Howard McAuliffe’s Now Trending – April 2020



It’s Really About Connection


Howard McAuliffe

by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Increasingly in recent years, there is a lot of sameness in our industry. It is much easier to replicate than innovate, so it is natural that business concepts that work are duplicated throughout the country. This is great when business is growing and thriving quickly, but not once markets reach saturation. When you reach that point, these similar concepts begin to cannibalize each other.

We are constantly thinking about ways to help clients improve and differentiate and increasing immersion in the FEC environment is part of how an FEC can do this. When I saw an article in the LA Times titled “Rise of the Resistance and the Immersive Revolution Happening in Our Theme Parks” by Todd Martens, I took notice. Immersion is a buzzword typically associated with Virtual Reality (VR) and with the article’s focus on Disney, which I consider to be the best in the world at delivering out-of-home entertainment, I made sure to read the article.

In describing the new direction of Disney, the author states: “Say goodbye, at least for the foreseeable future, to the topic-focused lands of yore such as Adventureland or Fantasyland, and think instead of story- and plot-driven lands that will place guests in the midst of an ongoing narrative, which creates new opportunities and challenges. They are, in essence, to quote the narration of the recent Disney+ docu-series The Imagineering Story, lands that represent a ‘living theater’ where the guest can ‘play make-believe.’”

Disney is creating deeper immersion for their guests by working to place them into the experiences. An example of this is the Star Wars Universe which allows them to interact with the environment to help create their own custom experience. This sounds great, but our clients don’t have Disney budgets or own brands like Star Wars, so how can we provide a deeper level of immersion in an FEC?

Were you thinking by providing deeply immersive VR to your guests? I did as well, but I’m now convinced VR is only a small part of the answer.

The best definition I found for the word “immersion” is “deep mental involvement.” The beauty of the best community-based FECs is that they are part of the local fabric…places where people can go to enjoy their time with people they care about. What’s more immersive and “deep mental involvement” than having a conversation or shared experience with people you love? If you had the opportunity to go back in time and relive an experience, would you choose a thrilling amusement experience or a conversation with a loved one who is no longer alive?

Community-based FECs are places that facilitate the conversations and shared experiences that are essential to a rich life. Here are a few ways our locations can intentionally facilitate immersion:

1) Provide good food and beverage with excellent service and plenty of comfortable seating. Some of the deepest and best shared experiences in life occur as part of a meal.

2) Include games that can be played in groups. Driving games, Skee-Ball and basketball games are not typically high earners, but they do offer the ability for an experience.

3) Remember that theming is important, especially around events. As I write this, March Madness is about to heat up. A facility with promotions, merchandise and signage focused on March Madness can provide the space for basketball fans to more deeply immerse themselves in the tournament while sharing the experience with friends. People go to sporting events for the atmosphere, because the view is much better on TV.

4) Make sure the staff is trained to explain attractions in the form of a story. Laser tag, escape rooms and VR can all be framed in the form of stories to enhance the immersion .

Disney’s new strategy of increasing immersion was a great reminder that it’s important. But for a community-based FEC, immersion is vital as a facilitator of human connection, not the result of the construction of a totally alternate universe.


Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.




Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.