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Japanese Amusement Blastoff! (Part 3)

Vewlix F - Taito
Vewlix F - Taito

The other video presence on the AOU'09 show floor was 'Death Smiles II: Hell Christmas' (Proprietary Hardware) - the popular shoot-em-up series gets special treatment with a gothic, Christmas feel to the game play. The Cave section of the booth was appropriately themed for the occasion with snow; the game series has become such a hit that a console version for the Xbox 360 is aimed for a spring release and was sitting in six VEWLIX cabinets on their booth.

AQ Interactive

The Japanese new-comer to the amusement scene, started in 2000, took its largest presence at an Amusement show to-date. The company has benefited from extensive marketing, including the launching of its own 'AQ Interactive Official Channel' - on YouTube. The operation comprises of three development studios (Artoon, Cavia and Feelplus - with marketing from US operation XSEED). The launch for the show was 'KU The Sparrow' (System Board Y2) - the dynamic mahjong game, the latest in the 'Higurashi no naku koro' (Dragon Knight) popular detective novel doujin game series, which had previously been developed for amusement and console application. The game was shown in a 40 per cent complete state at the show.

The appearance of SI Electronics and their new architecture was a bold move. The Japanese electronics specialist was founded in 1992, working on hardware and software design in the amusement and pachinko sector. The company chose AOU'09 to launch their new games architecture - towards offering cost-effective development to independent studios. The 'System Board Y2' is a PC-based board, with a 32bit RISC processor, and 100 million polygon capability - the board is self-contained with built-in I/O control. It is hoping to compete in an incredibly crowded market. AQ is an illustration of what many see as the future of amusement development - like minded companies coming together to create condensed corporations, able to negotiate from a position of strength.

Breaking Stinger News - The development of (big) Mid-Size attractions based on amusement technology are not only for JOYPOLIS venues. A growing number of independent developers in the Japanese scene are looking at their own projects. One such is from the successful ARC System Works (BlazBlue developer). Though not at AOU'09, the company announced information of their new game 'Dragon Hunter' (PC Hardware) - developed in partnership with SystemPro. The five seat system uses an 'Attack 180' theater enclosure reminiscent of 'Galaxian 3'. The players steer their fantasy character in a shoot-em-up narrative. The developed system is based on the 'Mega3D360', 25 seat circular vision style-theater, launched on the SEGA booth at last year's amusement trade show, and seen again at IAAPA'07. The company has sold nine theatres installed across the Japanese islands - this marks the first use of the technology in an interactive narrative. News on if SEGA are still involved with the companys product has not been revealed.

What This Could All Mean:

AOU'09 saw a major increase in attendance with 45,160 people (compared to 38,442 attended the event in 2008) - while the public day on Sunday saw 27,050 people (a 9857 year-on-year increase). The rise in attendance proved an uncomfortable fact for some consumer observers who had already written the event off as it did not have 'Street Fighter IV' on display. A bigger show than usual on the Public Day added to this speculation. The Public made such an impression on last year's event, continuing to vote for the popularity of amusement with their feet and turning up in droves to play the latest games. Again, the show organizers incorporated an extensive public component to the event's discount coupon that was available for the 'Public Day'.

Breaking Stinger News - The importance of the publicity of modern amusement development linked directly to the public was revealed as an element within amusement factories thinking with the launch of the 'Taito Happy Station Event', at the end of March. This event mixed classic machines from the 30th anniversary celebrations of Taito (including Space Invaders), but also offers a chance for the latest new releases to be showcased; the gala free-entry event is used as a major marketing effort for Taito, and hopes to focus a new audience on new elements of the corporation.



  • Olive Branch to Internationals

Just two years ago, the JAMMA executive board was accused of flagrant protectionism in excluding a ban on South Korean and Taiwanese amusement manufacturers from attending the Japanese trade shows. At the time, then chief executives would only state in private that they were concerned about the breach of trademark attitude not wanting to be encouraged by certain manufacturers from those territories. Obviously, no reason was given as to why certain Japanese factories self-censured themselves and prohibited American and European products for being presented on their booth. Last year's appearance of 'SEGA Rally 3' on the SEGA Japan booth (a game developed wholly by European resources) was the first video amusement game of recent years to take a prominent position - even though at the last minute it was covered with 'only for export' sale stickers..

But AOU'09 marked a major sea change. Representatives from the American and European amusement scenes attended the Japanese show. The Japanese Amusement trade association went one step further by announcing in February that they would actively encourage exhibitors from American and Europe to attend the 2009 AS-Show in September, planning an international pavilion. How much of this new hunger for imported products is to make up the deficit of new ideas from home grown factories - or is a serious move for multi-cultism, is an aspect yet to be revealed.

  • A Brand New Business

The AOU event had not even started when the ramifications of the major shake-ups in the Amusement Machine (AM) facility business in Japanese were brought home. It was revealed that Square ENIX had come across 'Structural Problems' in the way that their division Taito ran their amusement facilities. Even after a major re-branding exercise the operation was concerned that there were fundamental issues in the running of amusement in the territory.

