Video Arcade Nostalgia Is Inspiring a New Level of Real-Life Experiences
TOP PHOTO BY THE ASAHI SHIMBUN / CONTRIBUTOR / GETTY IMAGES. BELOW, IMAGES COURTESY OF ATARI HOTELS AND BALENCIAGA.
Super Nintendo World in Osaka, Japan. Below top, a rendering of an Atari Hotel. At bottom, Balenciaga’s Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow videogame
Videogame nostalgia is driving a new project trend—translating iconic 8-bit characters into real-life experiences. From a Mario Bros.-inspired theme park in Japan to Atari-themed hotels across the United States, teams are creating a new level of adventure aimed at a first generation of gamers.
Such projects demonstrate the commercial viability of videogame properties beyond the console or arcade, expanding a fast-growing industry whose value is expected to reach US$257 billion by 2025, according to a Mordor Intelligence report. Decades after the likes of Disney began bringing animated screen stars to life through massive entertainment complexes, teams are making similar moves with legacy gaming platforms that thrived in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Companies are looking for the perfect physical product to marry with their digital content,” says Matthew Arevalo, co-founder, Pinfinity, Los Angeles. The company makes augmented-reality-enhanced collectible pins based on videogame and pop-culture titles such as Tetris, Pac-Man and Street Fighter. “They’re seeing that these unique products and experiences can help extend their brand,” Arevalo says.
—Matthew Arevalo, Pinfinity, Los Angeles
Beyond the Console
Consumer electronics titan Nintendo is set to open the Super Nintendo World theme park this year at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, where visitors can interact with characters and experiences from Super Mario World. There’s a Mario Kart roller-coaster race that includes a headset that enables augmented reality features. Tech drives other attractions, such as connected wristbands that, among other things, allow visitors to collect coins and stars just like in the games. Theme-park classics are also part of the mix, such as photo-ops with signature characters Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach.
Other big, brick-and-mortar projects include Atari Hotels—retro gaming-themed destinations set to begin construction this year in Phoenix and Las Vegas. GSD Group and project partner Gensler are also planning six additional locations. Guests can immerse themselves in the past (with arcades featuring classic games as well as Atari merchandise) and the future (with VR and AR experiences as well as spaces designed for esports events). The hotels will also feature Atari-themed restaurants and bars.
“We assembled a multidisciplinary design team with experts from hospitality to branding, sports and digital experience design, to develop a dynamic brand that is unmatched in the hospitality industry,” Tom Ito, global hospitality director, Gensler, said in a statement.
For teams to scale pop culture to a new dimension, they must collaborate across silos. They also must focus on creating an authentic experience, says Arevalo.
“Approaching everything with authenticity doesn’t just encourage user adoption and trust—it also has a considerable business value,” he says. “We get stakeholder recognition that while there may be some aspects that may seem ‘extra,’ that extra is what distinguishes exceptional brands. We keep a constant loop of conversation and adjust our balance based on business needs and customer feedback.”
Play to Win
There’s little wonder why organizations are hoping to tap into the power of gaming.
Global videogamers expected by 2023
of videogamers in 2020 were located in Asia Pacific, which saw a nearly 5% year-over-year increase.
The year-over-year market revenue increase from 2019 to 2020
Expected increase in global videogame sales in 2020, due in part to pandemic-related lockdowns
of industry revenue comes from free-to-play games.
Primary Gaming Devices:
- Mobile phones
- Gaming consoles
of global videogamers play on console systems.
Sources: Global Games Market Report; Newzoo, 2020; The State of Online Gaming 2020, Limelight Networks, 2020; Global Video Game Consumer Segmentation, DFC Intelligence, 2020; Gaming Industry—Facts, Figures and Trends, Clairfield International, 2018
The gaming crossover rush also works in the other direction, as companies with real-world products take inspiration from videogames to market their products in an era in which trade shows and product-launch events have mostly disappeared due to COVID-19.
In the world of high fashion, for instance, videogame chic is among the year’s hottest trends: Louis Vuitton provided a makeover for several League of Legends characters; Gucci offered digital giveaways within The Sims; and MCM was among several organizations to drop its fashions into Animal Crossing. In December, French fashion house Balenciaga launched its latest collection by releasing an original videogame called Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, in which players proceed through a futuristic world populated by stylish (and apparently deep-pocketed) avatars who model Balenciaga’s most recent collection. Similarly, pop culture website Complex created a videogame to take its music and fashion festival online.
Whether teams are threading real-life experiences into videogames or expanding a gaming empire into the real world, project leaders must carefully balance giving customers what they want without taking gimmick-filled shortcuts. Pinfinity’s team crafts products in an insulated environment to ensure they maintain their own brand identities.
“Physical products that attempt to achieve digital integration have to be seen as not just being valuable for launching an experience. To be truly successful, they also have to be valued as a desirable item in and of itself,” Arevalo says. “We’ve overcome this challenge by being thoughtful about the usage and value of the items we create, almost in a bubble away from the gaming experiences we translate over.”