EAG and VAE – A World of Play Under One Roof
The newly combined EAG International and Visitor Attraction Expo is now in its 9th year and has grown steadily, this year attracting a record number of exhibitors, including a number of new companies to join the show, the majority of which came from outside of the UK.
It seems likely that they were attracted by the boom in staycations that has had a knock-on effect on the family entertainment centre and holiday park business. A number of high-profile coastal locations have invested heavily in machines and infrastructure in the last couple of years to create destination locations – all the more attractive when the weather is anything but!
The retro appeal of the seaside amusement arcade appeared to be a theme at this year’s show as many manufacturers looked back towards more traditional types of machine. It could be said that 2018 is the year of the Penny Pusher – and it doesn’t get much more traditional than that! On the first morning of the show, one of the biggest brands Bell-Fruit Games, known for its AWP (amusement with prizes) machines, unveiled a new redemption-only brand called Bulldog Games. Of the 17 new products shown at EAG/VAE the majority were pushers. “People forget that Bell-Fruit did in fact manufacture pushers in the past,” said Managing Director Peter Collinge. “We expect that with the decline of the pub sector, redemption machines will take us into new markets both in the UK and overseas.”
Harry Levy Amusements remains the pre-eminent name in pushers in the UK and together with its sister company Crown – showed a wide range of product for the traditional amusement market including Scooby Doo, Minion and Justice League themed games. JNC Sales also showed pushers from Cromptons and Whittakers and Belgian specialist VdW unveiled its spectacular Zanzibar pusher product at the show.
The other big news was Virtual Reality. Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past couple of years, you will be aware of the march of VR within both the consumer and the arcade video gaming spheres. This year, there was a plethora of options at the show. BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe Ltd. showed the A.I Solve WePlayVR Virtual Reality ‘booth’ which is a self-contained environment where the player walks around with a VR backpack in order to maintain freedom of movement within the game. Two games are now available for this attraction with more in the pipeline, so the initial investment can be refreshed going forward.
Instance Automatics is an industry name to watch – the company, which has the distribution rights for Chupa Chups lollipops in the UK and is known for its Maxxgrab cranes, also holds the distributorship for the UNIS range of games in the domestic market. The UNIS VR Omni Arena is a multi-directional treadmill which syncs with the game software. Players are supported at waist height and can walk or run around in all directions. The game manages to create a real attraction while maintaining a small footprint. It is almost as much fun watching people play as taking part yourself!
Immotion is a new UK-based technology start-up whose attractive, white, futuristic platforms combine advanced motion with custom-made content. This was the first time that the company exhibited at the show. Hologate was another new exhibitor and provides turnkey multiplayer VR solutions which easily integrate into existing venues or can be brought to events. The experience which is available up to four-player is future-proofed by constant upgrades. Finally, Vilmira from Lithunia exhibited for the first time as well with the world-renowned Stereolife VR product which it distributes in Europe to parks and attractions.
The Fun of the Fair
Redemption at this year’s EAG/VAE went back to the carnival for inspiration. From UNIS again, via Instance Automatics, there was Coconut Shy – just like the funfair but more attractively presented. Sega Amusements International once more expanded its ‘skill wall’ with the new games Bean Bag Toss and Hoopla (ICE), which also brought the fun of the fair to the show. The company also showed a massive new game Wheel of Fortune from US manufacturer ICE which is the most realistic rendition of the famous TV show ever created for redemption.
As ever, sports-related games are the mainstay of any amusement arcade and EAG/VAE did not disappoint. Sega Amusements International called in the help of 7 foot 7 inches tall Paul Sturgess who is Britain’s tallest man and the tallest professional sportsman, playing for Harlem Globetrotters and famed for his ‘standing dunk’. Paul was on hand to demonstrate NBA Hoops – the company’s latest basketball game.
On the BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe stand, X Games Snowboarders was shown for the first time. This is a hyper realistic stand-up snowboarding game from Raw Thrills is licensed from ESPN follows on from the success of Snocross and Super Alpine Racer. Bowling was also well represented at the show with a new kids jungle bowling game from JNC and the funky Lane Master from UNIS which marries an alley bowler with a traditional video game.
For something a little bit different, visitors could find the latest DanceDanceRevolution A in a brand new white cabinet with a new tutorial mode and plenty of new tracks from current artists. For the younger player, Go Go Chicken is a versatile fun game combining redemption with prize vending in a cute cabinet.
Back to Instance Automatics stand for Pong – in a cocktail style cabinet but not as one might expect with a video screen. No, this is an electro-mechanical game which is far more fiendish than it might seem. A spinning knob on each side of the table is all players have to deflect the puck.
From BANDAI NAMCO again – my pick is Injustice Arcade – featuring the characters from the recent Justice League movie. The two-player, tag team style fighting game has a unique feature – it gives the player a character card one of the hit characters in the game e.g. Batman, Superman, The Joker etc. after every game, which can then be used in future games. There are over 100 cards to collect, with several versions of the most popular super-hero and villain characters, which bring different fighting skills and which can be extra powerful when used together.
Another interesting game is the Fun4Four multigame table for up to 6 players from Austrian company TAB-Austria. Featuring a giant 42inch multi-touchscreen this game is massive in Continental Europe due its mammoth catalogue of games and its space-saving qualities. Players can even play driving games using their smart phones as controllers!
Ditch the cash?
Perhaps not surprisingly after a year of currency changes (with more to come) the main theme on cash handling – was cashless! BANDAI NAMCO Management Solutions showed the Embed suite of products and have carried out a number of high profile installations in Hollywood Bowl locations in 2017. SUZOHAPP was demonstrating the IDEAL cashless system which is also perfect for the arcade environment. Hemisphere West and first=time exhibitor Nayax showed affordable solutions that can be retrofitted to any coin-operated machine in order to make it accept cashless payments. Semnox Solutions showed its innovative cashless debit card solution to operate indoor and outdoor FECs including modules for arcade machines, food and beverages, signage, ticketing and more. On the G Squared stand the team demonstrated the playgo App which could become a viable interface for playing AWPs using a smartphone app wallet for payment.
Kiddie rides were well represented at the show. SB Machines specialises in quality and quirky Italian rides and showed a magical Train Carousel ride with video and a compact interactive Scooby Doo ride. The company has taken over the distribution for Sela Car – a market leader in bumper cars and related products. JNC sales showed its three-seater Happy Bus and Aqua Dash which follows on from the success of Go Go Pony. Formula K had a fine range of coin-op and non coin-op minicars and tracks. World of Rides’ David Robinson was losing his voice at the end of the show, and the company sold all of the rides from their stand, such was the interest, particularly in their Funshine Future Bikes and their Parent & Child Driving School car.
Food and drink
This year, the show welcomed more food and drink brands including first time exhibitors drinks brand Vimto Out of Home and Popppy which vends a low-fat, additive free popcorn. Tubzbrands was another new exhibitor and supplies plastic capsules with popular confectionary brands. Spanish firm Salysol was back this year with its vending machines and nuts and dried fruits.
EAG/VAE has definitely moved its focus from pub retail to amusements, holiday parks and attractions. Visitor numbers appeared to be slightly down on previous years despite a valiant effort on behalf of the organisers to promote the show. Where low-stakes gambling could be found the emphasis was more than ever on digital machines with many manufacturers such as Electrocoin and Reflex Gaming showing lower budget models at the show. Multiplayer games took centre stage for companies such as Astra with Austin Powers and Betcom with its first redemption title Fairytale of Tickets shown on UK Gaming Solutions’ stand.
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