Gameroom Guru – March 2024


A Funny Year for Game Buying

Amusement Expo is More Important than Ever

George McAuliffe

By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

If it’s March it must be time for Amuse­ment Expo International (AEI)! The show, in Las Vegas, kicks off with two days of seminars – March 18 and 19 – with the trade show on the 20th and 21st. Learn more by visiting the event website at (Full disclosure, my son and partner, Howard McAuliffe serves on AAMA’s AEI board and also cochairs the show’s education committee with Beth Standlee of Trainertainment.)

A Little History

What we know of as “Amusement Expo” has a long and vibrant history. It started as the “MOA Show” (Music Operators Assn.) way back, adding the word “Amusement” to the beginning of the national association’s name and event. It was probably the first industry event I attended in the 1980s. “AMOA” was held in Chicago in September or October and was, far and away, the biggest show for our industry, covering route and arcade operations.

As we the industry shifted from video and pinball dominant arcades to merchandise games, IAAPA played a bigger role. At about the same time, mall arcades began morphing into family entertainment centers and Fun Expo was born to cater to the FEC industry. By the early 1990s, the lineup for many arcade and FEC operators was: Fun Expo in September, AMOA in October, and IAAPA in November. That was a tough schedule, and the exhibiting manufacturers and distributors would agree!

Briefly summarizing the following years, AAMA started a spring show called the Amuse­ment Showcase International (ASI) and in 2009, joined forces with AMOA to produce a single show together in the spring, what we know of today as Amusement Expo Inter­national. AEI, like AAMA itself, has become more FEC oriented over time, becoming more relevant to a wider audience. And by hosting collocated events – the Laser Tag Convention, the BCA (Billiard Congress of America’s billiards and home amusement convention) and NBVA (bulk vending) show – it’s widened its appeal even more.

A key part of the annual event is the education program. The seminar lineup and quality gets better every year, appealing to all segments of the industry. This year, sessions cover everything from marketing trends to FEC design, food and beverage to cashless systems…and a lot more. There’s also the VR Arcade Game Summit where virtual and mixed reality, along with other emerging tech, will be covered in lively discussions and keynotes. Be sure to check the AEI website for the educational opportunities.

Adobe Stock father and children playing gamesGame Buying Strategy

The trade show runs on the third and fourth days where you’ll see the industry’s latest games and attractions, plus prize merchandise, cashless systems, locks and you name it!

They say you become an expert after you’ve made enough mistakes. If that’s the case, I’m an expert game buyer! I’ve learned, sometimes painfully, that if I like a game the first few times I play it, that means nothing.

Most new releases, especially those designed for the FEC market, debut at IAAPA (although you will see some new game debuts at Amusement Expo, too). Often, the games introduced at IAAPA aren’t widely available right away. By the time AEI rolls around, we get to see the improvements that have been made and also get data on how those games have performed in the marketplace so far. That makes the show invaluable as hard data becomes available.

In our consulting practice, Pinnacle Enter­tainment Group, we have dozens of operating clients who rely on us for advice on game management and how to drive sales, two often-related subjects. In the early part of 2024, we are being challenged like we haven’t been in recent years. Our clients’ locations are seeing a softening in walk-in traffic sales (as opposed to groups and parties), and mostly on the weekdays. At the same time, we didn’t see many “must-have” games at IAAPA, certainly no power trends like we’ve enjoyed in recent years with unattended VR simulators (which began pre-Covid), growth in pushers or the “ticket ring” phenomenon of the last two years.

Don’t get me wrong, things are good in our FEC world! We are coming off record growth post-Covid, and we are still in what I call “the Golden Age of FEC” with the greatest mainstream popularity in my 45 years in this industry. But, we have to work harder to find answers when it comes to deploying our client’s capital and effectively driving business in their facilities. That’s why Amusement Expo is more important than ever. There is one thing we do know: not buying games is not the answer! In fact, it’s a sure prescription for watching sales decline!

While I did say that there weren’t many clear “must-haves” at IAAPA, I am not saying there weren’t any. We are particularly interested in Raw Thrills Godzilla VR, which holds the promise of becoming the new leader in its category. Likewise, we’re looking at Andamiro’s Marvel Spider-Man pusher and are also watching their Guardian’s of the Galaxy game. Other notable games are Coastal’s Bullseye Crackshot, ICE’s World Football and Team Play’s Carnival Wheel.

An interesting phenomenon at IAAPA was the new generation of crane machine design featuring a very clean look with greater merchandise visibility. I’m not sure they will displace LED colored cabinets – the last great design innovation in the crane category – but they might. We’ll be following up on that as well.

If you are attending you might take a look at Shaffer Distributing’s excellent IAAPA 2023 review which you can find here: I’ll have printout in hand as I walk the floor. (Just as I disclosed Howard McAuliffe’s affiliation with AAMA and the Amusement Expo, we work closely with Shaffer Distribu­ting, along with Redemption Plus and Intercard, which are mentioned below.)

Beyond the Games

If FEC sales are more challenging, there’s more to learn in exhibitors booths beyond just games. Redemption merchandise is a great tool to introduce change in arcades economically but requires a strategy and a program. We’ll be spending a lot of time in the Redemption Plus booth as they have both built around their merchandise lineup. A well-merchandised, attractive display with the right mix of prizes and price points drives redemption sales!

The third critical leg of the stool for driving arcade sales is cashless play card systems. There are big things happening in this sector in terms of innovation and updated systems. Be sure to visit Intercard, which we see leading the way once again with improved physical design of their automated tellers with additional sales and price point options, and online sales features, to help to drive sales.

And as mentioned previously, another reason to make the trip is the efficiency of AEI being collocated with the laser tag, BCA and bulk vending shows. In other words, don’t miss it! I hope to see you in Vegas!

George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of businesses large and small develop and execute arcades and FECs. He has personally operated family entertainment centers from 2,000 to 150,000 square feet as a corporate executive, entrepreneur and consultant. He is the owner, with his partner and son Howard, of Pinnacle Entertainment Group.

George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law and a grandson.

Readers can learn more about Pinnacle at or contact George at [email protected]; phone: 314-422-7197.


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