LAS VEGAS - And the 2004 "coin-op crystal ball award" goes to' AMOA executive vice-president Jack Kelleher. At the close of last year's co-located AMOA International Expo and Fun Expo, Kelleher predicted the 2003 edition "may be the start of the industry rally that we need."
According to show owners, Kelleher's prediction proved correct. While VENDING TIMES' new Census of the Industry continues to show an industry in consolidation, the 2004 AMOA-Fun Expo held here at the Las Vegas Convention Center from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, also proved decisively that last year's show was no fluke. In a year when Vegas broke all of its previous attendance records for tourism generally, AMOA and Fun Expo attendance also was notably up from the previous year. And, in the words of AMOA past president Don Hesch, A&H Entertainers (Rolling Meadows, IL), the industry got a look at itself in Las Vegas and it liked what it saw.
"Exhibitors are really happy," agreed outgoing AMOA president Chris Warren of Capital Music (Helena, MT). Warren spoke during a wrap-up press conference on the final day of the combined trade shows. "Attendance is up and everybody is smiling," Warren said. "In every aspect of this business, there is something new going on."
This upbeat assessment was echoed by Ken Vondriska (Cincinnati Zoo and International Theme Park Services), outgoing president of the International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industries. Show owners and exhibitors alike said brisk orders were written during the show. Virtually unanimous agreement was voiced that Expo '04 offered a strong selection of new products in many categories for both street locations and fun centers.
STRONG VISITOR FIGURES
Most of the attendance numbers were equally encouraging, at least in the show owners' eyes. Combined attendance for both shows was 6,746 for the first two days. The total visitor count may climb significantly once organizers tally up unusually strong third-day attendance totals. Combined exhibitor strength for AMOA-Fun Expo was 304 exhibitors in 745 booths. This was a drop of a little less than 5% from the number of booths purchased at last year's show. In 2003, the show had 303 exhibitors in 783 booths, which also represented a decline from the prior year's floor space.
A smaller show means less revenues for show owners, of course. But in the minds of most exhibitors, visibly fuller aisles more than made up for this decrease. An unusually deep, yet narrow, exhibit space featured a long central aisle with AMOA Expo on one side and Fun Expo on the other. As one leading distributor said with a grin, "This is either the greatest sleight-of-hand exhibit floor layout in industry history, or else it really is a stronger show." It may have been something of both. However, even exhibitors in the rear of the hall happily agreed that they enjoyed solid visitor traffic on all three days.
AMOA Expo 2004's total registration for days one and two was 4,267, up 2% from last year. The buyer category, consisting of operators and distributors, came in at 2,202, up 3% over 2003. This year's AMOA show featured 152 exhibitors (up one) who displayed their goods and services in 473 booths (down eight from 2003).
Fun Expo 2004's total registration for the first two days was 2,485, up 12% from last year, including 1,274 in the buyers' category, up 4% over 2003. These visitors walked the aisles where 152 exhibitors (up one from last year) showed goods and services in 272 booths, down 18 from last year.
AMOA Expo is sponsored chiefly by the Amusement and Music Operators Association; Fun Expo is majority-owned by IALEI with minority participation by AMOA and the American Amusement Machine Association.
In recent years, AMOA-Fun Expo has been moving farther and farther south down Paradise Road into successively newer sections of the Las Vegas Convention Center. This means the show has been moving greater distances from the host hotel, the Las Vegas Hilton. This year, the show finally hopped across Desert Inn Road to the new LVCC South Hall S-2, a full half a mile from the Hilton. The sole complaint heard about Expo '04 was that this distance, compounded by a lack of cabs and shuttle buses on the first day, made it difficult for many participants to get back and forth.
"We got those complaints, but then some exhibitors congratulated us for situating the show far from the distractions of the Hilton's casino, so you can never satisfy everyone," chuckled organizer Bill Glasgow of William T. Glasgow Inc. "But overall, we really think this is one of the best shows we've had in years." Even the weather was perfect: warm, sunny, no dust storms and no wind.
