Something Old, Something New

Posted On: 12/29/2017

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While walking the exhibit floor at the International Association Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) show in November, I ran into an intern for Disney who was working toward his master's degree in business. He was visiting Orlando to check out the latest games, and I noticed he had been playing Coastal Amusements' Ring Toss (a newly-adapted coin-op version of a popular carnival game) for quite a while. I asked whether I could take his picture; we had a nice chat, and he told me that he had hoped to open his own arcade one day. "I can't play games like this on my phone," he said. "I love the tangible appeal and the physical skill involved with traditional arcade games."
SELF-SERVICE: While high-tech amusement developments like virtual reality are getting a lot of attention, traditional games continue to enjoy wide appeal, and not only to players. Here, Coastal Amusements' Ring Toss game gets a workout at recent IAAPA Attractions Expo as Coastal president Lenny Dean (right) discusses the game with William C. Siirola, an MBA candidate at the University of Utah and an intern at the Disney organization. While tossing rings at LED-illuminated "bottles" on the playfield, Siirola observed that he can't get play action like that on a smartphone – and, as a prospective future operator, he appreciates the game's accessibility. It does not require an attendant, so is easy to run with minimum labor.

"But what about virtual reality?" I inquired. He replied by explaining that you don't need an attendant for traditional "street" games, which is not the case with the latest virtual reality experiences. This appeals to him as a future business owner.

This got me thinking about the new demographic for arcades and other location-based entertainment facilities, as contrasted with the street locations and gamerooms that I frequented in my youth. I wondered, what is it that appeals to today's consumer? Who is today's player, and what is the next new "experience" that will make customers eager to pay more?

I don't think there is any one "right" answer to this question. In my humble opinion, the excitement and diversity at this year's IAAPA Attractions Expo clearly demonstrated the blending of the traditional and familiar, on one hand, and on the other, the application of new technology and the appeal of globally-recognized licensed brands.

I have been reading a lot of blogs recently about "immersive experiences" and I know that virtual reality is a hot trend right now, but will it stand the test of time? What experiences do consumers really want? I do believe that VR has tremendous appeal and it's just getting started. But what is it about Team Play's Family Guy Bowling that makes it a top seller for distributors, and why is air hockey (according to maven Mark Robbins) seeing a huge surge in the home market? What is the appeal of Adrenaline's Rabbids Ticket Fiesta? Why were people standing around the table-top Pong game, apparently mesmerized? (Unis Technology has partnered with Calinfer to manufacture and manage sales and distribution of a new Atari Pong Table. The project was started by Calinfer in Uruguay as a tribute to the iconic game, and after creating a working prototype, the firm raised some capital, and then obtained an exclusive license from Atari).

Is there a common theme here? If there is, it may be that while today's consumers often embrace new technology, a large number of them also like to relive traditional experiences that they enjoyed in the past and to have those familiar experiences at home. This is certainly true for pinball machines, and seems to apply to video and arcade games as well. Popular apps, and television and movie themes, are also very appealing to players. This explains the excitement around Adrenaline's Rabbids, Candy Crush Saga Tickets and Despicable Me Minion Wacker.

Can these games, television series and popular apps be reproduced in the arcade environment to get players out of their home and into locations? Based on what I observed at IAAPA, they can, and our industry is responding. Beyond pinball, video and arcade games, many of these global entertainment brands also have merchandising appeal demonstrated by themed T-shirts, figurines and plush toys which can be sold at redemption counters, in bulk venders and in crane machines.

So let us look objectively at the future, and embrace the "disruption" while not losing sight of the appeal of a familiar experience. This applies to amusements, vending, micromarkets and coffee service – and publishing. If we focus exclusively on the Next Big Thing, we may be missing potential customers for the things amusement and vending operators already know how to do.

And if you're in the amusement industry and don't normally read the vending section because you think "it's not my market," you owe it to yourself to read the feature article in the December issue that describes the "Amazon effect" – the ongoing evolution and disruption of the retail market resulting from the growing popularity of e-commerce. It's important to recognize that the operator still is closest to the customer; we have ownership of the "last mile." We also can leverage technology, and learn from it to remain relevant.

Technology alone will not save this industry. If we put all our eggs in that basket, we risk obsolescence, because operators will not be able to offer anything that consumers can't get at home. And if I missed you at the fall shows and you have something you'd like to share, please reach out to me. We can all learn from each other.