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Issue Date: Vol. 44, No. 4, April 2004, Posted On: 4/8/2004


ASI 2004 Impresses Industry With Strong Product Showing


N. Montano
nick@vendingtimes.net

LAS VEGAS - The 2004 Amusement Showcase International resembled last year's show in many respects: the March 9-11 event combined great product, fewer exhibitors than before, soft attendance'and noisy competition from next door's gargantuan Nightclub & Bar Show. But even before the '04 trade show opened its doors at the Las Vegas Convention Center, owners voted to pull next year's ASI out of the United States' gambling capital and bring it back to the nation's coin-op capital.

During ASI the board of directors of the American Amusement Machine Association confirmed a vote to hold the 2005 exposition in Chicago. This decision was immediately leaked to every industry member in town and it was widely applauded by operators, distributors and exhibitors alike, with only a few muted exceptions.

Official dates were not fixed at press time, but it is understood that ASI 2005 will be staged at the Hyatt Regency and Convention Center downtown in March. This was the site of many 1980s-era trade shows that are still fondly recalled by industry veterans.

"We have been talking about [returning to Chicago] and debating it for years," said ASI show chairman Sal Mirando (Coastal Amusements). "If you're in a situation where you're flat or trending up so slightly that it doesn't make any difference, why not?" Of course, the "why not" factor is even more powerful for a show that's trending down.

One reason for the decision to return to Chicago, AAMA leaders said, was to draw more operator attendance from the Midwest and Northeast, where the nation's heaviest concentration of operators lives. Mirando confirmed that recent Vegas-based ASI shows have been pulling more than 50% of their attendees from Western states.

Chicago's nostalgic appeal and the prospect of a "hotel show" where nearly the entire industry stays in one facility and gathers at one watering hole in the evenings, are also considered draws. At the same time, Chicago represents a roll of the dice, given the high union labor rates and unpredictable Windy City winter weather.

Exhibitors Down 12%

ASI '04 may have resembled last year's show in broad outline, but it also differed in several important ways. Only one of those major differences favored ASI: the 2004 show was held after major combat in the Middle East was over, whereas last year the Iraq War was just getting underway. However, international attendance did not increase noticeably this year as a result.

Other major differences between 2003 and 2004 worked against ASI. While there was no controversy over badge admission policies with the adjacent and overlapping N&B Show, ASI lost significantly more traffic to the beverage event this year, both in terms exhibitors and, according to some observers, operators.

More than one ASI exhibitor claimed that they saw more operators walking the N&B showfloor than they saw in the aisles at ASI or, for that matter, at last year's AMOA Expo. Supposedly, many of these operators were wearing badges from their locations, not operator badges. (AAMA chairman Frank Cosentino of Namco America disputed that view; he said this year's N&B show had less negative impact on ASI operator attendance than last year's.)

Final ASI '04 attendance figures were not available at press time. ASI management reported that total registration through Day Two of the event stood at 3,457. That was down 3% compared to last year. Executives said the "buyer category" totaled 1,652, up 5% (not counting visitors from last year's N&B Show in these comparisons). "Yes, we saw operator traffic," Mirando and Cosentino both observed. They added: "We also had lots of good reviews of new product. There was serious interest by attendees. Our exhibitors wrote sales; this was an order-writing show."

Undeniably, however, N&B hurt ASI in the exhibitor category and AAMA did not attempt to hide this fact. Some 30 coin-op companies exhibited at the 2004 bar show which overlapped with ASI during its first two days. A total of 14 N&B coin-op exhibitors were included in the group booth hosted by AAMA. But 15 others had their own independent booths at the Nightclub & Bar show, including Ecast and Incredible Technologies, as well as Sega, Tsunami, Merit, Global VR, Namco, Sammy USA, Stern, TouchTunes, Valley-Dynamo, UltraCade, Jesler and Coast to Coast. Some of these companies had no booth at ASI; others had a small ASI presence and a noticeably larger N&B booth.

Visitors to a gift show that also overlapped this year's ASI event reported that many plush and prize companies had abandoned this year's coin-op show for that venue as well. The Gift Expo took place at a Vegas hotel under the ASD/AMD Merchandise Group banner.

All of this cut into ASI's exhibit floor space, continuing a pattern of decline that began several years ago. Show chairman Mirando reported that this year's event included 133 exhibitors, down 12% from 2003. Exhibit space was also down by 11% to 421 booths. In addition to competition from other shows, Mirando also blamed "the state of the economy and our particular industry." He acknowledged, however, that "We did try to secure new dates this year so that we would not overlap Nightclub & Bar and the ASD Shows; however, we were not able to do so."

