Family entertainment center
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A family entertainment center (or centre), often abbreviated FEC in the entertainment industry (also known as an indoor amusement park or indoor theme park), is a small amusement park marketed towards families with small children to teenagers, and often entirely indoors or associated with a larger operation such as a theme park. They usually cater to "sub-regional markets of larger metropolitan areas." FECs are generally small compared to full-scale amusement parks, with fewer attractions, a lower per-person per-hour cost to consumers than a traditional amusement park, and not usually major tourist attractions, but sustained by an area customer base. Many are locally owned and operated, although there are a number of chains and franchises in the field. FECs are sometimes called family amusement centers, play zones, family fun centers, or simply fun centers. Some non-traditional FECs, called urban entertainment centers (UECs), with more customized and branded attractions and retail outlets, are associated with major entertainment companies and may be tourist destinations. Others, sometimes operated by Non-Profit organizations as Children's Museums or Science Centers, tend to be geared toward edutainment experiences rather than simply amusement. FECs may also be adjuncts to full-scale amusement parks.
FECs are essentially a converged outgrowth of theme restaurants that increasingly developed their in-house amusement features, small-scale amusement parks needing more offerings than just a few rides and midway games, and diversifying formerly one-attraction venues (water parks, skate parks, billiard halls, bowling alleys, and so on). All three categories have moved over several decades continually toward stock, popular entertainment solutions supplied by third-party vendors. Among the earliest of the themed restaurants to become known more for family entertainment than food was Chuck E. Cheese's, a pizza restaurant founded in 1977 in San Jose, California.
Most FECs have at least five common major or "anchor" attractions, to provide diverse patrons (often in large parties) at least one to two hours of entertainment, to encourage repeat visits, and to reduce time spent waiting for any given attraction. Some of the more usual attractions include (depending upon size, climate, etc.):
- Amusement/thrill rides (elevated, but generally small-scale)
- Arcade games
- Ball pit
- Batting cages
- Bowling alley
- Bumper boats
- Food: Snack bar and fast food (especially pizza)
- Food: Quality family and group dining in theme restaurant
- Kiddie rides (ground-level)
- Kart racing
- Laser tag
- Miniature golf
- Movie theater
- Music and dancing
- Playground equipment and climbing structures
- Redemption games and merchandiser games
- Roller skating
- Specialty shops (toys, comics, music, etc.)
- Virtual reality
- Water slide
The most common anchor activities are miniature golf, kart racing, arcade and redemption games, and food & beverage, according to industry specialists StoneCreek Partners. FECs rarely use custom-built attractions, because of the costs involved, and instead install off-the-shelf systems provided and maintained by industry equipment vendors.
Any given FEC may lean more towards outdoor activities, arcade gaming, or passive entertainment and dining. Each may cater to different age ranges, all the time, or during certain hours, e.g. children and entire families in the daytime, and teens to young adults in the evening, with specific promotional programs to attract different market segments at different times.
FECs tend to serve "sub-regional markets", such as small cities, quadrants or boroughs of larger cities, and a large suburban area outside such a city. Their busiest times are weekend afternoons and Thursday through Saturday evenings.
Because most of the attractions are essentially the same from FEC to FEC, two of the most important factors in a particular center distinguishing itself to potential customers are a highly visible location (hard to obtain because other uses for the land are often more competitive), and a consistently developed and promoted theme that appeals to the target market segments, "the fun factor in the overall decor".
Parental concerns are also important. While children themselves rarely think of it, a major factor in the attractiveness of an FEC to parents is on-site safety and security, as adults may drop off older children at such an establishment to entertain themselves. An increasingly important factor for success is high-quality food and drink to attract parental spending as well as whole-family dining.
