How entertainment changes: competitive play is now all the rage

27 May 2023 - 10:20

InterGame's Mike Dawber investigates the trend sweeping the industry: competitive gaming. Also thanks to online connectivity.

Written by Mike Dawber - InterGame
© Riki21 / Pixabay

© Riki21 / Pixabay

Competition comes natural to us - some of our earliest memories will be of playing games with our siblings, parents and friends, and that feeling of joy when we won.

Combine that basic urge to compete with our love of socialising and what you get is competitive socialising.

You might call it competitive gaming or competitive amusements, but whatever term you use, it is a concept which is taking off with leisure destinations adding competitive amusements to their attractions and new venues being launched specifically to provide it.

Competitive gaming may not be a totally new concept but it is now being taken to the next level with new tech being used to enable multiplayer formats and allow for greater connectivity and competition between players, be it modern Vr games or traditional ones like bowling or pinball.

Ryan Coppola, of games manufacturer Ice, says competitive gaming “is becoming more popular not just in the US but globally as well”, while Feli Richter, marketing manager at Vr and immersive gaming company Hologate, believes social competitive gaming is set to become one of the biggest entertainment trends of the future.

Richter said: “Friendly competition among friends and family always makes things more exciting by creating fun drama. This is one reason we designed the Hologate Arena Vr game to be a multiplayer, social experience able to incorporate individual and group scoring.”

It is a certainly a trend recognised by Wahlap, whose global sales director Andrew Mok, said: “We understand that people enjoy playing arcade games not only for entertainment, fun and socialising but also for the competitive aspect of it. There is definitely a growing popularity for competitive arcade gaming and socialising and we have been developing new products that cater to this market.”

Traditional games like pinball have been attracting a growing number of players around the world and Zach Sharpe, director of marketing at Stern Pinball, best summed up its popularity when he said: “As the old saying goes, it’s more fun to compete!” adding that Stern has seen year over year growth with an expanding pool of players all over the world. Through Stern Army, it continues to create more tournaments and leagues at public locations.

It’s not an entirely new phenomenon, as industry veteran Cory Haynes of Amusement Source International (Asi) says: “Games that are competitive head-to-head have always been popular since they were introduced back in the early 90s. I remember the first Daytona racing video game we installed in a Dave & Buster’s. Customers would be waiting at the door at opening and would run back to the arcade to play!”

But the concept is growing, accelerated maybe by the fact that people just want to get out more after the time of enforced isolation during the pandemic, resulting in a surge in demand for attractions such as laser tag, mini-golf and bowling.

For Chris Epstein, business development officer at Laserforce, the emergence from the forced isolation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has been “a catalyst for the competitive amusement industry.

“Laser tag, mini-golf and bowling are very hard to replicate outside of an Fec,” he said. “The size, theming and number of players needed to really enjoy the social-competitive nature of them cannot be reproduced at home. These types of attractions are great because you can enjoy it with as many or as few of your friends as you wish. This means everyone can play together and share the experience together.”

It is not only the bar concepts that are demanding these types of games but arcades too. “This is most noticeable with our new games Dodgeball and World Football Pro,” Coppola added. “While these two new games may not pay out the most tickets they do display the high score right on the game. We are seeing incredible play on both due to the competitive and skill-based nature of each game which makes them the perfect competitive sports game for all types of concepts.

New tech is being embraced by designers to drive forward the concept of combining competition with fun.

Epstein said Laserforce recently created a new game mode, Laserball, with the social and competitive balance in mind. “Laserball combines the best parts of competition, but also maintains the simplicity needed to make it a social game. Different laser tag game modes are great, they add a lot of replayability and introduce new game elements to players,” he said.

“The problem has always been that these game variations, while incredibly fun and competitive, are very complex and this often takes away the social aspect. We wanted to find the perfect balance between competitive and social, and that’s why we introduced Laserball. The game requires teamwork, communication and strategy – without introducing complicated game mechanics that would make the game feel overly competitive. Laserball is the perfect competitive game to play with or against friends.”

Epstein adds that a reward system enhances the competitive attraction.

“One critical facet of competition is the reward system,” he said. “When playing a game, part of the fun includes the prize at the end. Players generally accept that a better performance while playing the game will yield a better prize at the conclusion of it. With Laserforce’s recent update, laser tag players can fully immerse themselves in redemption laser tag. This alters the game to include another way to compete for prizes outside of bragging rights to a top score.”


The evolution of Vr has opened up a new world of competitive gaming opportunities.

Vr gaming specialist Hologate is creating immersive virtual reality products that create shared, social experiences through co-operative competitive gameplay, visual connection and realistic interaction.