Operators spoke highly of a variety of handsome, creative products including new developments in connectivity for music and video alike, as well as clear evidence that theme park ride makers are continuing to scale down sizes and prices of their attractions for FEC customers.
AMOA presented its third annual "Innovator Awards" to two top manufacturers. Incredible Technologies was honored for its new, constantly-connected "Golden Tee Live!" golf video. Unveiled here, "Live!" features a wireless Sprint connection and a new tournament structure designed to attract more casual players. (See separate story in this issue for full details.) Valley-Dynamo also received an Innovator Award for its new "Great 8" electronic pool table.
Music also highlighted innovation. Rowe unveiled its new line of digital jukeboxes powered by a proprietary broadband system under the auspices of its AMI Entertainment subsidiary. Rock-Ola unveiled new products that integrate powerful, custom-designed speakers and commercial amplifiers from Peavey Electronics Corp. into the "E-Rock PV" and "Wall-Rock PV" downloading jukeboxes, alongside the new "Wallette Digital Downloading Jukebox," a complete but space-saving unit that combines Rock-Ola's nostalgic styling with the Ecast network and music library. (For product details, see separate stories on Rowe and Rock-Ola in this issue.) Rowe and Rock-Ola also signed AMOA's Internet Privacy and Security Policy during the show. NSM Music displayed actual production models of its Ecast-powered wall jukebox, "Chameleon," for the first time.
Ecast itself rolled out its new WiFi product and service, an add-on option that operators of Ecast-powered jukes can offer to locations. WiFi turns the location into an "Internet hot spot" where laptop users can connect to the Internet without having to plug into a wired connection. Ecast officials said that locations typically don't charge customers for WiFi, but operators can charge a small monthly fee to locations for this service, which has been shown to boost customer traffic.
Downloading pioneer TouchTunes, marking its 10th anniversary this fall, introduced version 2.2.0 of its jukebox software, which features new broadband capabilities for any data source including cable or DSL. Operators will be able to update their jukeboxes by upgrading their current software (version 1.9.0 or above) by downloading the new software. Immediate benefits include enhanced diagnostics, an improved music search for the Tune Central component, and a self-promotion engine, as well as express updating of Tune Central that occurs in near real-time (less then every two minutes). Broadband also means TouchTunes jukeboxes can update setting changes applied from the Web-Operator Tool, and can facilitate rapid song downloads (less than three minutes per song). Additional broadband features will launch soon, said officials.
VIDEO DRIVERS ABOUND
On the video side, innovations and promising products also abounded. In addition to the new "Golden Tee Live!" from IT, top debuts included Namco's latest hit sequel "Tekken 5" upright fighter. Industry consultant and VT columnist Kevin Williams claimed "T5" was the show's most important game, since it attracted eager players (dignified as Internet journalists) who paid to get into Expo just to try this title.
Sega , which officially merged with Sammy Corp. on the second day of the show , showed its "Ghost Hunter" deluxe shooting video and a smaller, four-player version of the satellite video game "Derby Owner's Club" as well as the driver "Initial D Version 3." Sammy and Sega officials had no news about fallout from their merger regarding plans for products, personnel, offices, corporate structure, or anything else. A full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 1 was the only U.S. message from the company; the ad echoed remarks released by officials in Tokyo that the new parent firm, Sammy Sega Holdings, intended to blend the strengths of both companies to dominate the video game market.
Video drivers, a long neglected category, continued their resurgence with "Re-Volt" from Tsunami Visual Technologies, plus "Need for Speed Underground" featuring a new Universal Players Card from Global VR. Video drivers also included "Faster Than Speed" from Sammy and "The Fast and the Furious" from Raw Thrills, distributed by Betson Distributing. Triotech introduced "Wasteland Racer 2071," a high-definition projection system on a 52-in. screen. It deploys the Mad Wave Motion platform featuring patented actuators that accelerate up to two Gs with over 100 vibrations per second.