Strong Product In All Categories

Product was the outstanding success for ASI 2004. From low-cost video to high-end simulators, revamped redemption classics to original and creatively- themed novelties, CD to downloading jukeboxes in a wide range of styles and prices, and from traditional to electronic sports and table games, this year's Amusement Showcase International had something for everyone.

Among the key trends in new products was the continuation of a steady evolution toward more online connectivity and memory card use in the video segment. Redemption's evolution toward merchandisers is fast becoming a trend toward outright bulk vending. And music continues marching toward what seems to be a future dominance by downloading as two new digital models debuted.

New Video Games

On the video front, online connectivity was hinted at for several games including Sega's "Initial D Version 3" sitdown driving game, Global VR's deluxe model of "Need for Speed" and Incredible Technologies' "Silver Strike Bowling." Not new at this show but continuing the online connectivity theme was Taito's "Battle Gear 3," represented exclusively by Betson.

With or without online capability, drivers were plentiful at ASI, including Namco's "Wangan Midnight" (expected to ship to the U.S. in June or July under the name "Maxi Tuning," it was shown at ASI under yet a third name); Namco's "Ring Rider" motorcycle unit, licensed from the Spanish manufacturer Gaelco; Sammy's "Maximum Speed" sitdown driving simulator on the AtomisWave platform; Sega's "OutRun 2" standard edition; Sega's more economical "Club Kart" standard edition; and Betson's latest "Arctic Thunder" update kit for the Midway classic, called the "Ultimate" edition.

Video gun games included Sammy USA's "Ranger Mission," a two-player model available as an update kit for the AtomisWave game "Sports Shooting." Raw Thrills' "Target Terror" is a dedicated video upright gun game represented exclusively by Betson Enterprises. It's available as a standard upright with 27-in. monitor or 39" pedestal deluxe (limited edition). Namco offered a "Split Kit" that would allow operators to divide twin versions of "Time Crisis 3" into two single units.

Advanced and/or elaborate simulators included Tsunami's "Air Raid GP" now offering a new cabinet with a monitor mounted between the dual cannon barrels. Prototypes were shown at ASI 2004; production units follow this summer or fall. "Virtual Squash" from Bromley Inc. is also a deluxe video game using motion sensor technology; this Korean import enjoyed its U.S. debut at ASI.

Also in ASI's simulator category were several models like the skateboard-themed "Ollie King" from Sega, ICE's "Thrill Rider" and others that had their U.S. debuts at earlier shows such as the 2003 IAAPA. Familiar in Europe but new to Americans was "Jockey Club" from Bromley Inc.; it's a sitdown simulator that features horse racetrack action on the oversized monitor. The player sits on a large fiberglass horse.

Touchscreen countertops stood tall at ASI. Merit's major debut was "MegaTouch Wallette," a flatscreen product intended for easy installation in booths and on walls with the coin and card mechanism on the side of the monitor. JVL unveiled the new "iTouch6Plus" software for countertop play in the new flatscreen, touchscreen "Eclipse" model. Coastal Amusements showed its versatile "2004 Slingo" now featuring seven types of cabinet configurations including uprights and countertops. Coastal's "GT 2004" is described as Version 4.1 of this established model; adult content updates include 20 new dancers shown in full-motion video. The "Snap" countertop was shown in its current version from uWink.

Retro games were a significant presence at ASI, chiefly thanks to UltraCade with games in its own booths and elsewhere around the show. UltraCade's cocktail table, featuring a 25-in monitor, is now shipping with two-player, simultaneous gameplay available on a single monitor thanks to a clever split-screen effect. Current UltraCade software includes a "Sports Pac" with 20 different major sports; it ships this spring. The company now offers 120 titles in total, with more to come. Also shown in UltraCade's booth was "Tag 'Em" from Extreme Media Inc., a nonviolent, character game for younger kids aged 9-13. Available in kit or dedicated version with the same hardware as an UltraCade cabinet, it works with any resolution monitor

Beyond its own booth, UltraCade had retro laserdisc games such as "Six Gun Select" with upgraded hardware at the Global VR booth. UltraCade also had "Dragon's Lair II" and "Space Ace II" available under exclusive license from Systems 99 LOC (Howell Ivy).

Video novelties were few but memorable. "I Can Boogie," a Korean music novelty import represented in the U.S. by Bromley Inc., has players follow the beat. Simple onscreen prompts cue player hand movements in a less-strenuous version of this now-staple genre. Betson's "Astrological Matchmaker" is a video novelty that prints out a reading for the horoscope signs of any him-and-her couple, giving a paragraph description of each person's personality traits and also rating their compatibility as a pair.

