Moaning down/Buying Up: impressions of EAG
It has finally happened. The UK amusement and street gaming sector has a show that reflects its true status. Where ATEI straddled several sectors and attracted many international suppliers, EAG knows exactly who it is pitching to and where they are coming from – the UK.
We quoted Neil Chinn’s figure of 350 international visitors in our mid-show newsletter but the reaction was, “if there were 350 overseas buyers, they never visited my stand!” To be fair, there was a noticeable Asian contingent on the first day and I did spot some Spanish buyers but most of the conversation in the aisles was in English.
EAG reminds me of the German IMA. For years, people told me that, “IMA is just a domestic show now, once it was an international showcase to rival ATEI.” Well, now we have a domestic show, and it is just as well organised as the IMA and has all the same wonderful facilities that you find at the German trade fair.
Say what you will about the location of ExCel but it knocks the spots off Earls Court and its dingy labyrinth of backrooms and staircases. It is modern, light, fresh and airy, with good (if somewhat pricey) food concessions. My only gripe would be that the toilets seem to be miles away down staircases. Loading and unloading equipment is a dream, compared to lugging 12-player pushers and the like upstairs in lifts. Instead of queuing in the freezing cold, exhibitors were set up in no time and back to the bar for a pint.
And this brings me to the best aspect of the ExCel – the campus atmosphere. With just a couple of hotels located stumbling distance from the show hall, it is impossible not to network at the bar, or nod wearily to a fellow exhibitor at breakfast. The party at the first night was excellent, the venue much more popular than the boat trip of the previous year. The entire industry appeared to be in one place – and having a great time. It was like the first evening of the Dublin show in atmosphere – just with less Guinness.
Moving away from the bar for a moment – we turn to business. My impression was – slow the first morning, then good in the afternoon. Good all day Wednesday and, as ever, somewhat laboured on day three. As a journalist, you are never sure about the veracity of what people tell you about the level of business conducted on the stand. Some downplay the situation, not wanting to boast about orders taken. Others overplay the truth and claim to have shifted containers full. And then there are those who never seem to be happy.
I would say that overall more people bought product off stands this year. There was talk of operators making pacts not to buy last year and rumours that the cancelled Preview show had influenced buying patterns. I am not sure either of these things are true to any extent. I suspect that the truth is that the downturn continues to bite and we can’t hold off forever in making investments in our businesses. People have played wait and see for so long and old product is clearly not helping cashbox.
But what was out there for people to buy? Excellent video product to suit most budgets. Sega’s stand was busy throughout the show, it was like the beating heart thudding noisily away. “Let’s Go Island” the follow-up to the Jungle adventure was gripping stuff and good for all ages, girls and boys. Sega Racing Classic does what it says and had the players coming back for more. The added attraction of the Stig on the stand also helped!
Other video highlights included Electrocoin’s Vulcan, which is still the meanest looking beast out there. This truly is an experience that cannot be replicated on a home console, thank goodness! The yellow-shirted Electrocoin team were joined by new member Reg Morosoli who certainly hit the ground running judging by the traffic on the stand. UDC had some great product as well, the TouchFX System video redemption game from Adrenaline rightly attracted a great deal of attention.
Namco/Bandai had a lighter and brighter stand than Sega – perhaps a little quieter too. A large potion was given over to the prize vending division and Clena-Flex, the successful 100% skill game. Other highlights were the racing game Dead Heat and the adventure shoot-em-up Deadstorm Pirates.
Distributors made up a large proportion of the stand space. Harry Levy with a great range of pushers and redemption; UDC stronger every year, AMG now a force to be reckoned with, MDM also had a strong presence, Crown Direct, JNC, Instance Automatics. I tried to talk to these people and it wasn’t easy, which is always a sign of a good show.
As for the AWP sector – it is more of a “wait and see” situation. B3 product was out in force and there was some good Section 16 too. Reflex signed an exclusive with AMG to handle its Fortune 500 Gold, which hails back to the hit Section 16 but in a B3 format with the new £2 stake, all wrapped up in a flashy gold cabinet. Empire Games’ stand stood out for me. Craig and the team have designed some really impressive-looking games for all machine categories – the neon trim was really eye-catching. The lo-tech multiplayer Clockwork Oranges looks set to be a hit. Astra product looked impressive, as ever – Ron and the guys never disappoint.