This caused a confusing message with some AM facility operations such as SEGA Sammy Holding seeing a 49 Billion Yen loss of business, while Bandai Namco Group saw a 95.2 per cent rise in business; SEGA and Bandai Namco having joined Taito in major closure and restructuring of their business. But what seems to be the biggest reversal of business practices in the Japanese AM operation sector is that the facility operators have been promoting the idea of sharing the risk of their business with the manufacturers. As seen in the US and UK the possibility of 'revenue sharing' had previously been an anathema to the Asian scene.

A slow down in the purchase of new amusement pieces had fuelled the consideration of Revenue Sharing in the next generation of machines. What is now being attempted behind the scenes is that - via 'telemetry' (linked to the already existing network connectivity for gaming) - the manufacturer and operator will work together on promoting and sharing machine success. This new recurring revenue stream is seen as an option that will 'fix' the structural problems seen by the new investment teams poring over the financial worth of amusement in depressed economic conditions. How many other companies will look at this solution, in Japan and outside of the territory, is as of yet unknown but could spell a total sea-change in the way that the trade works.

  • New Hardware

The new market structure to Asian amusement was best illustrated by the competitive battle towards establishing superiority of the graphics standard, and with a replacement of the aging fleet of cabinets and the new hardware architectures - all these systems doing battle to take control of the changing market:

New Architecture: The battle to be the leading architecture was as heated as in the 90's, when 3D graphics was in its infancy. For the Stinger Report -- they had foretold ("The Beige Box of Delight!" (#304)), the inevitability of the PC becoming the universal backbone architecture of choice and 2009 finally came to pass. But rather than being a clear choice, AOU'09 had over seven different contenders.

The high-end solution was presented by SEGA - replacing the fabled LindBergh with a twin box solution -- the 'RingEdge' hardware and the 'RingWide' offers a high-end and mid-range solution. Meanwhile, Bandai Namco showed their PS3 based System 357 Hardware, but in reality has their PC based System ES1 Hardware as their formative platform. Some sources at AOU'09 stated that the System 357 is not a major platform.

An example of a major platform that is gaining strong momentum is the Taito 'Type-X2' Hardware - the architecture is being pushed as the successor to those needing a cheap and versatile system for their independent game development. However, 2009 marked serious competition to the plans. After being a developer on the Type-X hardware in 2005, SkoNEC Entertainment launched their own entrance into the cheap platform with the 'SkoPro' hardware. At the same time, RS showed their 'RSGA-2000A', and to add to the confusion SI Electronics launched their 'System Board Y2'. All these systems are PC based and all these systems offer cost-effective opportunities. While speaking of Taito, news was leaked at a number of events linked to Taito celebrations that they too were working on a new platform.

Already launched systems like the 'ex-BOARD' and the Italian 'Play-On.it' just showed how crowded the area of the independent game development scene is in Japan and beyond - even though no information regarding the final Nintendo Wii based architecture was shown at this show. Of the big releases, each major booth had a third party showing in their own cabinets.

New Cabinets: The AOU'09 floor was dominated by 'VEWLIX-F' and lower cost 'VEWLIX-L' cabinets - where Taito wants to be the architecture of choice with their Type-X, they see their VEWLIX as the JAMMA cab to replace the aging alternatives. But there was serious competition on the show floor to the dominance of the VEWLIX - San Muse had an example of their 'G-Balance' - while River Services showed their 'Delta 32' and supported this with the first appearance of their 'New Delta'.

All of these new flatscreen LCD display cabinets are a prominent new showing for aging amusement facilities. However, their support of new hardware and connected environments will need to be supported by dropping attendance in order to reverse the slow-down. AOU'09 showed with its long queues on the public day that "if you give the players what they want - then they will come!"

Breaking Stinger News - It felt that much of the big developments were made following AOU, rather than on the show floor - the Japanese trade event seeming to be the first to reveal the building difference between the malaise of the trade associations and the reality of the market. However, the Japanese Amusement Machine Manufacturer Association (JAMMA) attempted to keep in stride with their members need with the announcement of the demonstration of what is seen as the future of amusement operation. In four amusement facilities in Tokyo, from four different venue operators implemented for one year their facilities - as first revealed in the Stinger back in 2004 ("Japanese Amusement Surprise!" (#278)) - the EDY cashless IC Card system (originated by Sony) will be deployed as the only payment system in these venues (a total of 537 terminals will be fielded - starting April). The Electric money system has already been fielded at a number of FEGA facilities but this will be the largest 'cross party' project.

The four facility supporting this 12-month project include: Commercial General Corp (fielding 130 enabled units), Tecmo (fielding 136 enabled units), Namco (fielding 159 enabled units) and Capcom (fielding 112 enabled units). The trial will continue until March 2010 - and the findings of the impact on revenue generation and issues with e-payment application will be shared with members of JAMMA and the trade media. The hope is that by 2011 the trade in Japan will migrate over to e-payment -- replacing coin and token utilization.

News Story with thanks to Kevin Williams.
Please visit "http://www.thestingerreport.com",
www.thestingerreport.com for others.


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