Embracing Entertainment’s Change Part 1 | # 1062

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Main Report

This latest two-part report looks at the two areas of development that are shaping the growth of investment into Out-of-Home Entertainment and offer the greatest opportunities for growth in building strong business, as we emergence back into operations. First, we look at new “ePayment” and “frictionless” investment. COVID has seen people, in many cases, go nearly a year without carrying cash, and our industry needs to reflect the new normal.

– Amusement’s Inevitable Transition to Frictionless

It was reported in a Reportlinker overview that the global smart-card market was valued at $8.14b in 2019, and it was expected to reach $11.50b by 2025. Obviously, this market comprised all aspects of contact-less card technology, with the entertainment utilization being a small but emerging aspect of this vast upswing. This is a technology that has seen a manifest eruption in utilization since The Stinger Report first covered smart-card systems’ first full amusement adoption (in Australia and Japan) some 20-odd years back. Much of this latest adoption has been accelerated because of the Global Health Crisis causing an anathema with conventional currency. At the same time, the convenience of swipe-and-go payment, and special utilization in entertainment, are offering new revenue streams to those who took the plunge.

In the past, The Stinger Report’s frictionless tech coverage has touched on some of the reasons why some Street Route, and amusement operators have had an aversion to the widespread adoption of smart-payment systems in their area. However, with the needs of the post-pandemic market, the adoption of online registration and cashless payment – beyond the love affair with “Tokens & Tickets” – has seen an uptake in the deployment of smart-cards and other frictionless payment systems, no matter the original aversions to consideration. Frictionless (or “Low-Touch”) solutions are offering a perceived hygienic option in these days of concern.

The opportunity of frictionless [CORE]

Talking about adapting to current market needs and our readers will remember our reporting, in November of last year, on the closing of the original Playdium entertainment facility in Mississauga (first opened in 1996). This was not the abandonment by owner Cineplex, but the continuation of restructuring and development of the ongoing “Cinema Entertainment Center” (CEC) initiative. The next stage was revealed in February, with the opening of a new facility Playdium venue in Dartmouth Crossing, Canada. The new 30,000sq,ft. location comprises a bowling alley and amusement zone, and also includes ‘VRcade ATOM’ eight-player immersive virtual reality games, developed by partner VRstudios. The site also includes its own hospitality offering and sits adjacent to a 12-screen Cineplex Cinema. This marks the third Playdium venue, sitting alongside the eight Rec Room entertainment brand, also run by Cineplex. These moves come as the company redefines the balance between its theaters and location-based entertainment offerings.

This redefining of theater and CEC balance will be fuelled by new investment in the operation and it was announced, at the end of February, that Cinepelex had been holding a private placement note offering of investment and had successfully raised around $200m in capital. This indicates a strong level of support in the current and future plans presented by the executive team to investors. It will be interesting to see how many other cinema chains will be looking at this initiative towards driving their needs to raise new investment capital, with hopes to stay relevant in the changed entertainment landscape going forward.

Talking about how the international cinema chain business is attempting to restructure itself towards the new dynamics of the post-COVID landscape, a new development was reported from Asia. Missed by most of the media, CJ CGV, the largest multiplex cinema chain in South Korea, revealed a massive restructuring of its business that include the launch of a brand-new business vertical. It was announced that CJ CGV would now allow guests to bring game consoles into the movie theaters, with the ability to rent the screens to play the games on the giant screens. Stinger Report readers will be familiar with our previous coverage on the offering by key cinema chains to rent out screening rooms to watch selected movies in bubbles of friends. This move mirrors much of the “Crossover” business developments iterated previously in The Stinger Report. This latest development allows the reservation of the screen currently in venues within Seoul area, hocked up to the users’ console and playing their own games free of charge.

Big screen console gaming in a Seoul cinema theater [CJ CGV]

Taking a detailed snapshot of the activities in this market, we have approached the key leading amusement providers of smart-payment systems to chart their developments under the current conditions.