Hologate says it is “constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to technological advances to enhance competitive, social play” and it now has more than 450 installations across 42 countries. The games are immersive, competitive and social, with experiences for every demographic, making Hologate Arena its best-selling product.

Richter from Hologate said: “We recently reached the 16 million player milestone across all of our Vr systems - this is an exciting indicator that competitive, social Vr is reaching new heights within the location-based entertainment industry.”


Coppola said designers at Ice say Vr and Ar concepts are “helping push the boundaries of our industry” and viewed it as helping to drive more players out to the many new concepts and more players brings more dollars to the industry.

One example of how Vr and interactive technology is being used to enhance the competitive aspect of their games is Asi’s Monster Eye 2 Dx, which incorporates a motion base cabinet that uses interactive technology where players have to use their arms to swim, punch and climb. The game can also detect players’ movements like ducking when monsters are attacking.

Haynes said: “We are also very interested in mounted Vr viewing, our Sniper Strike 2 uses an oversized scope that is actually a mini Vr headset. Players look through the realistic scope to identify and search for targets.

“Another Vr mounted headset game we are introducing at Amusement Expo is Vr X-Spy, a single player Vr shooter linkable up to four units. Players use a Vr Headset mounted on the gun controller. The headset is moulded into the gun controller and is tethered on a cable that automatically drops the controller at the beginning of game play and retracts after game play ends.”

Increasing online connectivity is further spurring the growth of competitive gaming by enabling global competition between players with Wahlap’s Mok describing it as a “crucial element in the development of competitive attractions.”

He said: “With the increasing availability of 5G or other new tech and the growth of social media, online connectivity has become an essential part of the gaming experience.

“Online connectivity allows players to compete against each other from anywhere in the world, at any time. This has led to the rise of online gaming tournaments, which can attract large audiences and offer substantial prize pools.”

Bob’s Space Racers has started to develop online connectivity features for many of its games while Asi says that, with the addition of 5G and other internet speed enhancements, it is looking at upgrading current offerings to more online competitive play and is investing in a “highly sophisticated online dart game that has a lot of promise.”

Stern Pinball has been thrilled with impact of its Insider Connected concept which can connect players all over the world, enabling the creation of concepts such as a global leaderboard.

Stern’s Sharpe said: “We continue to make updates and the service keeps getting better. Connecting games has always been a goal of ours, not only from a maintenance operator focused level, but ultimately to the end consumer playing our products.

“The magic of our system is it knows precisely who is playing the game. It also opens the door for a whole suite of tools that allows operators to create custom leaderboards, driving people to engage with our pinball machines in new ways.

“We’re also creating custom global leaderboards, such as our most recent Stern Army collaboration with the Ifpa, with a month-long Mandalorian March Madness tournament held in conjunction with season three of the show.

“Players are getting value out of Insider Connected in several ways, whether it’s chasing down achievements (both at home and out at verified locations), earning special digital badges by attending exclusive Stern events or climbing the ranks of their local entertainment location’s leaderboards (or global Stern leaderboards).

“Through Insider Connected, players are socialising and connecting even more, both casually and highly competitively.”

Perhaps the ultimate growth sector in the competitive gaming sector is esports, which Richter, from Hologate, says is “taking the world by storm.”

She said: “Several of our operators have added hugely popular tournaments to their programmes. Not only do esports events provide an amazing competitive experience for players and spectators, but they also help to generate an esports community for venues. This means long-lasting competitive teams, crowds comprised of many first-time visitors and increased revenue through team registration fees and guest post-tournament spending.

“We saw the potential of esports with our first Hologate Vr esports tournament in 2019. This World of Tanks Vr tournament saw eight players playing against each other across two Hologate Arenas at once. This was quite the crowd pleaser. The two Hologate Arena systems were side by side which looked incredibly impressive, while multiple mounted televisions broadcasted the exciting live gameplay and the team standings, and spectators would cheer on their favourite teams.”

As for the future, the competitive amusements sector is constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies like Ar, Vr and consumer preferences.

For Sharpe of Stern Pinball, the future of the competitive amusements sector can be summed quite simply as “bigger and better", with Stern “continuing to create compelling entertainment that inspires a lifetime love of games, sparks passion, forges friendships and connects people everywhere through fun and experiences.”

According to Mok from Wahlap, the future of the sector is likely to be shaped by several key trends: “As Vr and Ar technologies continue to evolve, we can expect to see more immersive gaming experiences that offer a deeper level of engagement and interaction. This could include games that use advanced haptic feedback or other sensory inputs to create a more realistic and compelling experience.”

He added that there would also be an increasing focus on social connectivity.

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