Redemption Merchandisers Morph Into Bulk Venders

Redemption was a healthy category with many brand-new product debuts at ASI 2004. The most striking trend, as noted above, was a certain morphing of the merchandiser category into outright bulk vending.

This was evident with such products as Sammy USA's "Prize Party" merchandiser, available in a metal "tower" configuration with two to 16 different towers that can be combined in various ways. Towers respectively vend cards, candy, capsules and/or superballs of various sizes and prices. In the uWink booth, a "Build R Bear" vending machine allowed players to buy a basic teddybear and add costume features and accessories.

OK Manufacturing's "Soccer Ball" is an interactive soccer table novelty that crosses over into the bulk vending category. It debuted at IAAPA 2003 and began shipping this January. Some operators pointed to "Sports Blaster" from Fritz Industries as another contender in this niche; it combines simplified pinball-type gameplay with the capacity to vend plush, capsules and gumballs from three separate storage bins in a single upright cabinet.

Skill game merchandisers were also popular in their own right, even without any bulk vending aspects. New units in this niche included Sammy USA's "Across the World," a driver-themed capsule merchandiser with steering wheel. Bay Tek's "Movie Stop" is a software merchandiser with a Hollywood themed variation on the company's "Whistle Stop" game. Comes with optional custom marquee.

Wedges/Ledges' "Crane Vac" is a novelty merchandiser featuring a suction-powered prize grabbing mechanism rather than the traditional crane claw. It can pick up and vend a wide variety of prizes, with trading cards and capsules the most obvious possibilities. The company will offer a line of pre-packs to operators.

Sega's "GameShow" merchandiser vends a 4-in. capsule prize on each play. Gameplay features ball-shooting action; players try to top the most recent score. OK Manufacturing's "Putt Fore Prizes" is an upgraded version of this novelty merchandiser, now featuring an angled transparent canopy over the playfield as well as more mirrors and more access for kids. Merit debuted an upgraded version of its video merchandiser "Mr. VIPS," licensed from OK Manufacturing, with four new games.

The traditional crane category included debut units such as Coastal Amusements' "Telephone Crane" which visually emulates the classic bright red British phone booth. Additional Coastal cranes had circus, puppy dog, candy and zoo themes.

Oversized cranes are becoming more numerous. Skee Ball's initial entry into this category, "The Big One," was shown in a cosmetically upgraded version. Similarly inspired units included Lazer-Tron/Cadillac Jack's "Catapultz," an oversized one-player novelty merchandiser featuring a launch effect.

Also prominent in redemption were a slew of rolldowns, coin shooters, skill novelties, alley games and ball toss games from Skee Ball, Bay Tek, American Alpha, Valley-Dynamo, Lazer-Tron/Cadillac Jack, Five Star Redemption, and more. ICE's "Dunk-N'-Alien" updates the classic alley ball-rolling game with a UFO theme. The animated 3D alien character atop the backboard heckles the player with 20 different lines.

A small trend toward kiddie redemption showed up in some booths. Sammy USA's "Go Go Cowboy" is a video redemption game aimed at the kiddie market; smaller customers attempt to lasso the animated cow. Bob's Space Racers showed "Fishy Friends" and a tiny version of "Whac-A-Mole" as representatives of their new toddler line.

New pushers included ICE 's "Monopoly," a handsome eight-player unit themed around the classic board game, and ICE's "Wheel of Fortune," a Crompton's imported pusher, which comes in one- and two-player versions. A new one-player "Jr." version of "Wedges/Ledges" debuted from the company of the same name. The game works on a coinage in, tickets out format. Benchmark's "Big Rig Truckin'" got its first national coin-op expo outing at ASI, confirming its popularity.

Sports and table games included mostly familiar fare previously seen at other shows. But a few debuts were among the offerings such as "Boom-A-Rang" from Great American Recreation , a classic two-player air hockey design with curved playfield.

Two New Digital Jukeboxes

Two new digital jukeboxes debuted at this year's ASI, both featuring Ecast's music library and broadband network. Rock-Ola debuted its "Wall Rock" unit, featuring a sleek design of large, constantly changing color panels; and Rowe lived up to pre-show rumors by unveiling its economy "Flame" jukebox model. NSM again showed its "Chameleon" jukebox prototype, a wall unit that also highlights Ecast technology. It was slated to ship April 1, said officials.

Seminars, Social Events, Awards, Fundraising

ASI 2004 included a program of eight seminars that drew 360 students, up considerably from last year's count of 250. The most popular sessions were Frank Seninsky's "Quarters In & Nickels Out" and Michael Getlan's and Ben Jones's "How To Deliver 'Legendary' Customer Service." However, several other seminars also had capacity crowds. ASI officials said they intend to expand and enhance the seminar program next year.

