Feature: Adventure Play

GlobalAmusements&Play.com takes a closer look at the trends and technology driving the adventure play category in a post-COVID world.

In today’s adventure play marketplace, while some priorities have shifted for guests, some have remained decidedly the same. Fun and excitement take precedence, but the notion of ‘safety’ at an attraction or venue will definitely have shifted for many.

Although VR, interactivity and gamification are the current buzzwords within the play sector, there is a strong argument to be made for less tech-based outdoor adventure activities: attractions like high ropes, zip lines, paintballing and go-karting. In addition to a reasonably high player price point, these activities have the added bonus of taking place in the open air – which in a post-COVID-19 world is no small consideration. Everyone we spoke to for this feature highlighted ‘safety’ as one of the most important considerations for both operators and visitors in 2021, and although indoor venues can be cleaned, sanitised and ventilated, numerous studies have determined that the odds of indoor transmission are significantly higher than those of outdoor transmission. It’s also easier to socially distance in larger outdoor spaces – important for safe queue management and access control.

The Association of Play (API), a UK trade body for the play sector, has called attention in recent months to the health benefits of outdoor play – both physical and mental – and for children and young people in particular.

API Chair Mark Hardy commented: “Providing outdoor play opportunities is both a protective and a preventative public health measure and urgent and sustained investment in a national network of community playgrounds is needed to safeguard children’s mental health… Outdoor play is essential to children’s normal development and a key factor in their mental health and emotional wellbeing. The repeated lockdowns of the last year have meant that children have been under varying degrees of house arrest for months, exacerbating an already worrying trend from outdoor to indoor time.”

According to the Open University’s OPENspace Research Centre (UK) there is considerable evidence suggesting that time spent outdoors, in nature, increases life expectancy, improves wellbeing, reduces symptoms of depression and increases a child’s ability to function in school. In addition to better physical health, teachers report improved concentration, better ability to focus and learn, increased productivity, better behaviour, and the fostering of more positive relationships between adults and children and amongst peer groups, when children are more active and spend more time outside during the day.

Capturing the market
The challenge, then, is creating outdoor attractions that excite and interest – not always an easy task when it comes to capturing the older children and teenage market. With VR, AR and interactive attractions seeing significant growth in the play sector, there’s nothing to say that outdoor adventure play activities can’t also include aspects of interactivity and gamification. UK-based outdoor ‘shoot ’em up’ attraction Rumble Live, which opened in 2019, was inspired by the video games loved by the founders’ three sons. It incorporates gameplay from paintballing with the non-contact, pain-free elements of laser tag to offer a real-life ‘video game’ experience. An eight acre site consists of three different playable arenas, each with its own gameplay and missions. Players start the game with state of the art laser rifles, with better weapons and respawns unlocked through kill-streaks or by scavenging the land for the hidden utility boxes, for that real ‘Call of Duty’ experience.

Rumble Live has remained a popular attraction throughout the pandemic, said founders Billy and Jacquie Rumble. “The fact that it’s open air, has weapons ranges of over 200 metres and spans eight acres makes it very easy to keep people a safe distance apart.”

Re-engaging with guests
Valo Motion’s Fana Immonen told GAP that she believes guests are looking for both fun and safety in their adventure play choices right now, but also highlights interactivity and active play as important to them.

“Guests are looking for attractions that will allow the players to do physical and social activity after a long time isolated at home,” she said. “In order to convince ‘The Fortnight generation’ to come to your [venue], you need to look for ways to engage them with high-end content while providing experiences they can´t find at home.”

She also highlights ‘replayability’ as vital for operators. “Another very important aspect for operators is play and replay value, to give good reasons for customers to return to their venue. Operators understand that they are facing competition not only from other out-of-home entertainment but from a lot of high-quality video game content.”

Mariya Mladenova, market manager at aerial roller coaster zip-line company Rollglider, similarly maintains that, “now more than ever, guests are in need of excitement,” with the enforced break caused by COVID-19 helping to drive demand for adventure play attractions as the sector reopens.

“Because of the pandemic, there is a lot of repressed desire for entertainment and – dare I say – going out of our comfort zone,” she said. “We are all waiting for life to ‘get back to normal’ but at the same time are searching for something extraordinary to experience to compensate for all that time spent on the couch. So I think that when we can finally go back to normal, and this includes visiting entertainment venues, we are going to be looking for something truly inventive and surprising.”

She continued: “Operators are looking for new ideas on how to refine visitors’ experience. One of the most inspiring parts of our industry is this never-ending drive to improve customer relationships, services, and experiences. This desire takes many forms – from implementing new rides to gamification to improved queuing experience or more recently extra safety measures because of the pandemic.”

The Electric Rollglider, which is the latest development in the Rollglider family of products, was born from the desire to make the ride easier to incorporate in venues and projects and operate without reducing the thrill, Mariya explains. It allows the rider to control the speed of their flight, adding a certain ‘fear factor’.

“How far out of your comfort zone can you go? We believe that empowering visitors to control their adventures and push their limits in such a way is part of the future of our industry,” says Mariya. “Gamification and scoring are now also possible with leaderboards that show the fastest and most daring riders. From the operators’ perspective, the Electric Rollglider offers a high adrenaline attraction that also has high flexibility. It can be easily installed above other attractions, even those such with specific safety zone requirements, like trampolines.”

Adrenaline-based attractions – often outdoors and often solo-rider – comfortably meet guests’ new post-pandemic priorities, compromising between excitement and COVID-safety. What’s more, with travel abroad off the table for many, adults and families alike will be looking for exciting activities a little closer to home to elevate their leisure time in the coming months – creating ample opportunity for operators in the adventure play space moving forward.

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