Video sports games included Global VR's "EA Sports Madden NFL Football" (available in standard upright and mini-theater-style ultra-deluxe with podium, seats, and curtained-off projection screen). "Madden" features the company's new Universal Players Card, which will also be included the 2005 edition of "EA Sports PGA Tour" along with additional games slated for future release from the company. (See story in this issue.)
Additional video sports games at Expo included Merit's "Fantasy Football" and Sammy USA's "Extreme Hunting," another in its popular shooting simulator series. This AtomisWave system game ships as a standard upright or with an oversized podium and large monitor; both feature two guns for two competing players. Sammy also previewed its "Dirty Pigskin" football video game.
SYSTEMS, SHOOTERS, C-TOPS
Visual Sports Systems offered "RealSports," another cage-type projection screen simulator with motion sensor technology and a library of six sports simulations (hockey, baseball, soccer, football, basketball are included standard; a golf kit is also available).
System games included the debut of the FlexArcade system from TLC Industries, featuring PC-based hardware and proprietary software running on a Windows XP-embedded operating system. FlexArcade is launching with five games in its library, licensed from U.S. and foreign consumer game companies; up to three more titles will be released in the coming months. TLC intends to build the game library to 15 or 20 titles in the next 15 months. Also on the video system side was UltraCade's MultiGame System. This continually upgraded platform with an ever-expanding game library now features custom built parts and software, a 1.0 GHz Celeron chip, and other advanced components, supporting menus that exceed 100 classic arcade titles.
Shooting games, yesteryear's hot category, were less in evidence at this year's AMOA Expo. The newest video gun games were ICE's "Johnny Nero Action Hero" featuring a comicbook adventure character, and the Sammy hunting piece.
Countertop touchscreen video took another step forward at the show. Merit Industries, leader in the countertop market, rolled out "Force 2005" (19 new games) and "Maxx Jade" (15 new games). (For details, see VT, Sept.) Also new from Merit was "MegaTouch e.V.o. Wallette," a streamlined, easy-to-install unit with a flat panel designed for wall mounts, restaurant booths and other tight spaces.
JVL Corp. is upgrading its full line of countertop touchscreen units , "Eclipse," "Orion" and "Conquest" , with flash memory. "Eclipse" features flatscreen design, a large capacity memory card, no CD ROM, and no moving parts. JVL's game library, now boasting 110 titles, includes new games in multiple categories: action/skill, cards, strategy, quiz and erotica.
Novelty videos included "Drumscape II (Live in Concert)," a re-release of the popular "MTV Drumscape," a drumming karaoke-type game, and "Percussion Master," a new drumming game in which a player must match the rhythm of the music by hitting specific drums. Both are available from American Alpha Inc. and inventor John Devecka. Another notable novelty debut was that of UltraCade's "Feeding Frenzy," a deep-sea adventure video title with redemption functionality; the original version was previously released by Sprout Games as a hit consumer PC software. (See separate stories, this issue, for more on the game and UltraCade.) On the vending side of the novelty niche, uWink featured a novelty vender that sells women's lipsticks.
REDEMPTION AND PINBALL
New redemption games shown at Expo included Benchmark's bulk pinball-style novelty "Monster Ball" and production versions of "Wheel of Fortune" from Innovative Concepts in Technology, an imported British coin pusher from Crompton's. Sega won kudos for its coin launcher featuring one of the year's hottest licenses, "SpongeBob SquarePants" and a capsule or ticket-vending novelty, "Game Show."
Pinball remains the province of Stern Pinball Inc., which delighted visitors with its "Elvis" pinball, featuring seven actual recordings of the King. A top-notch Elvis impersonator worked the Stern booth, adding to the fun.