AAMA and its co-sponsors ran what was described as a successful cocktail party across the street from the LVCC at "The Beach" nightclub on March 9, the first night of the show. Co-sponsors included Betson Imperial Parts & Service, Firestone Financial Corp., Global VR, Lazer-Tron/Cadillac Jack, Namco America, Sega Amusements USA and Valley-Dynamo.

For the third year, awards were given to the best exhibit design in three different categories (one to three booths; four to eight booths; and nine or more booths). Booths were judged on functionality, attractiveness, originality, technology and extra flair.

Valtech, Inc. won the small booth category; Fun Express won the medium category and Namco America took the honors for best large booth.

AAMA distributors named Merit Industries manufacturer of the year, while manufacturers named Brady Distributing their distributor of the year. Both winners have taken home the commemorative plaques several times previously.

Fundraising for charity and scholarships, respectively, was performed by AAMA and by the Amusement and Music Operators Association. The American Amusement Machine Charitable Foundation held its annual Charity Golf Tournament and Silent Auction to raise money again this year for K.E.E.N. (Kids Enjoying Exercise Now) and the Children's Miracle Network. AMOA held a raffle to raise money for the Wayne E. Hesch Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

For information about next year's ASI, contact show management at (708) 226-1300 or fax (708) 226-1310; or on the Web at asi-show.com. "We have been talking about [returning to Chicago] and debating it for years," said ASI show chairman Sal Mirando (Coastal Amusements). "If you're in a situation where you're flat or trending up so slightly that it doesn't make any difference, why not?" Of course, the "why not" factor is even more powerful for a show that's trending down.

One reason for the decision to return to Chicago, AAMA leaders said, was to draw more operator attendance from the Midwest and Northeast, where the nation's heaviest concentration of operators lives. Mirando confirmed that recent Vegas-based ASI shows have been pulling more than 50% of their attendees from Western states.

Chicago's nostalgic appeal and the prospect of a "hotel show" where nearly the entire industry stays in one facility and gathers at one watering hole in the evenings, are also considered draws. At the same time, Chicago represents a roll of the dice, given the high union labor rates and unpredictable Windy City winter weather.

Exhibitor count drop

ASI '04 may have resembled last year's show in broad outline, but it also differed in several important ways. Only one of those major differences favored ASI: the 2004 show was held after major combat in the Middle East was over, whereas last year the Iraq War was just getting underway. However, international attendance did not increase noticeably this year as a result.

Other major differences between 2003 and 2004 worked against ASI. While there was no controversy over badge admission policies with the adjacent and overlapping N&B Show, ASI lost significantly more traffic to the beverage event this year, both in terms of exhibitors and, according to some observers, operators.

More than one ASI exhibitor claimed that they saw more operators walking the N&B show floor than they saw in the aisles at ASI or, for that matter, at last year's AMOA Expo. Supposedly, many of these operators were wearing badges from their locations, not operator badges. (AAMA chairman Frank Cosentino of Namco America disputed that view; he said this year's N&B show had less negative impact on ASI operator attendance than last year's.)

Final ASI '04 attendance figures were not available at press time. ASI management reported that total registration through day two of the event stood at 3,457. That was down 3% compared to last year. Executives said the "buyer category" totaled 1,652, up 5% (not counting visitors from last year's N&B Show in these comparisons). "Yes, we saw operator traffic," Mirando and Cosentino both observed. They added: "We also had lots of good reviews of new product. There was serious interest by attendees. Our exhibitors wrote sales; this was an order-writing show."

Undeniably, however, N&B hurt ASI in the exhibitor category and AAMA did not attempt to hide this fact. Some 30 coin-op companies exhibited at the 2004 bar show which overlapped with ASI during its first two days. A total of 14 N&B coin-op exhibitors were included in the group booth hosted by AAMA. But 15 others had their own independent booths at the Nightclub & Bar show, including Ecast and Incredible Technologies, as well as Sega, Tsunami, Merit, Global VR, Namco, Sammy USA, Stern, TouchTunes, Valley-Dynamo, UltraCade, Jesler and Coast to Coast. Some of these companies had no booths at ASI; others had a small ASI presence and a noticeably larger N&B booth.

Visitors to a gift show that also overlapped this year's ASI event reported that many plush and prize companies had abandoned this year's coin-op show for that venue as well. The Gift Expo took place at a Vegas hotel under the ASD/AMD Merchandise Group banner.

All of this cut into ASI's exhibit floor space, continuing a pattern of decline that began several years ago. Show chairman Mirando reported that


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