Various major media and entertainment brands, including Disney, Lego, NASCAR, Sega, Sony, United Artists/Regal and Viacom, have been attached to family entertainment centers, often much less "traditional" than local and chain FECs, with custom-built, unique attractions, usually heavily branded, and most often located in major metropolitan areas. The first such urban entertainment center (UEC) was the Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, California, which opened in 1993, linking several Universal properties. Including various retail outlets, restaurants, and attractions, the CityWalk created a great deal of "sustained buzz" in the retail real estate industry, which began "embracing the notion that Universal Studios, Sony, Disney, and other entertainment companies could create new anchors and entertainment programs for shopping centers". Another significant UEC was the Sony Metreon in San Francisco, California (1999–2006).
Some nonprofit, educational installations, such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco, also have aspects of FECs in format and atmosphere, but with activities geared toward learning and experiencing rather than simple entertainment. Some for-profit enterprises also use this model, or mix edutainment with simpler amusement attractions.
The major international industry association that supports FECs is the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), which merged with and absorbed the membership of the International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry (IALEI) in October 2009. IAAPA maintains addresses in the Virginia, Hong Kong, Brussels, Belgium and Mexico City. The International Laser Tag Association (ILTA) also remains active (and more broadly than its name suggests). ILTA is based in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S. For many smaller, community centric FEC's and owner/operators who can't always make the IAAPA tradeshow, IAAO the International Association of Amusement Operators  is an online resource for family entertainment center operators and startups.
In the United States
The main national industry group in the U.S. is the National Association of Family Entertainment Centers (NAFEC), which is perhaps incongruously a division of the International Laser Tag Association (ILTA).
Some U.S.-based companies also have venues in Canada (noted above), but this is rare due to the legal/political difficulties involved in cross-border corporations.
American FECs vary wildly in themes, size and features. Some of the larger businesses in this category have included:
- Adventure Landing (Jacksonville Beach, Florida, 1995)
- America's Incredible Pizza Company (chain, based in Springfield, Missouri, 2002)
- Boomers! Parks (chain)
- Brunswick Zone XL (bowling/pool/video game chain)
- Castle Park (full amusement park with FEC section, Texas)
- Chuck E. Cheese's (chain, based in San Jose, California, 1977)
- Dave & Buster's (Dallas, Texas, 1982)
- Discovery Zone (Lenexa, Kansas, 1990)
- GameWorks (Seattle, Washington, 1997)
- Gatti's Pizza
- Golfland Sunsplash (full waterpark and miniature golf course with FEC section, California and Arizona)
- John's Incredible Pizza Co. (1997)
- Legoland Discovery Center (Schaumburg, Illinois, 2008)
- Malibu Grand Prix
- NASCAR Speedpark (NASCAR racing theme; four U.S. locations)
- Peter Piper Pizza (chain)
- Putt-Putt Fun Center
- Regal FunScape (chain; movies, minigolf, video & "VR" games, food court, etc., depending on location)
- Round1 (chain, Japan-owned)
- Scandia Amusement Park (full amusement park with FEC section, California)
- Sky Zone (chain, indoor trampoline park; locations in US and Canada)
- Sony Metreon (San Francisco, California, 1999–2006, Japan-owned)
- Tilt Studio (chain, an offshoot of the original Tilt arcade chain)
- Universal CityWalk
- uWink (2007)
- ZDT's Amusement Park (full amusement park with FEC section, Texas)
In the United Kingdom
In other countries
- Entertainment City (Manila Bay, Philippines)
- Happy City (Colombia)
- Round1 (Japan)
- Sega Republic (Dubai, United Arab Emirates 2009, Japan-owned)
- Universal CityWalk (part of Universal Studios Japan, Osaka, U.S.-owned)
- - (2011). "About Family Entertainment Centers". StoneCreekLLC.com. Las Vegas, Nevada: StoneCreek Partners Advisory Services, Commercial Real Estate and Leisure-time Industries. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- "Urban Entertainment Centers". StoneCreekLLC.com. op. cit. 2011. Missing or empty
- Mandt, David (October 9, 2009). "News Release: IALEI Dissolution IAAPA Merger Plans Final". IAAPA.org. Alexandria, Virginia: International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- "Contact Us". IAPPA.org. op. cit. 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- "About Us". LaserTag.org. Indianapolis, Indiana: International Laser Tag Association. 2011. Archived from the original on June 3, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011.