The globalization of social entertainment innovation | Commentary – Vending Times

London continues to lead the innovation of social entertainment concepts such as repurposing closed department stores, but a global transformation has taken root.
The globalization of social entertainment innovationImage: Adobe Stock.
| by Kevin Williams
The monopoly of London opening new social entertainment venues has been broken, as new venues percolate outside of the metropolis, across the U.K. and beyond.
For starters, the Gravity Active Entertainment group announced plans to open Gravity Liverpool before the end of the year.
This £10 million ($12.82 million) investment is part of a new entertainment venue within the new Liverpool One area. Once again, this mixed entertainment venue is placed within a previously closed Debenhams department store in the city and hopes to follow on the successful opening of the Gravity Wandsworth operation back in 2020.
Gravity also recently confirmed a £30 million ($38.47 million) investment from Sculptor Real Estate, the real estate business of Sculptor Capital Management, to support the new phase of business beyond its 17 Gravity Active brand venues to include two new Gravity Max brand sites.
The operation saw revenue exceed £27 million ($34.26 million) in 2022 versus 2021’s £17 million ($21.8 million).
The new kind of mixed-use entertainment venue that repopulates previous department store premises was also seen recently with the opening in Hastings, U.K. of Owens Entertainment.
Repurposing a previously occupied Debenhams department store near the seafront, the 70,000-square-foot, three-floor location has been transformed into an FEC, incorporating some 20 different entertainment experiences, including VR, immersive simulation, soft play, amusement, escape rooms and duck-pin bowling — all supported by a strong food and beverage offering.
The department store closed its doors in 2021 and reopened as what the owners call a “family fun factory” at the end of last year. This is the latest example of the deployment of entertainment as a strong replacement for changing retail placement.
We are seeing a similar trend in the U.S., sweeping across abandoned Toys “R” Us, Sears and JCPenney stores.
Most recently, the entertainment chain Tilted 10 announced it would open a second store in a 103,000-square-foot, former JCPenney store at Willow Grove Park, Pennsylvania. The concept from Nickels and Dimes, the owners of the Tilt Studio chain, incorporates in the first phase of development, amusement, VR, hyper-bowling and laser tag, with plans for bumper cars, mini-golf and other attractions.
The Launch Entertainment chain, representing some 30 stores in the U.S., announced Launches in a previous 32,000-square-foot Toys “R” Us store, located in the Mall at Whiney Field in Leominster, Massachusetts. The FEC features bowling, active entertainment and amusement.
Prime Time Amusements, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida based amusement operator, announced the opening of its second Elev8 location — a mixed-use entertainment venue that is also seated within a former store. The entertainment operation acquired the 125,000-square-foot former Sears department store in 2019 for $5 million, according to local media coverage.
The two-story space comprises an indoor go-kart track, laser tag arena, axe-throwing and mini-golf — all supported by a hospitality offering. This is an example of a “retail-tainment” proposition located within previously closed Citrus Park Town Center mall in Florida. The entertainment offering is part of the redevelopment plans for the area.
Meanwhile, Japan saw the 2022 opening of the Red Tokyo Tower multi-level facility based in the iconic city tower. Launched by TEG (previously the Tokyo e-Sports Gate), the operation offers multi-sports and immersive entertainment under one roof, ranging from drone racing and e-sports to the latest VR and MR simulators and entertainment platforms, with even a smattering of the latest amusements.
The company announced the raising of some 4 billion yen ($29 million) towards expanding its operation overseas, and investment in its Red Kids and Red Tower entertainment venues, along with its own e-sports team.
The Chaos Karts AR based go karting experience that debuted in London in 2021 with content created by Make Real will be coming in September to Manchester. The digitally projected, augmented karting attraction under The Ents Inc. operation was conceptualized by Little Lion Entertainment, which was also responsible for The Crystal Maze Experience and Tomb Raider Experience.
The installation will see an eight-player, 90-minute attraction defined as a real-life videogame. The racers collect boosts and weapons to hurl at competitors as they race battle around this immersive environment — aimed at nine years of age and above.
The Ents Inc. also revealed it will be looking for its first international location, with a Chaos Kart opening in Dubai later in the year.
The classic arcade and console gaming aesthetic has also been applied to the competitive socializing vibe, as demonstrated by the recent London opening of NQ64: Arcade Bar – a dark light and neon, cellar-populated, arcade and console game drinking den, with its retro play area.
The chain sports game-themed cocktails and craft beers, based on popular classic video arcade games — themed drinks include PAC’s Punch and Sweet Fighter.
This past spring, the chain saw the 10th venue open in the Shoreditch area of London. Unlike many of the previous social entertainment chains, NQ64 cut its teeth outside of the capital, with Manchester and sites in Birmingham and Glasgow.
This was followed in May by the announcement that private banking lender ThinCats has provided a £10 million ($12.82 million) facility to NQ64 to help with plans to open five new locations before the end of 2023. This move also sees a share buyback from a minority shareholder in the operation, Imbiba Private Equity.
London continues to play a lead role in a global expansion of social entertainment.
(Editor’s note: Extracts from this blog are from recent coverage in The Stinger Report, published by Spider Entertainment and its director, Kevin Williams, the leading interactive out-of-home entertainment news service covering the immersive frontier and beyond.)

Along with advisory positions with other entrants into the market he is founder and publisher of the Stinger Report, “a-must-read” e-zine for those working or investing in the amusement, attractions and entertainment industry. He is a prolific writer and provides regular news columns for main trade publications. He also travels the globe as a keynote speaker, moderator and panelist at numerous industry conferences and events. Author of “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier: Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities,” the only book on this aspect of the market, with the second edition scheduled for a 2023 release. 

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