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The London Show - Amusement Galore Part 6

 
EA Sports NASCAR Racing
EA Sports NASCAR Racing
At last, the final show report from ATEI, ICE and ICEi (Jan. 22 / 24) this report gathers the past five reports and looks at the trends that are shaping the event and the market as a whole. Also exclusive rumors and information from the show floor are presented that cast a interesting light on the future of 'The London Show', and how the downward spiral in operator interest to invest could be turned around, enabling the industry take control of its future.

Industry Trends at ATEI'08

Finally, to the big picture of the international scene that is thrown up by The London show.

  • 'Flat Screens'

When Global VR had launched the first big flat-screen cabinet with 'EA Sports NASCAR Racing' (PC Hardware) the other manufacturers had dismissed the system as a impractical but with this GVR raised the bar so high that other machines looked dated and so had to follow suit ATEI'08 became the first battleground for the explosion of the LCD display.

From the Japanese manufacturers at the London show and Taito showed 'Chase HQ 2 Deluxe' (TypeX), SEGA with 'Virtua Fighter 5' (LindBergh) and Namco with 'Tekken 6' (PS3 Hardware), along with Andamiro with 'Pump It Up!: Pro' (PC Hardware). We are seeing both driving cabinets but other genres benefiting from the sleek lines of flat-screens. From American manufacturers we have Raw Thrills 'Fast and Furious: DRIFT Deluxe' (PC Hardware) and their 'Big Buck Safari Deluxe' (PC Hardware).

But GVR are not letting the grass grow under their feet and ATEI saw the launch of 'Blazing Angels' (PC Hardware) and an impressive 42" LCD HD monitor cabinet design like no other helped by the flat-screen presentation. The flat-screen sector has continued to grow with novel uses including the 'UltraPin' (PC Hardware), or TAB's 'Virtual Pinball' (PC Hardware), Genna Group's 'Tunnel Racer' (Play-On Hardware), and the 'PokerTek Heads-Up Challenge' (PC Hardware).

The casino sector has not been left out of the flat-screen revolution with a larger budget to spend on the latest styles, some unique applications were seen at ICE with the WMS system using an incorporated a translucent LCD overlay screen to a mechanical reel game. Another innovation at the show was the appearance of the World's largest touch screen from Kortek, a 70" TFT-LCD that can be used for Living Surface and interactive signage.

Taking a major leap during ICE, the appearance of the first non-glasses display technology for wide application was on display. The French based 'Alioscopy' system uses a 40" Hi-Definition 3D display creating a compelling three-dimensional image without the need for glasses. The system was demonstrated on the Alioscopy booth and on at least one product at the show was incorporating the hardware.

  • 'Interactive Screens'

As charted in the Stinger, the move towards the application of the latest tracking technology into the amusement field increased its pace at ATEI. The widest circulation of product was from TrioTech and their 'UFO Stomper' (Play-On Hardware) the support of CVA and SEGA securing interest.

But the use of the technology has also taken some twists one of those is using an object to interact with large screen display. Originated in a Konami design (Gashaan), a number of Korean developers had their own versions. InterPark Games with their 'Pang Pang Paradise' (PC Hardware) and Vogos with their 'Star Ball' (PC Hardware) players throwing balls at the screen, offers a unique and compelling experience for players of all ages.

A new design in big display motion tracking was previewed by Genna Group - the company's 'Life Size Games' (PC Hardware) offered a chance for parties of players to take place in a life size game of Pong!

  • 'US Exports'

The collapse of the US Dollars monetary exchange rate has proved the impetus for many American manufacturers of amusement to look towards the prospects of directly exporting their wares. Where once distributors in particular territories would license to manufacturer and distribute products, the realities of the global-economic situation means that direct sale and shipment is a viable consideration.

How much of this will impact the manufacturer / distributor relationship in the 21st Century is a factor playing on many minds at the end of ATEI as the order-books were tallied; the recent collapse in the international money markets during the show adding to this thinking.

