It’s Great to be Back…
And to See Strong New Product Choices at the Trade Shows
By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
We were able to get out and attend several industry events over the summer. It was great to be out again, to catch up with friends and colleagues and to see some terrific product.
In our consulting practice we regularly find ourselves in discussion about the value of attractions. We recently had a conversation with industry technology veteran Bob Cooney who defined an attraction as “… a primary reason the customer goes to a location. Restaurants, bowling, and laser tag are attractions.” Here are a few others, including some up-and-comers that were on display.
Virtual Reality continues to be strong and fills the bill for a what’s considered to be a “small-footprint” attraction. Leading systems at the moment are Hologate and Major Mega’s Hyperdeck VR (available through Creative Works), Virtuix Omni Arena, and Vex (available through Shaffer Distributing). Boxblaster VR single-player (shipping late November) is getting good reviews. All have their place and are well supported.
Hyperdeck has neat immersive effects such as heat, wind and haptic floor feedback. Spectators can interact with players by dropping in aid or resistance in real time during the game. Vex has a compelling cost differential –– significantly lower than comparably sized units. It is “free roam” and scalable from 2 to 4 to 6 players and up.
esports is coming into its own. We’ve read about esports for several years now but it has been unclear how it will execute and scale for FECs. We think its time has arrived. We recently placed our first GameUp! dedicated esports attraction in a client’s facility and the second opens this month. We also placed our first Omni Virtuix VR attraction which has a big esports component. Early returns are good. We’re told the Vex system will have esports features as well.
Social (Non-Regulation) bowling has been on the rise for the last several years. Our client, The Workz in Cuyahoga Falls, recently opened with duckpin bowling as a centerpiece attraction. When you’re talking “non-regulation,” it means that the lanes don’t need expensive, high-maintenance automatic pinsetters and that the lane length is flexible. We can now capitalize on the wildly successful bowling/FEC marriage in more facilities given reduced space and budget requirements.
Golf Simulators have a place in certain concepts of the social and more adult (read “bar”) FEC and LBE environments. The revenue doesn’t always show directly at the attraction. The payoff can be indirect in food and beverage sales and as an appeal to groups. (As an example, we installed it a few years ago in a hotel bar/entertainment center. The sales manager told me that her team was told to ask every meeting planner if their CEO played golf. That alone sold a few parties, which were $10k and up.) Top Golf Swing Suite simulators bring the power of that brand to smaller spaces.
Mini-Golf: I love it. I always tell people I invented the six-hole mini-golf course right after I saw my friend Jim Bennington’s (Lucky Strike) course of that size in Chicago! I had done several mini-golf attractions over the years and always thought in terms of 9, 18 or 27 holes. Six…or seven or eight for that matter … allows you to entertain four players per hole with good throughput and low labor. Today’s successful courses are highly themed, “Instagrammable” and technology-enabled. Both Tiger Woods and the original Top Golf founders are launching social bar/restaurants with modern-day mini-golf as the attraction. They have attracted tens of millions of dollars in investment. Creative Works’ Lucky Putt is a technology-enabled system that is available to the rest of us.
Laser Tag: We all know and love this attraction. It has perhaps suffered more than others than others from Covid because of the loss of group and party sales. But, it’s coming back! There are several new developments that will be hot topics in the coming months related to technology upgrades and more “open playfield” developments to bring new attention.
If an attraction is defined as being of a scale that it “attracts” people to the facility, the economic value of an attraction is often indirect. The two go together. If it attracts people to the property, they will spend on other things. A pre-Covid analysis Pinnacle did on our client arcades found that bowling entertainment centers (BECs) with arcades and at least one other FEC attraction did more than twice the sales per game per week than BECs with just an arcade.
Which brings us to “hybrids.” I’m referring to unattended VR attractions. They are hybrids because they are more than a “game.” While they have a wow factor that exceeds that of the average game, I’m not sure they are compelling enough to fit Bob Cooney’s definition of an “attraction.” On location, we’ve found that they cannibalize some of revenue from other games where the attended attractions don’t seem to.
That said, we love them for what they are and place them in client’s arcades whenever we can. The industry now has several primary options: LAI’s VR Rabbids, Triotech’s Storm (see picture above) and Raw Thrills’ King Kong of Skull Island, which are two-player, motion-based units; VRsenal’s Star Wars VR experience, Vader Immortal: Lightsaber Dojo, a single-player (hardware based on the platform they built for Beat Saber VR); and coming in late November will be Gold and Mace, a single-player, unattended VR game developed by BoxBlaster and engineered by Benchmark Games.
Cooney also shared that he believes the future is “VR arcades” within arcades, featuring multiple unattended VR simulators/ experiences perhaps bundled together with an attended VR attraction or two. Now, THAT’s an attraction for sure!
Our great manufacturers have been working hard. Games we think have promise include Bay Tek’s Axe Master, Raw Thrills’ Minecraft Dungeons Arcade, ICE’s Snow Ball Toss (for younger players) and LAI’s Angry Bird’s Coin Crash pusher (above) and Slam ‘n’ Jam Ultra basketball.
It wasn’t so long ago that we were wondering if and when we’d get out of the pandemic. While we’re not there, it is gratifying to see customers flocking back to our FECs. It is equally great to know that we will have new product to support and grow that interest.
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.