The Immersive Avalanche  | Part 6

The Immersive Avalanche | Part 6

Report Skinny

 

And with the conclusion of our extensive six-part coverage of the 101st anniversary of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), this final section looks at the explosion in “Interactive Projection” as a new trend in the scene. And then we finally wrap up by reporting the main topics and developments shaping the show and industry’s future in the New Year.  

Main Report
The concluding coverage of the major trends seen on the IAAPA 2019 show floor.
The power of “Interactive Projection” as a compelling entertainment medium has been charted by The Stinger Report over the years, as it grows in popularity. This year’s IAAPA marked one of the largest deployments of project-based systems seen in many years, and seriously started to rival the deployment of VR across the acres of show floor. One of the veterans of this application was Eyeclick, who again came to the Orlando event with their ceiling-mounted ‘BEAM‘ range of combined projection surface and motion tracking platforms, able to be used on floors and walls as well as surfaces such as tables – turning any space into a virtual playground, with over 200 games and already deployed across the retail-tainment and hospitality scene, with installations in chains like McDonalds and Burger King.
Valo Motion is pioneer in combining video games with physical activities, having over 300 partner locations globally. Their unique technology transforms trampolines and climbing walls into interactive game platforms for any indoor location. Valo Motion came to the show with the latest content for the world’s first interactive climbing wall, ‘ValoClimb‘, and their interactive trampoline game platform, ‘ValoJump. It was announced after the show that Valo Motion would be launching a brand new puzzle-based multiplayer game for ‘ValoClimb‘, called Shadowlings‘. This adds new technology to the platform, including shadow recognition, meaning that the players interact with their own shadow. IAAPA Expo was also a great event for ‘ValoJump‘ to present ‘Super Stomp– another world’s first two-player game on a trampoline, winning the 2nd place for the renowned Brass Ring Award (Best New Product category). In addition, the company presented their new body tracking trampoline game for ‘ValoJump‘, called ‘Trax‘.
One aspect of the Valo Motion game platforms is their audience appeal, as well as player appeal, with social media feeding interest in the experience (another trend spotted at IAAPA’19 was how “Social Media” is driving promotion in this sector now). After each game the players can share their high scores and game videos online, directly from the touchscreens that are included with every Valo Motion product. Social media was playing a crucial role when the company was founded, receiving some 150 million viral video views of the climbing wall game platform.
Speaking of interactive engagement and projection systems, the bowling industry has seen an increased investment in this direction – addressing the need to appeal to the new generation of guests. QubicaAMF Bowling Products, one of the leading bowling suppliers, had embraced the need for “Gamification” into the bowling offering and had launched (last year) their ‘Hyper Bowling‘ game system, with illuminated and interactive bumpers – supported by a scoring display system. At IAAPA’19, the product returned with its latest game modes. The company reflected that this game component was aimed at a younger generation of patrons (perceived as Gen Z and Millennials), and was seen to increase their spend at the property. The bowling operators were seen to be addressing the issues of a generational shift in gaming habits, also seen in the casino sector. It was revealed that, in the UK, one of the largest bowing chains, Hollywood Bowl Group, had invested £200,000 to deploy QubicaAMF‘s ‘Hyper Bowling‘ system across their 26-lane Norwich center facility. The Stinger Report readers will be familiar with our coverage of this and other similar systems in our BowlExpo’19 coverage. This is seen as an evaluation of the revenue impact this system has on the site, and possible installation across the chain.