The need to address the move over to a frictionless solution for entertainment venues has been illustrated by Sacoa Cashless System. The company has been working recently in the Florida area, with venues embracing their new needs for limited-touch operations. Florida’s largest indoor e-karting track can be found in Dezerland Park Orlando and the venue, also comprising 12-lane bowling, arcade, and trampoline park, will be used as a showroom for the Sacoa Cashless System to display all the potential it can offer for the industry. Meanwhile, amusement venues Arcade City Game Room (with its unique hospitality offering) and Midway Arcade (in Orlando) also recently made the switch to Sacoa solutions.

Many new products have been developed to offer a combination of tools to help entertainment venue operators navigate the needs of the guest with the practicalities of business under the current restrictions. The ‘Sacoa Spark’ RFID reader and the ‘K4’ self-service kiosk help to minimize direct contact among operators/guests. Besides, ‘Online Sales Module’ and ‘Sacoa Pay’ functionality give access to special promotions and discounts directly, via mobile devices.

The innovative K4 self-service kiosk [Sacoa]

A recognized leader in cashless technology for amusement and attraction application, Intercard, has been working closely with operators to achieve the best fit of frictionless deployment and guests’ needs. Most recently, the company installed its technology at the Myrtle Beach’s Broadway Grand Prix Family Race Park, South Carolina resort destination. The venue’s entertainment offerings are broken up into go-kart track, mini-golf, rock-climbing and a 75-amusement machine arcade space. Venue owner Lazarus Entertainment Group marked its first venture into deploying a cashless system at the property, working with Intercard to create an ease-of-use solution for guests. The need to integrate a cashless system with the already existing facility POS architecture, is a factor in this decision.

Intercard was able to deploy a system that blended the needs of Lazarus Entertainment, with the simplicity of operation for users. It is this need to offer a simple but effective solution that has allowed Intercard to promote an increase by 30-percent in revenue across the 4,000 locations, worldwide, that operate the hardware. The company has continued to invest in development, having launched the new ‘iReader Impulse’, a first of its kind multi-support system, taking smart-cards, but also incorporating a Near Field Communication (NFC) capability to accept credit card payment. Leading entertainment facility chains such as NAMCO Entertainment and Main Event have depended on their deployment of the range.

The first of a new generation of readers [Intercard]

It is important to note that it has been calculated by numerous sources that 82-percent of people view contactless and low-touch as the safest way to order and pay – this trend having fuelled, over the last few months, a dramatic spike in mobile payment. It is this realisation leading to the need to define business in a changed market, as reflected by industry leader EMBED. The corporation, with some 3,000 installations, has invested heavily in its new ‘Mobile Wallet’ in support of the current range of ‘smartTOUCH’ debit game readers and facility services platforms. The back-of-house software package supporting this infrastructure is now incorporating guest booking.

A recent example of an EMBED installation is with the facility ‘Scary Strokes’ – a family-run, Maryland-based entertainment center, with a dedicated attraction such as an 18-hole mini-golf course, VR-based ‘Omni Arena’ platform; along with video amusement and prize redemption machines. Reopening after lockdown, the venue needed to address the concerns of a post-COVID audience and continue to offer an experience for the entire family at affordable prices. The venue went with deploying 39 of the EMBED ‘smartTOUCH’ readers, complemented by the ‘Mobile Wallet’, contact-free payment system. All this, including facility management software to better address the needs of offering effective price control and monitoring guest satisfaction, is available through the free marketing kit.

Looking at a safe, low-touch solution for operators to adopt, EMBED has developed its new platform, which is the only Apple and Google certified mobile wallet solution in the industry. ‘Mobile Wallet’ offers minimal contact between staff and guests in the process of token- and currency-free payment. Along with being a free app, it also makes it possible for guests to book and pay online for their scheduled timeslot on attractions and venue services. The system has also been made adaptive to conform with constantly changing customer behaviour. These changes in acceptance also include the deployment of wearable wristbands under the ‘PlayWave’ brand. The use of wearable payment items is a growing trend, seen with the customizable wearables deployed at Dave & Buster’s locations, based on the EMBED platform.

The smartphone option to Low-Touch [EMBED]

Another developer of platforms for the entertainment facility business is Magnetic Cash, with its cashless system. The company recently announced a new entertainment facility installation project, being approached by Laser Land, based in West Covina, California. This is an operator with two gigantic lasertag arenas, a laser maze, and trampolines, all supporting a strong amusement placement with VR. The move towards an ePayment infrastructure is needed by the company to support and protect its audience. Magnetic Cash has developed its own robust cashless software and hardware system, designed from the ground-up, for a wide variety of FEC operation sizes.

