The XSCAPE factor: Cineplex offers even more fun with entertaining centres


“You’ll never want to play at home again,” promises Cineplex Entertainment, Canada’s preeminent exhibitor with 1,632 screens at 161 theatres entertaining some 77 million guests each year. The latest video and interactive games are now available at ten of their XSCAPE Entertainment Centres, including destinations such as “Bermuda Triangle” and “Chameleon Paradise,” characters named “Frantic Fred,” “SpongeBob” and “Hungry Dragon,” and attractions like “Primeval Hunt” and “Robot Soccer.” With a mix of additional options available—such as Ultra AVX premium screens, licensed lounges, Cineplex VIP and expanded snack offerings—this XSCAPE at Cineplex surely goes beyond the escape that movies offer alone. While Film Journal International has provided regular updates on the deployment over the past five years, we take the occasion of ShowCanada to present a more in-depth look as part of our exclusive series about Cinema Entertainment Centers.

In April 2009, SilverCity Newmarket Cinemas in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was the first XSCAPE Entertainment Centre to open. With over 80 games and attractions such as “Guitar Hero On-Stage,” the “NFL 2 Minute Drill” and “Deal or No Deal,” it also featured the very first Brunswick “Virtual Bowling” lanes in Canada. Pat Marshall, VP, communications and investor relations, perfectly set the tone at the time: “A 13-screen movie theatre, an astounding array of the latest video and interactive games, as well as a licensed lounge and special event suites, make this an incredible destination [and] the ideal place for teens to gather by day, adults to enjoy at night and for groups to celebrate special occasions or hold a corporate event.”

While the basic concept has remained the same, “we have refined and scaled the concept since first introducing XSCAPE Entertainment Centres,” elaborates Mike Langdon, communications director at Cineplex Entertainment. “Most early iterations of this concept—whether new builds, or additions to existing theatres—included a fully licensed bar.” Today, “these locations are generally slightly smaller, with more space allocated to redemption gaming.” XSCAPE is one key element in Cineplex Entertainment’s corporate goal to continually “enhance and expand our existing exhibition infrastructure and service offerings to attract new customers, increase the frequency of existing customers and maximize our revenue per patron.”

In addition to always evaluating “prospective XSCAPE locations based on a variety of factors, including theatre attendance, local demographics, and current gaming revenue,” Langdon explains how many locations “came to life as part of an effort to optimize space utilization within our existing footprint.” With the exception of SilverCity Newmarket and SilverCity CrossIron Mills as new locations from the ground up, “we built the majority of our XSCAPE Entertainment Centres within the existing theatre footprint as a means to maximize space utilization.” (For locations of all Centres mentioned in this feature, see our listing below.)

With SilverCity Oakville, Langdon provides another example. “We replaced a six-lane bowling alley, which had previously been part of the theatre, with the XSCAPE concept. At SilverCity St. Vital, we created an XSCAPE location with redemption gaming from an existing theatre arcade. We felt this space, which adjoins to a mall, presented a great opportunity to drive traffic to this location. At Cineplex Cinemas Queensway and VIP in Toronto, we repurposed traditional theatre arcades as well.”

There is “no stated ratio” between the cinema and added entertainment, “though our largest XSCAPE Entertainment Centre is a little more than 10,000 square feet in size [930 sq. m]. They typically occupy a comparatively small footprint within the larger facility.” How the entertainment options are connected in terms of layout and operations varies from location to location, but “XSCAPE Entertainment Centres are typically connected to the theatre lobby,” Langdon says. “Some locations also have separate storefront entrances. While the technology is similar, the Centres do not provide box-office or core concession sales. XSCAPE staff are theatre employees, but with special training to operate a redemption gaming environment.”

At present, Cineplex does not anticipate operating bowling, laser tag and other larger components as part of the great XSCAPE. “We have seen a far better guest response from redemption games,” Langdon notes. “Redemption games are wildly popular. Guests love the opportunity to play and redeem for great prizes. This is a huge part of the reason for XSCAPE’s success. For example, in a location with 80 games, approximately 15 would be more traditional videogames. There would be six to eight instant-gratification games. The balance would be redemption.” In terms of content as well, Cineplex watches which games are suitable. “XSCAPE Entertainment Centres are open to guests of all ages. Only a select few games…would be rated mature. These games are typically located far from the entrance, and away from any games targeted to younger children.”

