|LONDON — There was good news and not-so-good news from the first big international trade show of 2006. The Amusement Trades Exhibition International took place at Earls Court from January 24 through 26 and the good news was the record-breaking exhibition size: an unprecedented 311 companies in 12,558 square meters (representing a 1.6% increase in terms of companies and a 9.2% increase in terms of space over last year). According to preliminary figures, the overseas visitor quotient rose 11.6%. The total count of unique visitors for the first two days of ATEI (that is, not counting multiple visits by a single person) was 13,310 from 94 countries – up less than 1% from 2005.
The not-so-good news: observers say it’s an open question, at best, whether the higher traffic count represents continued strength in the amusements exhibits sector, or whether credit goes to ATEI’s co-located gambling industry event, the International Casino Expo. This year’s ICE was bulging at the seams, filling the available upstairs space (10,100 square meters) with 186 exhibitors from 33 countries – and more, apparently, wishing they could get in. Exhibitors continue to clamor for more space to enable them to present larger booth displays and more equipment.
A tilt toward gambling has been increasingly evident at ATEI/ICE in recent years, as gaming-oriented equipment draws larger and larger crowds. Some 9,187 "unique" visitors attended the first two days of ICE 2006, up more than 15% from last year. The ever-growing emphasis on gambling reached its climax at the 2006 show when it was announced that gaming and amusements exhibits would swap spaces at next year’s co-located expositions. The change means gambling will get the larger exhibitor floor next time.
After 62 years in which ATEI was owned by the British Amusement Catering Trades Association, this was the first edition under new owner Clarion Events Ltd., a dedicated exposition organizer. It was Clarion’s decision to switch locations for gambling and amusements for next year’s show. And, according to many observers, the move is proving controversial if not downright unpopular among many amusement industry members.
The American Amusement Machine Association, which sponsored an exhibit pavilion at the show, posted this statement on its website: "Not many of the exhibitors were thrilled with these ... [announced future] changes. A widespread disaffection among ATEI exhibitors is providing some headaches for the exhibition organizers. The plan [to put gambling downstairs and amusements upstairs] ... was not popular. Several exhibitors opposed the move upstairs, having worked years to maneuver themselves into a favorable downstairs position."
Approximately two dozen U.S. companies displayed their wares at the London show, including several manufacturers that exhibited under the auspices of AAMA (which marked its seventh year hosting a pavilion at ATEI). Standalone U.S. exhibitors included A&A Global Industries, Applied Resources, Brand Vending Products, Laser Shot, Merit Entertainment, Nova Resolution Industries, Pyramid Technologies, QubicaAMF, SportsBlaster Co., United Textile, Valley-Dynamo, and Wager. In the AAMA pavilion were Benchmark Games, Cadillac Jack/Lazer-Tron, ESD Card, Hontech Entropy Corp. and National Ticket Co.
According to VT columnist Kevin Williams, publisher of The Stinger Report, key product debuts at the show included Sega’s video games Virtua Tennis 3, Virtua Striker ver. 2006, World Cup Championship Football: European Club 2004-2005, Ford Racing Full Blown, Metal Slug 6, Fists of the Northstar, plus a Sega pusher, Disco Dream. New from Namco Bandai was Time Crisis 4 and Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection. Betson displayed a new Raw Thrills video game called Super Bike and a new Play Mechanix hunting video called Big Buck Hunter Pro.
Other notable debuts included the ICE video game Zoofari and Stern Pinball’s new World Poker Tour. Konami was a major presence with Dance Dance Revolution SuperNova, Pro Evolution Soccer: Arcade Championship 2006 and Cooper’s 9. Williams called the video game Gashaaaan, from Japanese manufacturer Viper Hardware, "the surprise hit of the show." At least, this game proved to be the most popular video title among the fans and players who got into the exhibit.
The 2006 ATEI marked the first edition of the Visitor Experience Show, which featured new equipment and services for dedicated operators of parks, attractions and venue/theme-based leisure facilities.
The 2007 ATEI and ICE will take place Tuesday, Jan. 23 through Thursday, Jan. 25 at Earl’s Court. More information is available at ateonline.co.uk.