The Magnetic Cash reader incorporates NFC support, along with a suite of hardware with the ‘Mcash Kiosk’ for guests and the Dual Screen POS terminal. All this and the company’s “Go Green with E-Tickets”, along with wearables (wristbands) and access control. The company has announced the launch of a smart device (phone and tablet) app that allow the administration of the readers within a facility. This allows remote operator access to all the card readers within a location.

Establishing a strong platform and a strong presence in this emerging market is essential. One of those working hard in this field is Semnox. The company offers a comprehensive cashless management platform, covering the varied needs of a venue, ranging from game, food, attractions, and rides. The hardware focuses on combining RFID with the company’s online platform and kiosk systems, to achieve a convenient architecture for customers and operators. This also includes the deployment of the company’s own smartphone payment architecture, pointing to the new direction of frictionless payment. This convenience of adoption has seen the company celebrate several new customers making the switch to the Semnox platform.

In the UK, operator Fantasy Island Amusement Park made the move to Semnox, which saw 50 outdoor and indoor rides, along with 400 amusement pieces, move across to the cashless platform, with a complete suite of Point-of-Sale support through card and wristbands, top-up counters and self-service kiosks, including F&B and merchandise sale support. This system also supports the digital signage and promotional advertising element of the operation. One of the key factors of adopting this platform was Semnox’s support in moving the venue to an electronic ticket (e-ticket) model for the prize payment element.

Moving across to the States, Semnox welcomed its latest customer, GameTime, in Florida. The well-known entertainment brand operator took the plunge and consolidated all of its chain of sites across to the cashless payment infrastructure – using a single RFID-based management system. This system offers a unique frictionless approach, needed in these COVID times, with a “Tap-to-Play” infrastructure, self-service kiosks, and online e-commerce functionality. Looking further afield, Semnox has been instrumental in the Indian entertainment diaspora, with a new installation with Fun City. The leading Indian Family Entertainment Center chain, with over 30 locations, made the move to the company’s ‘SmartFun’ app. This is a smartphone app that offers all the functionalities of a card payment system, including managing and rechanging, while reducing time in queues and therefore increasing play time.

Wireless readers offering a new era of adoption [Semnox]

One of the developers looking at the wider landscape, CORE Cashless, has developed a stored value card system, along with wristband and mobile wallet. The value card acts as a loyalty points incentive for encouraging specific behavior or spending – rewarding bonus points to encourage guests. CORE has seen several venues adopt its platform into their operations. Representing some three sites in Texas, Hawaiian Falls Water Park has embraced the opportunities of cashless operation, installing unique unattended wristband dispensing kiosks. These wearables comprise stored valve and facilitate payment and access throughout the stay at the parks, ranging from food and beverages to various concessions. F&B orders facilitate through kiosks, then are collected at concession areas. Cashless payment systems in the water park sector have been a game changer, as we have previously reported in The Stinger.

CORE Cashless hardware and software infrastructure has also been applied by Cowabunga Bay, in Las Vegas. Instead of having fixed points of sale like stationary POS and kiosk stations throughout the park, CORE has developed unique mobile POS terminals for the staff of the venue, helping directly in facilitating F&B purchases by the guests. A much better frictionless interaction with guests encourages a greater spend. CORE expresses the view that, with its system, site operators can create their own unique “currency” just for their own location, adjusted to their unique offerings. The company has also adapted to other needs of the changed market, having launched its ‘Paydia’ temperature screening stationary kiosk.

Self-service temperature screening [CORE]

Just for the record, this feature has focused on the amusement and LBE aspects of smart payment deployment, and we have not looked in-depth at the smartphone app alternatives, nor the peculiarities of the deployment of frictionless within the theme park and resort spectrum. We hope, in coming months to revisit this, as we also report on brand-new technology (such as ‘app’, ‘wearable’ and ‘zone’) that is entering this sphere and could have major implications for the conventional amusement scene.