  • 'Toy Vending'

The capsule Gachaa systems at the show showed the link between amusement and the toy industry. At the show companies such as French based Tomy Yujin Europe showed their 'Gacha 2' unit while Tommy Bear ran their own 'Air Magic' novelty product combining a capsule, and balloon inflation system. Discapa from Spain showed their 'Pop card' system with Sweet and licensed toy collectables; TYK had their Tomy 'Gachaa' sweet vending and capsule unit and Bandai S.A. and their 'GachaPon' miniature collectable brand.

These representations of a toy and gaming element also was seen in the development of the new SWP crane and merchandising systems from SEGA, EuroGift and Namco - the content of the modern crane system has taken on a new perspective as well with the latest intellectual properties from the toy and plush scene making big inroads.

Stinger Breaking News - A detailed report on the equally important London Toy Fair, taking place the same month as ATEI (though thankfully not clashing this year) to follow represented a startling number of amusement business crossovers - far more than the usual joint ownership of Japanese companies that have amusement and toy branding links (Bandai Namco, SEGA, Konami etc.), the Toy fair has seen kid vending and toy vending established as a serious revenue stream - a sadly missed opportunity for the amusement trade, but a vital life-raft for the toy industry under strain - wait to read more.

The level of feeling by Toy Fair towards amusement was revealed in conversation with ATEI exhibitors. Some had hoped to exhibit their toy-based vending and amusement at the toy event -- only to be officially excluded, first under claims that this style of products are unsuitable for the toy trade, and then under the claim of no room available. Having checked availability Toy Fair'08 was not sold out, but it would seem the toy trade, fighting a hard down-turn, has taken it upon themselves to exclude others from offering new opportunities!

  • 'Player Power'
Even though excluded, the players managed yet again to get into the show and also document the event to a level surpassing the trades own coverage. Thanks to public networks such as YouTube over 80 videos reporting the content of ATEI'08 were logged, while Flikr collected over 100 images of fan based reporting. But more than getting in and reporting, the players also managed to shape business.

Voting with their feet, they managed to show their enthusiasm towards Tekken 6 and even reverse Brent / Namco's attempt to downplay the product's value -- directly under the gaze of Japanese bosses, this Player Power winning a valuable battle over salesmen's mentality against player intuition. Thanks to this display of public involvement at ATEI'08, industry members have reason to believe that AAMA made the right decision when it said ASI'08 will include a public component on the final day.

What Could this all Mean:

The reality of ATEI'08 is that attendance was down, in exhibition organizers statement down by over 5 per cent (while the casino and gambling attendance was up over 8 per cent) creating an overall 2.7 per cent increase. But it is the decline of the amusement side of the show that caused the greatest consternation.

Representatives of Deith stated that the industry has fragmented following the implementation of new legislation - venues have to alter the machine numbers and are still wary of new machine purchases while coming to terms with the impact of the new law.

It was clearly visible on the show floor that the attendance was down - though many felt that those walking the floor were quality clients, there was an undercurrent of complaint that the show organizers bore some responsibility for changing round the show layout and so impacting the way the crowds flowed - still bottlenecking in key locations.

After the London Show, it was obvious that amusement was in very good health, but there were major changes underway and that the dwindling crowd had a part to play. The event was a truly international gathering with 25 different countries represented on the show floors, with 18 Italian, 14 Polish, 12 Spanish, 9 Taiwanese and over 6 North American exhibitors - along with other individual booths from various countries.

The absence of a number of high-profile exhibitors such as Inspired Gaming Group from the show was widely noted, a subject of much speculation and rumor during the event.

Regarding the show, Clarion's attempts to restrict attendance of non-trade seemed to have fallen flat - though no one wanted to comment, the confusion of the registration (online and printed cards failing to join up) would need serious management for 2009. How Clarion could hire a ticket company that did not understand the requirements of attendance was beyond many. One source stating "if this show has been going for 64 years you would have thought they would have got it right by now!" As speculated in our Pre-Show coverage the failure to properly address ATE and ICE registration offered a pourous wall to the non-trade issue -- though by no means as bad as the 80's Gypsy gangs - the whole 'Tekken-gate' situation would need to be addressed.

