Playing Together in Kuwait
In June 2018, a fun-seeking robot called “ZO” used a time machine to reach The Avenues mega-mall in Kuwait. To his delight, he found Tekzone. Now “ZO” is on counting on Tekzone guests to gather enough energy crystals to power his return journey home so he can bring his friends back to Earth.
That’s the story behind Tekzone, the new family entertainment center (FEC) brand from M.H. Alshaya Co., which is set to roll out across the Middle East. Tekzone’s team is already working on a second site at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Tekzone emerged out of the leisure and entertainment division Alshaya started seven years ago. Alshaya, a family-owned, multinational business, is an international franchise operator for 90 retail, hospitality, and leisure brands. Having launched KidZania Kuwait in 2013, the team wanted to create its own home brand for the FEC market. “That became Tekzone,” explains Steven Putzeys, Alshaya’s leisure and entertainment operations manager.
Putzeys, whose 25 years of leisure experience has taken him from Disneyland Paris to Compagnie des Alpes and KidZania Kuwait, started by asking: “What do families do here? What do they like?” The answer from focus groups came through loud and clear: They would love a place “where everybody could play together.”
Families are at the heart of Kuwaiti society. Many people come from large families and enjoy going out together. “If we were to build an FEC, everybody needed to be happy inside,” says Putzeys.
“Tekzone is designed to accommodate visitors of all ages, “from 4-year-olds to tweens, teenagers, their parents, and grandparents.” Putzeys reports that families are indeed staying and playing together at the FEC, especially during weekends and national holidays.
Kuwaitis expect the “best of the best,” he adds. Whether it’s the latest smartphone or luxury car, “people like quality, so we have to be a quality brand to sit here.”
The Kuwaiti people are also well traveled, with world-class expectations. Therefore, FECs cannot afford to be static in such a fast-paced market. Besides offering novel attractions to get people through the door, Tekzone’s team had to find a way to keep them coming back for more.
Working together with KCC Entertainment Design, Tekzone’s team has developed a dynamic destination with more than 60 different experiences and ever-changing content.
Tekzone lives up to its name. The digitally enhanced FEC features more than 80 laser video projectors, LED displays including a video wall spanning more than 100 square meters, and more than 40 high-definition TVs.
The digitally enhanced FEC features more than 80 laser video projectors, LED displays including a video wall spanning more than 100 square meters, and more than 40 high-definition TVs.
Video mapping has turned Tekzone’s walls, floors, and ceilings into “a constant show,” says Putzeys. Niceberg Studios created the content, which alternates between three themes: the ocean, a jungle, and a futuristic city. The ease with which content can be switched means visitors will never have exactly the same experience twice. Lagotronics Projects installed audiovisual and lighting shows, as well as the first GameChanger interactive game ride concept in the Middle East called “Zizo’s Photo Shoot.”
Tekzone turns technology to its advantage in other ways too. Putzeys’ first reaction on seeing the FEC’s location was: “Oh my God, we’re in a basement. It has pillars, lots of pillars. How do we put everything in so that people don’t feel they are in the basement?”
The designers transformed the pillars into “light walls” using ambient lighting. “They change with the colors of the theme,” Putzeys says. “The sea, of course, is blue so all the lights will be blue; the pillars accentuate the theme. What was a burden for us in the beginning actually became an uplift.”
Guests will discover an array of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences at the FEC. Content can be changed to keep the attractions fresh for visitors.
Putzeys is particularly proud of the “VR Bumper Cars,” which send riders into space. Tekzone also has a “VR Finger Coaster” from Smaaash Labs, giving guests the chance to design their dream roller coaster and ride the result. Suppliers also included Holocube VR and Nuat VR.
“VR is very important, it brings people here, and every day, something new comes out,” says Putzeys. It is a mark of how quickly the VR world evolves that one of Tekzone’s latest attractions, Triotech’s VR Maze featuring Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” and “Rabbids” wasn’t even part of the plan a year ago. “It is possible to catch up because those attractions are very easy to implement,” says Putzeys.