Barcrest and JPM were noticeable in their absence from the EAG choosing to save their biggest presence for ICE and let the distributors handle the rest. This is understandable given their increasing interest in other sectors such as mobile and online and the crossover into the betting market. From the betting sector, Cashpoint alone chose EAG – which I thought was a rather strange choice given their customer base.
So, we are left with a new and strangely even playing field. Electrocoin, Astra, Empire, Reflex and Bell-Fruit for UK AWP product. No more, the behemoth stands of JPM, Barcrest and Bell-Fruit at ATEI with private rooms and private upstairs bars where buyers could look down on the rest of the show. All that muscle flexing was still going on in Earls Court and did I miss it? Not a bit.
Without the glitz and big stand budgets, some real innovation was much easier to pick out. Games Warehouse unveiled a brand new fully compliant number-based and reaction-time SWP game, Foxy Ladies, exclusive and free to the Paragon terminal family.
The game sees players use their memory, speed and dexterity to mark off numbers on the grid squares in order to complete rows, columns, corners and for the big money a ‘Full House’. Players who achieve five bonus star numbered balls multiply all prizes by five times, up to a maximum prize of £50.00.
Facing Games Warehouse was the Sound Leisure stand, where another fantastic product was shown for the first time. Venue-Hub is more than just a jukebox – it is an entertainment terminal, and it was hailed by some to be “the product” of the EAG show, due to its sophisticated software and the capability to accept card payments via Barclaycard Wave technology, which is an industry world first according to Barclays. In fact, according to Thursday’s Metro newspaper, Apple won’t even roll out the technology until later in Spring.
It is good to see the level of investment in R & D that has gone into a product like Venue Hub, which has taken two years to come into fruition. So, we have a top-end product that is being bought in numbers from the stand during the show. Chris Black told me that he hadn’t seen that kind of buying at a show for years.
NSM and Jaybox have also got some smart looking product. NSM was celebrating 60 years in the industry, and I was hoping that Barry Kirby might turn up and there would be some kind of presentation, but if he did, I missed it. I still think the current range including the Apollo and the Icon are among the smartest-looking jukes on the market.
Kiddie Rides seem to be enjoying a good, steady time despite the recent hard times. Paolo Sidoli had la crema della crema on his stand as usual. The Italians know about design in the same way that the Germans know about organization. SB Machines have made a lot of investment in its workshops in the last couple of years and are specializing in top-end product backed up with excellent product knowledge and after sales care.
Other great kiddie ride product could be found on Amutec/Brent’s stand and there was, as ever, some lovely licensed rides from Ulli Kunnecke at Mexim. Northern Leisure was doing brisk trade and Whittaker Brothers were showing some great carousel rides along with their partners in China, who are taking Whittaker designs and manufacturing them and distributing them in Asia and South America in return for their own carousels. Jolly Roger/Photo Me also had some great kiddie ride product from some of the leading TV licences. And we must not forget UDC, which had my favourite kiddie ride of all – the Coffee Cup Carousel in its excellent range.
I will focus on redemption in another report, as there was simply too much to go into here. Suffice to say that if redemption product was on your purchase list, undoubtedly a visit to the Harry Levy stand was called for. But redemption turned up on almost every stand, Brent/Namco, Sega, VDW – even SB Machines and Sound Leisure (Ol’ McDonald). And there was an extensive range of prizes and plush to go with it from the likes of Whitehouse.
I always think that the juxtaposition of cuddly toys and fruit machines in the same exhibition sums up our industry. We are “soft” gaming, family entertainment and arcade fun. On the final day, I shivered on the DLR and then on the District Line to Earls Court. The contrast seemed more staggering than ever. The huge stands were still there. Novomatic seemed to eat up almost an entire hall. Eastern European companies whose names I had never heard of proliferated. Sports betting, spread betting, and every other kind of betting. It was quiet and serene – no gun simulators pumping away or redemption games ringing, certainly no teddy bears. I shivered again and went home.
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