It's game on at Earl's Court

Related tags Public house

This year's Amusement Trades Exhibition International was a real success as gaming companies unveiled their new machines for the pub market. Phil...

This year's Amusement Trades Exhibition International was a real success as gaming companies unveiled their new machines for the pub market. Phil Mellows examines the latest innovations

For three days at the end of January, Earl's Court is transformed into a gigantic amusement arcade. The latest games and gaming machines are all here, and the world's leisure industry converges on a dazzling maze of electronic wizardry to choose which will sate a ceaseless hunger for thrills.

This year ATEI, the Amusement Trades Exhibition International, was buzzing - literally - with new ideas.

Driven by technological advance and the consumer demand for novelty, recent years have seen dramatic advances in the kind of machines available.

There is massive excitement about the opportunities ahead - but as far as the British pub trade is concerned it is tempered by worries about how those opportunities may be curtailed.

At the end of March the Government is expected to announce its decision on the recommendations of last October's Gambling Review, commonly known as the Budd Report.

The overall thrust of the report is towards a welcome deregulation for gaming machines. But, not so dissimilar to the Government's proposals for licensing reform, it is deregulation with strings.

The world according to Budd will allow players to use notes and credit cards in machines and transfer winnings straight from the winnings pot into the bank to fuel further plays. None of this is legal at the moment.

But alongside this liberalisation will be a restriction on the number of AWP machines on new licences to two and inflation-linked jackpot increases.

There is also a concern that local authorities will have the power to stop licensees operating machines, although this measure is not, apparently, aimed at pubs.

Both the pub industry, chiefly through the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) and the machine industry, chiefly through BACTA (British Amusement Catering Trades Association), have made a strong protest at the proposals.

According to two of the individuals leading the fight, Roy Howell, chairman of machine manufacturer Maygay, and John Appleton, the man in charge of machines at pubco Six Continents (pictured left and right)​, the campaign has made progress.

Both the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the minister for gambling, Richard Caborn, have taken note of the objections and it seems as though discussions have proceeded in a civilised manner.

Now both industries must wait for the Government's decision on how to proceed, expected towards the end of March.

The air of uncertainty over the legislative future hardly dimmed the lights of ATEI, however, and nothing is holding back the breathless rush of invention that currently characterises the machine industry.

As far as pubs are concerned, much of the attention over the last two or three years has been focused on "soft terminals", machines which can carry a choice of games, can download more from the internet to broaden the appeal of machines and keep pace with the fickleness of player demand and also provide the infrastructure for tournament games.

According to Rolf Nielsen, product director at Kunick Leisure, along with Leisure Link, the leading machine suppliers to the licensed trade, the 3,500 soft terminals that the company already has out in the pubs marks a break from the past, when distributors merely removed old machines and delivered new ones and were "like Pickfords at most".

Now it is more about marketing games, targeting new audiences, driving players into the pubs and developing extra revenue streams beyond the coins dropped into the slot.

"At the moment only 10 per cent of pub customers will play on a machine," Rolf pointed out. "We think that at least half the rest will enjoy playing something if we can only get them in front of a machine. There is so much out there that everyone should be able to have fun.

"Unfortunately, there is a prejudice against something that is still thought of as a 'fruit machine' and we need to get across the message that there is a new generation of machines that are sociable, interactive and female-friendly."

While that 10 per cent is still predominantly male, women are playing more, Rolf believes, and are being drawn to machines thanks to the new style of games which attract groups of people rather than the lone player.

Chris Simon, marketing and customer services director at Leisure Link, confirmed that according to the company's latest research, players are not only more likely to be women but are getting younger.

"The new generation of machines are reaching people who wouldn't play the old style AWPs and they are as likely to be male as female," he said.

Leisure Link's Itbox, which combines the latest games with tournament games, video clips, football news, mobile phone downloads, music, live news feeds and more is one of the new generation of machines that is making the difference.

There are currently 1,700 terminals out there, 80 per cent of them in pubs, and Chris is convinced of the potential for that figure to grow by six or seven times.

One of the latest ways Leisure Link is broadening the appeal is by having a close look at the design of the Itbox cabinet itself, for instance introducing a chrome finish that will look the part in trendy café-bars.

For Kunick, the marketing effort has extended to a deal with the Daily Telegraph which sees the newspaper sponsoring and promoting a new national quiz tournament on the company's Gamesnet soft terminals.

In a departure for pub quiz games it offers cash prizes totalling up to £20,000 plus other sponsored prizes that include air flights, DVDs and CDs.

Running from March, it follows a successful advertising campaign for the newspaper on Gamesnet which demonstrated a seldom-considered potential for pub machines by reaching more than 3.5 million pub-goers.

"That experience reinforced our view that there is an excellent match between our younger audience and the Gamesnet player base," said Telegraph Group marketing director Mark Dixon.

The advertising potential on the new machines opens up additional revenue streams and can also be used by operators to promote specific products within the pub.

Even AWPs are beginning to see the benefits of new technology. Kunick is exploring the potential of networked, touchscreen games that have had encouraging results on test.

There is something of a psychological block for players moving from mechanical AWPs to touchscreen but the design of the new machines, which resemble old-fashioned fruit machines but are brought to life with features such as animated fruit, is overcoming that.

Computer technology also means that the machines can give players tips on how to play, helping to break down another barrier - that AWPs these days are too complicated.

If the Budd Report's recommendations to allow the use of notes and credit cards go through, the machine manufacturers are ready with machines that not only take cards and notes but can also detect forgeries.

The possible use of forged notes is seen as a big threat but a system developed by Kunick not only rejects them but triggers an alarm in the pub through the MIDAS machine manager.

Other articles on the games and gaming:

It's not all about flashing lights and beeping noises - Arkell's is welcoming back traditional pub games, with skittles leading the way. Read on...

With the World Cup looming, and fantasy football tournaments looking like a lot of hard work, a solution comes in the form of On the Ball. What's that then? Well read on and find out more...

Tournament games are beginning to make an impression on the pub industry, with pub customers raking in cash prizes, and more an

Related topics Legislation

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more