Announced after IAAPA’19, QubicaAMF Worldwide revealed the Qubica legacy partners acquired full ownership of QubicaAMF that has seen the investment of over $30m to redevelop and extend its current product line, including industry leading products such as the ‘BES X Bowler Entertainment System’, ‘EDGE String’ and the ‘Tech Wizard’ mobile app, as well as ‘Hyper Bowling’. This move allowing the corporation to unlock a new era for immersive technology innovation that seems to be impacting the bowling scene.
The need to create an immersive environment using the latest lighting and projection was also illustrated by exhibitor ZOT ColorSplash, offering LED lighting systems for FEC and bowling environments; and also including Clutch Bowling on their booth, who has partnered towards presenting the projection mapping bowling lane system, offering interactive immersive projection game and effect elements to the bowling experience.
Along with the bowling sector, the cinema scene is looking at means to draw a new audience, and immersive projection is playing its part. One of the other absentees from the ranks of previous IAAPA 2018 exhibitors, was CJ 4DPLEX. Previously showing their VR concepts, the company now has a refocused direction. Following IAAPA’19, it was revealed that the company had signed a new partnership with Canadian cinema chain Cineplex – that will see the CJ‘s 270-degree multi-projection ‘ScreenX‘ systems installed at four theaters across Canada.
As covered in detail during our IEE’19 visit and our recent report from The Stinger Report’s location visits to the brand new ‘Electronic Theater’ in London, interactive projection systems have gained momentum as a dedicated immersive attraction for deployment in a wide variety of entertainment and hospitality venues. The use of projection as an element of an interactive and immersive experience seems to be trending as a serious alternative to using immersive headsets – and we saw enclosures and standalone systems favouring this approach.
Regarding the use of immersive projection systems in the attraction scene, a number of exhibitors promoted its employment in the bumper car and go-kart scene. Following on from their presentation last year, Zamperla and their Z+division showed their ‘Bumpacade‘ system, using a conventional bumper car and projection-mapped play-space – though further details on the first installation were not available at the time of going to the wire. Along with the new entry into VR, Amusement Products have also promoted the projection-based system for go-karts, with their ‘Power Up Go Kart‘ platform seen at the show for a second year.
Represented on the KCC Entertainment Design booth was the Belgium concept ‘BattleKart Beyond Reality‘. The first facility of this augmented reality experience opened last year, with the system seeing drivers in go-karts racing around a special indoor circuity, which incorporates projection-mapped elements including hazards and bonuses which, if the driver races over, can collect features that can knock out competitors. The player’s score and status are relayed via an onboard display. The experience also includes other games that can be played away from the traditional circuit racing experience. This is a one-of-a-kind concept developed by KCC and it is already being franchised to other locations – this is the best example of the impact that AR entertainment can add to traditional mediums.
Other exhibitors also promoted interactive projection, much of which is now being deployed in specialist attractions, or in children’s game centers which offer interactive walls and floor experiences. IAAPA’19 saw China-based Gooest Media Technology show their latest display and interaction systems. The company has recently worked on art installations based on the immersive projection environments, such as the Huizhou Huamao Tiandi “City of Lights” exhibition in May. Gooest is also involved in their ‘Kidsdora‘ – a children’s projection environment with multiple interactive elements, such as demonstrated on the booth with the ball throwing wall. Another child-focused and educational approach to interactive displays was seen from Breeze Creative – along with the large screen ‘Digital Ball Wall‘, the company also had their compelling ‘Animated Sandbox‘ (a child-focused system that also becomes a guilty pleasure for many adults).
Other sports-related projection enclosures at the show included those fromDreampark International, who showed examples of their virtual park concepts. While Russia-based Hello Park, aninteractive media attraction developer, demonstrated on their booth a large and very bright LED touchscreen, illustrating their design ethos. Exhibitor Sports Coaching Simulator showed their high-performance projection enclosure with three screens (‘HD Surround Bay‘), allowing players and professionals to experience a number of sports, with the object tracking component, and with the experiences on offer ranging from golf and soccer, and even reconfigured for target shooting and racing simulators, with their ‘4K Racing Surround Simulator‘. Canadian exhibitor HD Multi Sportpresented their own ‘HD Sports Suite‘, offering a full section of projection enclosure sports titles and a dedicated clubhouse management software – including the ability to facilitate tournaments. Deployment of these kind of simulator sports is seen with the recent investment in ‘Topgolf Swing Suite’ – a chain of luxury hospitality and entertainment venues, building on the deployment of sport projection simulators.
