It’s not all child’s play

26 November 2022 - 10:19

The main target of a typical family entertainment centre is in the name - but more and more young adults are taking an interest in related activities, Steven Carson reports.

Written by Redazione

PeopleE have perhaps never been more selective about what entertainment they elect to enjoy – on one hand, this is good as it pressures companies to put out truly the best of the best and treat their customers like more than a number. That isn’t to say any companies in particular operate in such a manner, but picky customers won’t allow the opportunity. In the UK, for example, the ongoing cost of living crisis has meant people are cutting corners where possible; less holidays abroad, more usage of public transport, less visits to entertainment centres, more visits to budget supermarkets – you get the picture.

Society’s most rich, in terms of affluence and the flexibility of it, outside of the mega-wealthy, are young adults without children of their own. These people, typically between the ages of 20 and 40, work chiefly for themselves; spending their hard-earned money on experiences with their friends and individually. This writer says as much, as a member of said demographic.

The young adult bracket (better to say this than restrict it to 20-40-year-olds) often like to mix their social experiences; that is to say they enjoy a couple of things at once. NQ64, a growing bar and arcade concept in the UK, is proving to be hugely popular. It offers an array of classic gaming experiences, alongside a drinks offering akin to any nightclub or bar in a city centre. By combining these two elements into a one-stop-shop, NQ64 has created a unique experience, not too dissimilar to mini-golf venues, geared toward young adults, that are often the site of many Tinder first dates.

It’s not all about the drinks, of course, but it would be negligent if it were left unmentioned. Somewhat similar to NQ64 are sports bars that feature games, such as bowling, pool, shuffleboard, electronic darts and other such things – certainly, one company need not be named for these tried and tested fun hubs that are enjoyed all over. These venues are traditional, contemporarily speaking, in that they’ve stood the test of time, but that isn’t to say there aren’t innovative things happening in these places. After all, the customer grows more and more selective.

501 Entertainment recently signed a worldwide distribution agreement with Sega Amusements for its Smarts (that is, smart-darts or “electronic darts” as alluded to above). This product delivers the classic pub game experience, but with gamified enhancements taken from the modern era, including an automated scoring system and rich graphics. Little technological tweaks to established favourites like this is really where the future of this slice of the industry is at.

Another product in this area, lending from the popularity of the beer pong drinking game is Jet-Pong by Valley-Dynamo. The machine cleverly utilises technology typically found in air hockey tables to suspend ping-pong balls in the air. These are then picked up and chucked at red cups, as would be the case in a usual game. Its inventor, Terry Ruddell, would explain the inspiration behind it with some clinicality, when asked what makes a product appeal to young adults. “Take a game that most people in this age group are already familiar with and make it better,” he told InterGame.

Mind you, it is easy for the inventor of an Amoa award winner to underplay the innovation that went into such an attractive product for the market. The spectacle that is the floating ping-pong balls is what really makes Jet-Pong stand out – and once a guest has made their way over the machine, they already know how to play the game. As Ruddell said, it’s a game most people already know from their former years. “Beer pong is a favourite college sport, especially in the age bracket we’re talking about,” he continued. “The use of official red solo cups, combined with a floating ball makes Jet-Pong a huge hit. It solves many problems associated with beer pong, such as getting balls wet and dirty, chasing them across the floor and keeping score.”

The sentiment of keeping things relatively familiar would be echoed by the team at Hologate, who know all to well how to put an interesting spin on a classic experience – the company’s products are enjoyed by people of all ages, but there certainly is a large section of its users that would fall under the young adult bracket, particularly when it comes to modern spins put on classic games. From golf, mini or otherwise, to bowling, there are numerous ways to bring these age-old experiences into the modern era. Hologate’s Hyper Golf is one such example, adding a VR element into golf. While not specifically aimed at the young adult audience, the natural appeal speaks for itself. Utilising its technology, Hyper Golf puts users onto hugely conceptualised holes with “themes, music, and effects that will appeal to teenagers and young adults,” explained Gregg Katano, senior vice president at Hologate. These themes include – but are not limited to – space, pinball, DJs and monsters. Adding a modern twist to mini-golf creates an entirely new experience, with new technology, Hologate has been able to completely transform the beloved game. Leif Petersen, the company’s Ceo, said: “For over 100 years, there hasn’t been much innovation applied to the game of miniature golf. Recently, a few companies have attempted to give the game an ‘update’ by incorporating lighting or sound effects, but in the end the game has essentially remained the same classic game. Our goal was to infuse the future into the beloved classic.”

Social experiences

Of course, just because we’re talking about young adults – it doesn’t need to involve DJs, drinking or be related to games typically enjoyed at university parties. Bay Tek’s logo is recognisable in this area – you’ve probably used a machine in an entertainment centre, at some point, with it slapped on the side. Axe Master is a hugely popular game manufactured by Bay Tek that can be found all over, distributed by (but not limited to) Harry Levy, Betson and PrimeTime. As its name likely gives away, it’s an axe-throwing game geared toward the teenage and young adult audience that is quite accessible. It uses rubberised axes that feel close to the real deal, offering an exciting but wholly safe experience for patrons.

One aspect that really makes these products stand out to the young adult crowd – and that includes Jet-Pong and others like it – is the social aspect. These experiences, while certainly able to be enjoyed solo, are designed to be played by a small group of people. This has a two-fold benefit for operators; it would be fair to say social media plays a huge role in the popularity of forms of entertainment, particularly for younger people. From children showing their parents something they’ve seen advertised on YouTube, to teenagers spending their pocket money on products shown on TikTok or Snapchat, to young adults utilising platforms like Instagram, Tripadvisor or even Google to find venues with positive reviews to visit with their friends or partners – online marketing has never been more important for businesses.

Triotech’s vice president of communications, Christian Martin, put it simply to us: “If a young person sees a video of people having fun with a particular ride or attraction, of course they’ll want to experience it too.” That is certainly one way to get people through the front door, but how does a company go about actually getting its products in front of the eyes of young people? It’s somewhat straightforward: make the product “Instagrammable” – that is to say, make a product or feature appealing to the point that people will want to share pictures or videos of it with their friends online. There are a few ways this can be achieved; two are to make the attraction aesthetically appealing or have it require its users do something funny or interesting.

Blacklight Attractions is a specialist in creating dark rides, mini-golf attractions, escape rooms and a host of other fun stuff. One way the company aims to get its products featured on the timeline of young social media users is through design choices. “People love our retro golf because of the theming,” said Larry Kirchner, Blacklight’s president. “People have been coming by to use the facility to create TikToks,” he continued, and that should come as no surprise. “Retro” themes, that now includes but not limited to the 1970s and ‘80s, are big at the moment. We can look toward popular TV shows like Stranger Things, Sex Education and The Umbrella Academy for those to thank for that.

Appealing to contemporary interests can boost an attraction’s… well, attraction, and that is surely a no-brainer, but it is worth highlighting as it ties into the larger conversation about social experiences we’re having.

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