On a Mission
Tekzone might have hit headlines for its use of VR, but it has another creative tactic to attract repeat visitors: Time Mission. Tekzone’s team worked with de pinxi, a company specializing in interactive experiences, to gamify the experience by creating a scoring system across visitors’ journeys.
On arrival, guests are given a radio-frequency identification (RFID) bracelet, which they use to check in to their Time Mission.
“Whatever you do in the park, even going to Starbucks to have a coffee, adds points—or crystals—to your bracelet,” says Putzeys. “For example, the more loops you make on the Loopster (Sunkid), the more crystals you gain. The more you cycle on our Zamperla Magic Bikes, the more crystals you get. Time Mission adds another dimension, even to classic attractions.”
Guests who collect enough crystals can redeem them for gifts or free rides. Tekzone’s redemption store includes branded products from Marvel, Disney, and Hasbro.
Time Mission enriches the visitor experience, gathers data, and encourages loyalty as guests compete to improve their scores and earn rewards. “We have lots of registrations. People are coming back because of Time Mission; it’s a big success,” says Putzeys.
The Time Mission system works alongside a charge-card solution from Embed. Visitors load credit onto the card to use in the pay-as-you-go attraction. It was a deliberate decision to make Tekzone a non-gated FEC: The team wanted to give everyone the opportunity to see the new concept in action.
“It works very well. If people want to play for 5 KD (Kuwaiti dinar), they only play for 5 KD; if they want to play for 20 KD, they play for 20. It’s much easier to budget. It’s also very accessible. If you don’t want to pay anything as a parent, you can just go in for free.”
Tekzone is beating its estimated number of check-ins by double digits. Visitors generally stay for one or two hours. Theoretically, the FEC can host 1,800 guests, but Putzeys believes between 500 and 700 works best.
Discussions are ongoing about introducing other payment options. “We see now with birthday parties and school groups that it is very popular to have unlimited play,” Putzeys says. “Maybe, in the future, we might think of selling cards where you can play for a certain number of hours.”
Team building is another growth area for the business. “That’s very new for the region, especially in Kuwait,” Putzeys says. “We’ve already had a few companies come in and they all loved it, so we’re pushing that.”
Tekzone’s multimedia-powered escape rooms from Pale Night Productions are a team-building favorite. Digital projections instantly turn these two rooms into different adventures. Tekzone offers three adventures inspired by pirates, ancient Egypt, and Leonardo da Vinci. There are also different difficulty levels. “Usually, once you’ve done an escape room, you’ve done it. Here, in the same room, it’s a different game three times over,” says Putzeys.
Tekzone offers an array of virtual and augmented reality experiences with content that can be updated to provide fresh experiences for guests. (Credit: Tekzone)
His priority has always been to provide a compelling combination of attractions. Each attraction has a distinctive Tekzone twist. Instead of an ordinary climbing wall, Walltopia and Valo Motion’s ValoClimb have created a playful, augmented reality (AR) version. AR also adds interest to mini-bowling and arts and crafts. In one of the activities, children can design fish that spring to life and swim away on the walls.
Tekzone is designed to accommodate visitors of all ages, “from 4-year-olds to tweens, teenagers, their parents, and grandparents.”
Tekzone’s team has made the FEC concept scalable. While the existing facility covers 4,250 square meters, Tekzones with a smaller footprint might suit a wider range of malls. “It’s more about the feeling; it’s the way of playing that’s most important,” says Putzeys.
Having the right staff members—who can communicate, cooperate, and innovate—is also crucially important. “We call them the Tektainers. If our Tektainers are happy, our visitors will be happy,” he says. Tekzone runs a recognition program to reward their efforts.
It is a reminder that, even in the most futuristic FEC, old-fashioned principles still remain relevant.
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Contact her at [email protected].