RIDES AND EVENTS
On the Fun Expo side of the aisle, IALEI presented its Best New Product award to ICE for its game "Dunk 'n' Alien," which debuted in 2003. The "Vectron Flying Saucer" from Fun Express was honored as the best new redemption product.
Among the Fun Expo exhibitor booths, Entertainment Technology Corp. talked up its "Monster Roll Cage," a two-seat motion simulator featuring 360-degree continuous motion. Leading roller coaster manufacturer Premier Rides was also a presence, focusing on smaller units designed for FECs and non-park venues.
As usual, Fun Expo featured dozens of makers of batting and pitching cages, bumper boats and cars, carousels, go-karts, inflatables, kiddie rides, major rides and miniature golf, paintball and laser tag equipment (as well as arena designers for the latter three). Dozens more exhibitors displayed party supplies and services, food and beverages suitable for fun centers, FEC architectural, consulting and planning services, and the like. A new Party Pavilion grouped 15 party service suppliers in one area.
POLITICS, PERSONNEL, SEMINARS
Politics at AMOA and Fun Expo included personnel changes at two trade associations and additional changes within some manufacturing companies. New officers were installed during association meetings held in conjunction with the shows. AMOA's new president is Marion Paul, Fanny Farkle's (Gatlinburg, TN); first vice-president is Jim Pietrangelo, Top Draw Enterprises (Winchester, VA); new treasurer is Howard Cole, Cole Vending (Weaverville, NC); and taking over as secretary is Lloyd Williamson, Williamson Music (Winona, MN).
IALEI installed its new president, Laurien Henry of Adventure Zone (Calgary, AB, Canada), the first woman to lead the organization. Also installed were IALEI's new first vice-president, Jim Kessler, (Imagination & Performance (Amherst, NY). VT columnist Frank Seninsky of Alpha Omega Amusements (E. Brunswick, NJ), became second vice-president; Court Huish of Wilson Family Fun Centers (San Juan Capistrano, CA), is this year's treasurer.
On the corporate front, speculation leading up to the show centered on who would be the new CEO of GVR, in the wake of founder Milind Bharvirkar's exit from that role. The surprising answer: the new CEO is Bharvirkar. He has resumed his CEO title in addition to his new chairman's position, it was announced in Las Vegas. Dan Van Elderen, former president of Atari, has joined GVR as a consultant to head day-to-day operations. GVR's new president is Brad Nelson, currently a senior vice-president at GVR's leading investor, Calim Private Equity LLC.
Educational programs were well attended for Fun Expo; the multi-track seminar program pulled in 420 students across the board, up 20% from last year. AMOA attracted fewer students to its much more modest program of educational sessions, although most of these sessions achieved a respectable audience of 50 to 60 people. AMOA's top session was a music copyright seminar taught by country artist Tracy Byrd along with an attorney from the Recording Industry Association of America and the director of the Jukebox License Office. Another standout session, sponsored by TouchTunes, was a motivational speech given by pro baseball's Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench; it drew over 200 enthusiastic listeners.
This year's Industry Gala Reception was once again held poolside at the Las Vegas Hilton. And, as usual, it was the social event of the show , this time with over 1,500 in attendance, a new record. Country artist Tracy Byrd serenaded the assembled throng with a medley of his hits. Sponsors of the evening's event included: AMOA, IALEI, AAMA, the AMOA Jukebox Licensing and Promotion Committee, Deltronic Labs, Firestone Financial Corp., Global VR, Incredible Technologies, the Jukebox License Office (representing the Performing Rights Organizations), Merit Industries, Sega Amusements USA, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, Sterling & Sterling, UltraCade Technologies and Valley-Dynamo.
Another 44 sponsors supported the second annual AMOA Expo Golf Classic, which drew 119 golfers for a program benefiting the association's political action committee. Other fundraising events included the daily raffle for the Wayne E. Hesch Memorial Scholarship Fund, featuring prizes contributed by 47 companies.
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