Amusement Expo Reflects Robust Industry

Posted On: 4/23/2019

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The 2019 Amusement Expo International is now history. I'm glad to report that attendance by operators and exhibitors this year was the highest it has been since the show's 2010 debut, when the Amusement and Music Operators Association and American Amusement Machine Association joined forces to produce a single annual coin-op event. Co-sponsored by AMOA and AAMA, the conference and exposition once again benefited from participation by the National Bulk Vendors Association and the Laser Tag Convention.

The educational seminars were a big hit, with 32 sessions drawing about 2,000 registrants. Topics ranged from integrating cashless systems into small-footprint locations and optimizing connectivity, to attracting the best customers, and the incremental business opportunities offered to amusement operators by bulk vending and automated teller machines. The fast-growing virtual-reality sector also continued to be a focal point of the show. Again this year, manufacturers of virtual-reality games and developers of VR attractions were able to exhibit in a dedicated pavilion. Eight VR companies exhibited in 31 booths this year, and the education program included 14 sessions devoted to the category.

For the first time this year, Amusement Expo opened its exhibit to registrants at the adjacent Digital Signage Expo, and 262 DSE badge-holders visited the AEI show.

These numbers illustrate the evolution in our industry, mostly resulting from the interaction of technology, society and the marketplace. Amusement Expo is benefiting from interest in new developments that are reshaping the entertainment world. One of the most visible is the transformation of payment systems. An important thread in vending history has been the ongoing effort to enable customers to make their purchases with whatever they have in their pockets. This has driven the evolution of basic single-price, single-coin mechanisms through bill validators to cards and mobile options. Along the way, vending payment technology expanded to include product sales tracking; the same wireless network connection handles payment processing and sales reporting.

From what I saw at this year's Amusement Expo, mobile technology, payment systems and data collection are trending up in the amusement industry, too. It's hard to compare the progress of payment systems for vending and games because vending and game operators have different needs. But the Internet has driven a massive conversion of data into formats that make it much more versatile and adaptable.

Digital downloading jukeboxes illustrate this trend. The Internet has replaced the operator's record library as the music source, and it's available for many other purposes too, from cashless payment processing to enabling a range of features that benefit customers, operators and locations. Music systems from AMI and Touchtunes have been using mobile apps for a while now. These include "remote"tools for operators not unlike those now finding favor in vending, and also help boost revenue by enabling customers to customize their music consumption through their smartphones.

The operator and the location also can use "the Cloud" to build patron engagement through personalized promotions. The use of branding highlights enhances the location as a destination and helps keep customers coming back. Whether it be music, games or foodservice, it's all about the experience when it comes to customer loyalty.

An innovative concept that caught my attention at the show was introduced by first-time exhibitor Tigapo. Its digital "mobile-first" arcade management and payment platform can connect games (and vending machines) through "the Cloud," collecting data and processing it in real time. The software analyzes machine performance to show operators which games drive the most revenue, enabling strategic game placement inside the arcade and flagging equipment that may need adjustment or service.

Tigapo's algorithms can also learn users' habits, and give owners the ability to set dynamic pricing, while autonomously and remotely managing operations. The established point-of-sale systems providers have been moving steadily in the direction of mobile apps for customer convenience and operator remote management. Today's amusement and vending businesses have a lot of options.

The vending, music and amusements business always has been technology-based, and  the best technology always has benefited the customer and the operator alike. Today's massive low-cost wireless capability offers real advantages to established players, but it challenges them to deal with legacy equipment and processes. Those same developments can  be an advantage to a newcomer with a good grasp of computers and telecommunications and, of course, some mechanical flair – and good selling skills. Some things never change.