adjacent (and certainly recognisable to those familiar with recent developments) was Genda, who had a GiGO booth naturally promoting the ex-Sega locations. They have been consistently in the news of late for their aggressive M&A approach, which intends to include content creating companies soon… but in the absence of those right now, they took the curious step of filling up the rest of their space with a poker table:

In a fresh attempt to garner further attention and offer some value to attendees other than the usual company booths, several new side attractions were also planned at the expo. One was an area set up as a kind of museum that had numerous influential and beloved retro games from several different Japanese companies. It even included both game celebrities and game rarities, as per these photos by noted Japanese arcade historian @onionsoftware…

At the other end of the spectrum, all of the current hot rhythm games were represented very well by the Amusement Music Festival area. This looks like it was an event in of itself, seemingly bringing together many of the DJs, performers and personnel from all four major rhythm game makers – Sega, Konami, Bandai Namco and Taito – under one big stage show throughout the day, becoming something of a high-energy mecca for their admirers.

It has to be said that this is not a completely new formula; a similar all-together show was held for fighting games at JAEPO 2019, and music performances often happened separately on each and every company’s booths even before the advent of rhythm games. But it seems logical and convenient for them all to be in one place now. And most of all, fun… one thing that can be said against bigger events like IAAPA is that they still don’t have shows like this:

https://twitter.com/SEGA_OFFICIAL/status/1728315212292608196

That’s all I could find from the event – huge thanks to all of the users in the Arcade Heroes Discord chat who have been sharing tweets from the Expo, including Ted and Nsm. A big chunk of the news has come from X/Twitter, although for some of this I have linked to more detailed Japanese media sources. If there’s anything missed, do please let me know.

Let’s close with a more boring part, numbers – the attendance figures are in for Amusement Expo, and this event was attended by around 9,000 people overall. When taken in isolation and compared with the rough 14,000 total of JAEPO 2023 in February, and the 15,000 of JAEPO 2020 before it, it does look like quite the drop off. It’s most certainly not breaking any of the all-time attendance records like those recorded for IAAPA just last week.

But it’s key to remember that this time around, there was only one day of the expo; in its old format, JAEPO made use of both a businesses-only and a general public date. Business reps (like operators and distributors) could still attend this event, with their own special area for negotiations, but it’s not hard to see that the emphasis is most definitely more on the general public’s experience here. It is possible there will be more shows held by companies themselves as a result of this soon.

Though misgivings from an international perspective about the lack of physical access on numerous counts are also valid, it could be that this was simply an initial attempt to shore back up more interest at a domestic level in such an event – when translated, this interview with the head of the JAIA board does mention some intent to increase the day count again. So, it could well be the case that the next event is held earlier, and across more dates. We’ll see…

In the meantime – is there anything from the Amusement Expo in Japan that piques your interest?

3 Comments »

  1. ted November 25, 2023 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    cool rundown 🙂

  2. Beef Stronganoff November 27, 2023 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Where was EXA Arcadia?

    • arcadehero November 27, 2023 at 1:05 pm - Reply

      They were at the show, just not with a booth. I believe they are looking at holding their own event here soon but I’ll have to ask to see if that is still the case.

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