LONDON — A significant drop in traffic for a previously successful trade show is always troubling. But it’s especially regrettable when a weakly attended exposition features a plentiful selection of strong new products.
That was the situation at this year’s Amusement Trades Exhibition International. The amusements segment of the combined London shows took place here from January 22 to 24.
Initial statistics from the first two days of the event suggested that ATEI’s visitor traffic was down around 6% from 2007. But final figures revealed that attendance was actually down by 8.6% compared with last year, with 11,917 unique visitors walking the exposition floor.
The show’s owner and organizer, Clarion Gaming Ltd., said ATEI’s relatively weak showing was because of a sharp drop in British-based attendance, sparked by a “troubled domestic industry.” International attendance, Clarion said, remained fairly strong.
Yet the show organizer also admitted that ATEI drew 4,582 international visitors this year, compared with 4,687 last year – another drop, though not as sharp as that seen with domestic attendance.
SHOW COMBO: The 2008 London Shows combine ATEI (upper level) and ICE expositions at Earls Court in Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
New Product ARRAY
Regardless of the demographics behind ATEI’s reduced attendance, those who missed the London amusements show also missed an impressive array of new technology and titles.
According to VT’s London-based correspondent, Kevin Williams of KWP Productions and The Stinger Report, standouts included music and videogames products, among others.
UK manufacturer Sound Leisure displayed Trackdial, a technology that allows patrons to use cellphones to select and pay for music on digital jukeboxes. As Williams observed, “This will be a major leap in the digital music business, and opens the door to other mobile phone pay-to-play applications.”
Raw Thrills/PlayMechanix used ATEI for the first time in company history to preview a new videogame: Big Buck – Safari. Game action features more “international” settings and targets than seen in previous releases. Both standard upright and deluxe cabinet versions were shown, both featuring flat screens and a new tracking system that is said to better coordinate a player’s physical action with onscreen results.
Namco attracted a mob of enthusiastic – if unauthorized – game fans for one of the industry’s first high-definition videogames, Tekken 6. (Only trade professionals are supposed to be admitted to the ATEI floor, but gamers exploited a glitch in online registration procedures.) Tekken 6 runs on architecture that is adapted from Sony’s PlayStation 3 home console.
Global VR debuted its Blazing Angels simulator at ATEI. The coin-op adaptation of the hit home videogame from UbiSoft focuses on World War II air combat. The arcade version features a flatscreen 42-in. high-def LCD monitor and a strikingly realistic deluxe cabinet that replicates the midsection of the famous 1940s U.S. fighter plane, the P-40 Tomahawk.
Sega impressed booth visitors with completed versions of Primeval Hunt, a dinosaur shooting viddie, and Sega RaceTV, a deluxe driving videogame. Both were previewed at last fall’s U.S. shows.
Konami’s European subsidiary showed a deluxe cabinet version of Silent Hill – The Arcade, a shooting videogame featuring a 50-in. screen and surround sound. Officials said that test results in Europe placed it atop the earnings charts.
The company also highlighted new music dance novelties that connect to the company’s e-Amusement online network, after its first major European deployment. Konami displayed a few ticket redemption novelty games for the European market as well.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS
ATEI’s weaker attendance sharply contrasted with the increased traffic at its two gambling-themed sister shows. The International Casino Expo achieved a solid increase of 8.9% over last year. Likewise, the online gambling expo ICEi (the “i” stands for interactive) boasted an impressive 24.9% jump in traffic.
Clarion claimed that “91.5% of the year-on-year deficit comprised UK visitors, whose numbers fell from 8,245 to 7,119.” In fact, the show organizer said, of the 88 nations who sent visitors to ATEI, 15 countries established attendance records this year.
Clarion exhibitions director Karen Cooke said negative conditions for the UK’s domestic amusements business were the real culprit this year.
“The home market experienced probably its worst trading year on record following the introduction of the gambling bill, the smoking ban and an economy on the brink of recession,” Cooke said. “We deployed additional resources to the domestic visitor campaign, including dedicated direct marketing through telephone canvassing of previous visitors and a specific coastal arcade campaign.”
She added: “The UK industry is, to quote commentary in the Financial Times newspaper, in ‘desperate straits,’ and in some ways we were surprised that the domestic figure was not lower.”
The American Amusement Machine Association hosted its usual pavilion at ATEI, showcasing products made by Benchmark Games, ESD, Pyramid Technologies and Rock-Ola Manufacturing. AAMA said it has reserved an even bigger pavilion for the 2009 show, based on member requests.
The U.S.-based association issued a supportive statement about ATEI, terming it and the gambling shows “great successes.” AAMA president Mike Rudowicz, who also served as the British show’s goodwill ambassador, said: “I am happy to report that the 2008 ATEI and ICE shows turned in positive results for many of our exhibiting members.”
With visitors from more than 120 countries, Rudowicz said that heavy global attendance gave U.S. manufacturers and distributors “an excellent opportunity to acquire some significant orders by meeting with such a diverse crowd of attendees.”
Rudowicz conceded that traffic “slowed down just a bit,” and attributed this to a worldwide softening in the amusements industry and as “a result of the consolidation that has been going on recently.”
UK EXHIBITORS CRITICIZE
Clarion purchased the London Shows four years ago from their original owner, the British Amusement Catering Trades Association.
When ATEI’s two-day attendance figures were released, Clarion CEO Peter Rusbridge tried to put a “wait and see” spin on the reduction, insisting that “attendance figures in isolation are relatively meaningless, and as always the response of our stakeholders – visitors and exhibitors – will provide the litmus test.”
But by early February, final three-day numbers not only confirmed the two-day trends, and made it clear that the situation was gloomier than originally suspected. And show stakeholders registered their complaints loud and clear, including a formal written protest from Harry Levy, the venerable and respected redemption manufacturer. That company’s critique verged on accusing Clarion of mismanaging the show.
Many amusement exhibitors have been skittish about Clarion’s decision to reverse ATEI’s decades-old arrangement of gaming upstairs, amusements downstairs, first executed at the 2007 expo. Some blamed this switch, and associated floor layout and traffic issues, for the show’s poor showing.
AAMA came to the show organizer’s defense on this issue, asserting that “exhibitors and attendees alike are still becoming accustomed to the new layout.” The U.S. association also observed that the upper-level amusements section seemed to see more traffic than its downstairs neighbors.
Even before ATEI opened its doors this year, however, some former major exhibitors had already announced intentions to not exhibit. Chief among these was Inspired Gaming Group, the leading UK operator that maintains some 87,000 machines, including server-based systems and associated networked terminals.
Inspired’s decision was widely seen as an apparent vote of “no confidence” in ATEI – or at least as a suggestion that the London Show had become irrelevant to the company’s marketing plans.
Not surprisingly for a gossip-ridden industry, rumors about the future of ATEI began swirling even before the 2008 show concluded, said KWP’s Williams. Some observers went so far as to suggest that Clarion might be giving active consideration to selling the event back to BACTA.
However, Williams stressed that Clarion immediately denied this suggestion, which strictly remains an unconfirmed rumor.
ATEI 2009 will take place January 27-29, again at the Earls Court venue.
AAMA said booths are still available for some of its 2008-2009 pavilions in the U.S. association’s Location Trade Show program. For information, contact Vanessa Cabrera at firstname.lastname@example.org.