Among all those games, Canadians enjoy the game-show favorites “Wheel of Fortune” and “Deal or No Deal.” “Typhoon,” Langdon says, is “a motion simulator, where the seat movements are programmed to correspond with action on the game’s screen. The player can be a pinball in a pinball game, a roller coaster, or even a jet in the air. All the action takes place from a first-person perspective. ‘Monster Drop Extreme’ allows a player to hit a button, drop a ball into a particular hole and redeem for great prizes, while ‘Monster Cranes’ guarantee instant gratification by controlling a lever in attempting to pick up another prize.” Speaking of the latter, “Minecraft product is exceptionally popular, as is NHL merchandise, such as signed memorabilia. Pokemon also remains popular, along with anything iPod-related. We also offer higher-end stuffed toys, which compare well with those found at retail—rather than those found in a typical amusement environment,” Langdon assures.

All game points earned (and spent) are tracked using the loadable “Play Card” system. “Guests purchase a Play Card for a particular value,” he explains, which also earns them points for SCENE, Cineplex Entertainment’s popular loyalty program (FJI June 2011). “As guests play different games at XSCAPE, the card remembers how many points they have won and how they convert into electronic tickets. Those tickets can then be redeemed for our prizes.” Further rewards are built into the SCENE program. “With 2,500 SCENE points,” Langdon provides one example, “a guest can redeem for a $20 Play Card, which provides $28 in game value.”

Additional value comes from keeping the games themselves always fresh and exciting for theatre guests. “Our ability to provide the latest in video and interactive games is one of the many benefits of our joint-venture interest in Cineplex Starburst Inc. We update games on a regular basis and conduct major rotations twice annually—typically in November and May—to correspond with major Hollywood movie releases.” Langdon is referring to “the tremendous operational efficiency” achieved as part of the January 2012 merger of New Way Sales Gaming, which Cineplex had previously acquired, and the amusement game and vending assets of Starburst Coin Machines. Becoming “the largest distributor and operator of arcade games to the amusement industry in Canada,” Cineplex Starburst is now providing equipment and services—not only for the games located within Cineplex theatres, but also to numerous arcades, amusement centers, bowling alleys and amusement parks. Ellis Jacob, president and CEO, Cineplex Entertainment, noted at the time of purchase: “This transaction will improve the operating margins within our current amusement game business and also improve the quality and variety of games available to our guests.”

All that variety is exactly what Mike Langdon likes best about the XSCAPE factor. “Our Entertainment Centres are just a great way to spend time before or after a movie—without having to leave the theatre. It’s a night’s worth of entertainment under one roof.” Not too surprisingly, Cineplex Entertainment will continue to deploy more options for more fun to Canadian moviegoers, he assures. “We see a very bright future for redemption gaming, and have plans to open several new XSCAPE Entertainment Centre locations this year.”

Game on!

XSCAPE to Entertainment
•    SilverCity Coquitlam and VIP Cinemas (Coquitlam, BC)
•    Scotiabank Theatre Edmonton (Edmonton, AB)
•    SilverCity CrossIron Mills Cinemas & XSCAPE Entertainment Centre, with Licensed Lounge and Function Rooms (Calgary, AB)
•    SilverCity St. Vital Cinemas (Winnipeg, MB)
•    SilverCity Oakville and VIP Cinemas, Licensed Lounge (Oakville, ON)
•    SilverCity Newmarket & XSCAPE Entertainment Centre, Licensed Lounge, Function Rooms (Winnipeg, MB)
•    Cineplex Cinemas Queensway and VIP (Toronto, ON)
•    Cineplex Cinemas Ottawa (Ottawa, ON)
•    Galaxy Cinemas Sault Ste. Marie (Sault Ste. Marie, ON)
•    Cineplex Cinemas Scarborough (Toronto, ON)