As we have touched on in our recent Japanese amusement center coverage, the leading amusement factories had implemented their own smart payment infrastructure, shared between the leading providers. While based on the foundation of the SEGA ALL.Net system, the others, such as Round1, GENDA, KONAMI, TAITO and BANDAI NAMCO, all fell into lockstep with this infrastructure. Upheavals in the Japanese factory scene, however, have seen an appearance of new smartphone-only payment systems trying to break the monopoly. The ALL.Net monopoly is linked to not just the controlled distribution of content, but also to the associated revenue sharing that this platform supplies to the supporting cabal. It is a stranglehold that some amusement and entertainment venue operators in this territory want to extricate themselves from.

In China, FECs and UECs have adopted their own smart payment, such as the popular ‘Smart Card System’, including NFC readers and FEC management software. Also in China, most operators incorporate the adoption of the ubiquitous Alibaba’s ‘Alipay’ and Tencent’s ‘WeChat Pay’ systems into their mix. It is seen that the market will eventually revert to a universal platform that will be incorporated into one of these pay platforms, Tencent is investing heavily in being the winner. Readers of The Stinger Report last year will remember our coverage of the Chinese payment infrastructure linked to policing of movement during the lockdown.

– Death of the Coin Door – Entry of NFC

However, there is one aspect that could directly shape the move towards a frictionless ePayment World for amusement – the death of the iconic Coin Door!

Often speculated, the need for the Coin Door incorporating the cash/token handling and Coin Mech hardware has been an integral configuration on all amusement platforms since the early 1950s. It is standardized into the units we know today. Its omission from a cabinet previously indicated the game was only for home or free play usage. Well, that has changed.

A full release version of an amusement machine is preparing to be rolled out (thanks to our friends at Arcade Heroes), that will not include a Coin Door or coin handling. Previously revealed by The Stinger Report to be in development, Incredible Technologies revealed the design of the latest version of their trackball-based golf platform series. The new ‘Golden Tee PGA Tour’ machine benefits from sleek lines, LED screen and even, for the first-time, an integrated cup holder, reflecting its expected habitat of the bar and tavern scene. This is also reflected in the removal of the Coin Door, replaced with a bill acceptor and an NFC payment reader, accepting the Apple and Android-based payment systems.

The latest interpretation of the Golden Tee Golf series [Incredible Technologies]
Bill acceptors on amusement machines were first seen with built-in units on both jukeboxes and video game cabinets (such as ‘Mortal Kombat II’ in 1993). That it has taken so long to be commonly adopted, spoke to the intransigence of the operators. And now NFC to enable mobile payment is being forced on an industry that has a hard time for change. We have reported on the ubiquity of NFC in retail, transportation, and vending, and with the new Golden Tee series those operators looking to house the machine will have to get to grips with it in their venues. That said, there are some operators who are keen to embrace NFC and contactless payment systems. And, along with Asian operators, we have seen special conversion systems that simply and effectively allow amusement pieces to accept payment in this manner. Most famous is PayRange – this system can be fitted to an existing amusement and vending unit in seconds and facilitates mobile payment through the platform. Facilities such as the social bowling chain Pinstripes have seen their amusement machines employing this system. The new generation of smart card readers are also starting to incorporate a NFC capability to ensure they stay current, as mentioned previously from Intercard and Embed. One aspect that has often been overlooked has been the adoption by our cousins in the vending industry, who have advanced the adoption, first with bill acceptors, and now with full contactless payment platforms. This has migrated even into the deployment of contactless payment systems on kiddie rides, removing the need for coinage. What were described as “Tap and Ride” systems use NFC to allow payment through credit card, mobile payment like Apple or Google pay, and even QR code. Machine operators in malls and retail environments are fielding contactless readers such as the Nayax’s ‘VPOS Touch’ and ‘Onyx’ devices, offering a versatility of options and modern design. The danger being that traditional amusement operators may be left far behind. This concludes our far-reaching report on the state of play/pay in the amusement scene, we know this will not be the last time we cover this vital subject. The situation is an ongoing evolution as simple “low-touch” methodology is applied – with new technological advancement such as enhanced NFC, wearables, and Guest Tracking systems will rise in deployment. And we also need to update in detail on the impacts wearable and guest interaction are having on the theme park and resort sector. Interesting times indeed.