One of the leading providers of display and projection technology had an amazing showing during IAAPA 2019 – Christie Digital, celebrating their 90th anniversary and with some 200,000 installations of their hardware worldwide, continued to wow. First off, the booth was dominated with a world’s first, with a large display made up of LED tiles (using the ‘Christie Apex Series‘) that was able to create a video-wall offering HD 3D images viewed using passive glasses. The ability to now create 3D using the vibrant LED tile system will transform attraction designs – compared to the dimmer projection alternative. Next, the company created a unique demonstration that saw projection-mapping used on a model house and, by looking through various windows, a different projection sequence was visible, allowing one multi-channel projector to supply multiple views when viewed through the correct filtered ‘MicroTiles LED‘. The final demonstration was an amazing look at the advancements in laser projection clarity, with the difference in colour saturation from the latest laser projection system (the ‘Christie Mirage SST‘) – ushering in a brighter future for projection-based media.
The use of large format LED display screens was seen as a trend gaining momentum in the sector, as seen on the UK Department for International Trade (UK DIT) booth. The immersive attraction experts, Teq4, demonstrated the ‘ScreenTeq with MotionFlex‘ LED tile system that offers the means to place the projections on curved and unusually-shaped surfaces that can move, both for indoor and outdoor application, allowing for the cladding of buildings and objects with an organic display. The technology will drive much of the future in immersive display attractions being considered.
This was also visible outside the show floor – proving the versatility of this kind of display. Outdoor exhibitor PLAYMIND Studios showed off their giant interactive 20-foot LED screen, with the undead themed game ‘PLAYBOX – Zombies!‘ – with groups of players throwing balls and launching Nerf darts at the screen, to hold back the hoard of creatures. This was an amazing example of interactive gaming on a big scale and proved very popular. It was revealed that the immersive video game package had recently been installed at La Ronde Six Flags in Montreal, seeing a very strong interest from the core playing audience.
Beyond projection and LED displays, and other technology looking for its time to shine was holographic. The exhibitor Euclideon Entertainment returned to the show with their holographic system. The company has already opened its first Australia-based (Holoverse Entertainment Centre) LBE, based on its patented technology. The company returned to the show with its ‘Hologram Table’ arcade machine, offering a two-player experience with the visuals offering a ‘floating in the air’ appearance – demonstrated in their turnkey enclosure on the show floor.
Beyond wearables in the frictionless payment environment, wearables in “Gamification” were making a greater impact. Examples seen on the show floor included ZTAG and their “interactive gaming wearable“, following on from the previous examples of their interactive badge and wristband tag games. ‘ZTAG 2.0‘ was demonstrated, offering a production model of the wrist-based device, providing a standalone attraction in a ‘Battle Royal Arena‘ and the team-based ‘Scavenger Hunt Missions‘. The device directs the players and allows game elements such as tag, leaderboard, and scores.
As seen at the recent Trampoline show in Europe, several venues and providers are using smart wristbands to manage guests’ time, and to add game elements to their attractions. This was evident at IAAPA’19 with Funlandia Play Systems showing a version of their indoor play arena, using smart wristbands which allow the collection of points for the completion of the activities, with the player contacting markers dotted throughout the course. Walltopia, the active entertainment attraction company, exhibited with a vast Ninja Course, and incorporated into their mix the TechtopiaGamifer‘ – a scoring system using special RFID wristbands, which incorporates a player profile and, when scanned, tracks progress and rates it against other players – thus creating a unique game element for the attraction.
An unusual interactive concept that was released at IAAPA’19 was from Battle Company. The company showed their ‘Battle Cage‘, a brand new concept which has two players using soft plastic swords, along with special belts that register the sword hits (along with eye protection). The players compete in a special cage with video display for the audience to see the number of hits scored in the player-vs-player game. The system offers a highly physical and fun experience, adding an interactive element to a simple game concept – and with strong audience appeal. It will be interesting to see how this is received in the market.
The adding of a level of interactivity / gamification to previous passive platforms is best illustrated by the interactive inflatable systems, such as those presented at the show by JB Inflatables and their ‘Interactive Play System‘ (IPS) products. Other developers in this sphere include Swiftech International and their ‘HitLit‘ platform.
In winding up the monstrous coverage of the amazing and exhausting IAAPA 2019, the final trend that is mentioned is “Interactive Engagement” – far beyond the conventional entertainment, this looks at the gamification in the pay-to-play aspects that are gaining momentum, as was seen with numerous companies at IAAPA’19 reimagining the “gamecards” and payment systems to add game elements. Embed announced its new wearable collection, a collection which has close to 200 design variations, covering every consumer demographic, gender, and amusement category, including waterparks. The company has also introduced its ‘Mobile Wallet’ – the next-generation in cashless payments for the FEC Industry.
While looking at how we pay to play, there was also the latest appearance of “Blockchain” financial services looking seriously at deployment into the Out-of-Home Entertainment arena. Industry startup Silicon Nexus showed a selection of their ‘Prize neXus‘ terminals, with these touchscreen cabinets representing a major revolution in prize pay-out. The system represents the world’s first blockchain-based digital vending machine. The creation of a virtual inventory and the ability to hook up to the social media of the guests, creating an e-economy and the acquiring of digital skins and prizes, offered a glimpse of what the future of e-economy can offer, as it pertains to amusement.