It had been floated before the show that ATEI should look at a public day, with a tournament element that would corral the non-trade audience. This has been seen proposed by the American Amusement Showcase International event in March that will be running a special tournament event in the last four hours of the trade show open to the public. Whether ATEI in 2009, on the 65th Anniversary, will see a large amount of change is dependent on the will to grow, or to stick to the same old formula.

MAJOR Breaking Stinger News - Dark rumors swirled around the after-hours bar action at ATEI - the thickest of these being the status of the ownership of the ATEI event! The obvious downturn in attendance, the invasion of non-trade, and a bottlenecking of visitation, added to a general feeling that major organization strides to reflect the reshaping amusement market, was needed. These speculations were fed by ultra-secret whisperings in some corners that the UK trade association (BACTA), who sold the ATEI / ICE events to Clarion-Gaming in 2004, at the time signing a non-competition pact with the new owners. The non-compete period comes to an end this year.

Sources suggested that BACTA were now in talks with the organizers about changing their role with regards the exhibition, (though some that heard the rumor instantly dismissed it - if this were true, this would be the expected response). One set of rumors went as far as suggesting the acquisition of this or another show was on the menu. Linked to rumors that the European casino and gaming associations were moving to increase their involvement with ICE - 2009 could prove to be a very interesting year for the London show.

Just as we were going to the wire with this news - Clarion-Events, the parent of the ATEI and ICE Clarion-Gaming division announced that they were the target of a 125million private-equity buy-out from Veronis Suhler Stevenson; the preferred bidder in a private auction for the operation organized by operations management. Part of the acquisition will see a raft of changes including moves to acquire the Reeds Exhibition military fair operation. What affect this will have on ATEI negotiation was not clear at this stage.

  • And so the 2008 Season begins!

As what has become customary of the New Year season in the European amusement scene, ATEI London was pre-quelled by the German IMA event (Jan. 15-18). The German event a small but well formed gathering, though too close to ATEI for effective evaluation, with over 15,000 attendance to see more than190 exhibitors - the changes in amusement prize machine legislation in that sector was reflected by those that exhibited. Claimed a 'Shop Window' on the German market, the show has attracted in the past European visitation not accustomed to making the hike to the London event. Aspirations to surpass ATEI with its new location and purpose-built venue have offered an interesting competition, though 2008 did not show any gathering on the considerable London show lead. A question proposed previously in Stinger show coverage is, can IMA survive in a changed amusement market as all budgets are hit? The clashes with IMA, EAS and a rumored third show in 2009 will add to the strain on market budgets - who will win?

Stinger Breaking News - The American Amusement Showcase International (ASI) show in March received a direct attack against its hoped European visitation with the ENADA, Italian amusement upping the ante. The 20th Rimini show (Mar. 13-16) has now expanded its coverage to include the Bowling Event Rimini (BER) trade event for the over 4,000 European bowling centre industry - the most recent European attempt at a bowling industry exhibition.

Following a highly productive IMA and ATEI, the other shows will have to work hard to compete. Clashing with ATEI, the Euro Attraction Show (EAS) show took place in Nice, France - the theme park and visitor attraction show part of the IAAPA empire saw its own changes, last years show claimed a over 7,500 attendance - while EAS'08 stated to have had only 5,000. The EAS-Nice event part of a two part show calendar in Europe for IAAPA, September due to host the EAS-Munich, German event - with concerns about how this show will fit into the crowded exhibition schedule, and the impact of the abridging Munich Beer Festival?

The next show on the amusement horizon was the anniversary 22nd All Nippon Amusement Machine Operator's Union event (AOU'08). The Japanese operator show (Feb. 15-17) gives Asia its first look at the games that will dominate 2008. Expectations are high this year; the show will have some interesting titles held off from surprise appearance at ATEI.

A true representation of the impact from these proposed changes and restructuring will undoubtedly be felt when the international scene gathers in March at Las Vegas for Amusement Showcase International (ASI). Sources close to the American scene however are suggesting that there will be some major changes in the US revealed before the event, with announcements of a major shakeup in the trade magazine sector, closure of distribution routes and a change in the way we all do business in the USA... if not globally!

News Story with thanks to Kevin Williams. Please visit www.thestingerreport.com for others.
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