What This Could All Mean:
The Stinger Report representatives are foot sore after continuously covering some 580,000 net square feet of exhibition space – not forgetting the outside tented space and outdoor exhibits. IAAPA 2019 represented some 1,140 exhibitors from across the globe, attracting some 42,600 international attractions professionals in attendance (this being a claimed increase of some 1,800 on last year’s record numbers). Sources suggested that the event organizers had had to turn away over 80 enquiries to exhibit due to the show being full, underlying the critical mass it has reached.
While the show may have been described as gathering professionals from the amusement and theme parks, water parks, family entertainment centers, zoos, aquariums, science centers and museums sectors; there was also a clear addition of interest from retail, cinema, and hospitality – reflected in many of the new faces seen walking the show floor, and attending a parade of mixers and parties. News came that the MAPIC convention in Europe would be changing its format to include a greater leisure entertainment offering (and clashing with the IAAPA 2020 dates), but this only underline the importance and diversity of the sector, and that some are prepared to fight for it.
Well-placed sources revealed that IAAPA will experience a major upheaval with its plans for 2020 (taking place the 16th to the 20th of November) – with the constant complaint about the “tented village” being finally addressed. It was suggested that next year will see the move of the tented exhibits, and a relocation of a major part of the IAAPA show floor. A move to the older adjoining hall and the closure of the tented area was brought upon the organizers due to planned and extensive construction work, commencing next year, to enlarge the Orange County Convention Center (OCC). This will see attendees having to traverse between the older West Hall and the available space in the North Hall (expect sales of mobility scooters to race away!)
But it is the implications beyond the products demonstrated and announced that now shape this last part of The Stinger Report coverage:
Event Trends & Issues on Display (IAAPA’19)
Charting the key developments gleamed from the trade floor:

– Monetizing “Dead Space” 

One aspect of the new technology on the IAAPA’19 trade floor was how it totally changes the way the Out-of-Home Entertainment market could utilize the space around us. As was seen with the demonstrations by SPREE Interactive, VEX Solutions, VRstudios and Ballast VR, to name just four, there is now VR hardware available that can employ ‘dead space’ and allow operators, who previously would never have thought of running entertainment, a chance to enter the entertainment scene.
This concept was demonstrated at Dave & Buster’s in Orlando during the show, with the ability of VRstudios to quickly turn an empty party room into a VR arena; and likewise as was seen across the street at the Rose Plaza Hotel, with VEX Solutions turning an empty ball room into a VR arena. But the big opportunity that may have been missed by many, was the ability for Ballast VRto turn any empty swimming pool into a VR adventure. The millions of hotel and resort swimming pools which are empty and under-utilized, could be totally changed with the deployment of such hardware. The hotel and resort industry will have to take seriously the opportunities that this utilization of ‘dead space’ could mean to their bottom line!
VR’s Ubiquity
Well it was not lost on anyone that VR seemed to be everywhere – on the signage promoting the show, in the conference program, and fundamentally across the exhibit hall. It was calculated that some 85 exhibitors had some form of VR on their booth – a fundamental rise in adoption of a technology that is still in its infancy and has yet to achieve some of the important milestones in successful adoption. This marks the sixth year since this latest phase of VR first grazed the IAAPA halls. As stated in the previous coverage, VR in the amusement and attraction scene has reached what we have defined as the “ROI-phase” – alluding to the need to see actual revenue generation, rather than living off the hype. Already we are seeing the first mergers, acquisitions, and failures of corporations in the sector. Hopefully IAAPA 2019 marked the point when VR grew up.
In defining that ROI-phase, a number of the leading VR developers and FEC operators were employing new statistical data tracking software and CRM packages, to better understand the needs of the player-base, and generate repeat visitation (the essential element to the survival of this phase of development). Along with tournaments and eSports being applied to the “stickiness” of the systems being sold, the use of advanced customer profiling and generating a database of players have also become compelling factors. Another trend on the horizon linked to this was the promotion of new ways to sell and operate VR and MR systems – with the possibility of “Revenue Sharing” being a practical model for some manufactures, sharing the burden with the operator and opening new revenue opportunities.
– Mergers & Acquisitions  
One major trend that The Stinger Report has been charting over the last few months is the number of partnerships and acquisitions that have littered the business pages. Both the build-up to IAAPA’19 and the subsequent weeks were full of the latest reports. Just as we went to the wire on this report, there was news of several partnerships that also comprised links with each other. The news that Springboard VR and VRstudios were to sign an agreement to partner on the distribution of VR content on their platform set many tongues wagging. At the same time, there was the announcement of the partnership between ILMxLabs (LucasFilms) and Nomadic, towards the installation of a brand new VR popup experience that would be opened (initially) across six of Cinemark‘s 16 Century Cinema locations.
All this culminates with another major cinema deal, which sees the UK-based Cineworld acquire the Canadian Cineplex operation for some $2.13b. The Canadian operation represents some 165 cinemas in North America, as well as their investments in the amusement scene, including facilities such as REC ROOM, and also their investment into VRstudios (supported through Player One). Cineplex has also established partnerships with The VOID, representing their popup installations in Canada. This is just the first of major consolidations and mergers mirroring what has been seen in the movie and television (streaming) sector – and is now being seen in “Immersive Entertainment.”
– Swords into Ploughshares 

The 53rd annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) was held only a matter of days after IAAPA’19, taking place in the same convention hall after IAAPA was broken down. Overlooked by many, the importance of how simulation training is shaping commercial and military aviation was best illustrated by the worldwide shortage for aviators – and how the latest part-task simulators are being used to teach the new workforce, in a clear example of how simulation and training can be an effective tool.

I/TEC offers several interesting tech trends that usually evolve into the attraction and entertainment sphere, and this year was no different. Unusually not on the IAAPA show floor, Doron Precision Systems did, however, exhibit at the following I/ITSEC, offering a commercial off-the-shelf driving simulator for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), to offer a cost-effective solution. Another previous IAAPA attendee who is now focused on Vis/Sim rather than entertainment, was Cruden, promoting their fast craft crew training simulator, featuring seats for two people, and a dynamic motion platform. Leading developers such as Kratos also showed their ‘RVCTS’, employing the latest immersive and mixed reality systems (such as Color Keying), achieving a new level in training.
The investment in entertainment simulation (be it entertainment or simulation training) has always been considerable, with many ride attractions and the technology that enables them originating from a commercial and military simulation background. Many in the R&D side of entertainment attraction development and consultancy were attending the simulation sector show, for pointers on new methodologies and applications that will eventually find their way into the next generation of media attraction.
Final Comment   
Marking the closing of the year, IAAPA’19 ended the show how it seems to have felt from the start – with a fast pace and a considerable wealth of new concepts, designs, and the ever-present growth in immersive technology deployment. This year clearly marked a point when immersive and interactive development was a leading aspect of all design, rather than an afterthought or treated just as a nascent technology. But 2019 also marked a point where change was in the air for the fortunes of the VR community, and it will be seen if the momentous growth of virtual technology will be (or not) superseded by other emerging systems.
After such a detailed and arduous report, we can at least take some respite with the holidays. But all things start with a bang, as the 53rd Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas promises to bring in the New Year with many surprises and some serious development in the commercial electronics scene. Until then, we wish all our readers well.