Are VRcades the Next Big Opportunity?

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There is mounting evidence that VR is not necessarily an isolating experience, but one which can and will become very social. Virtual Reality Arcades or VRcades may indeed be one of the next big ideas that drives VR into the mainstream.

Clearly, the availability of reasonably-priced VR headsets from Sony, HTC, Oculus – together with smartphone-based devices, are creating a feeding frenzy around VR. Some see gaming as the major driver; others view short-form entertainment as the key to mass adoption. Less visible, but perhaps just as compelling, is the emerging VR arcade and theme park opportunity.

Last July, a company called The Void teamed up with Sony Pictures to create a VR experience around the release of the Ghost Busters movie. This was not a VR trailer intended to be viewed at home, but a multi-user experience that was created at the Madame Tussauds wax museum in Times Square in New York. It is creating long lines for customers who pay $55 for an 8-minute experience (and includes admission to the rest of the museum).The idea was to allow a group of customers to don VR headsets, backpacks and mock proton guns, then immerse themselves in a virtual ghost busting adventure. Players are treated as interns that get trained in ghost busting and must then show the ghost buster veterans “what they’ve got.”  As you can see from the image, the rendering is quite good (built on Unity’s VR platform). The experience features travel thru several rooms before players arrive at the VR room, so it’s really a theme park-like environment. I have not experienced this, but reviews have been very positive.

The experience is multi-player (3) so players can see avatars of their friends and have conversations with them as they blast ghosts. There is room to move around in a dedicated play space which includes real opening doors and real chairs to allow sitting in the virtual environment. Players can even feel ghosts passing through their body or the impact of a blast, thanks to localized haptic feedback in the vests worn by each ‘buster’. Plus, the experience includes full body tracking of motion through several rooms and an elevator ride. Clearly, this level of entertainment is not possible in the home.

In Japan, Bandai Namco Entertainment has launched the VR Zone Project i Can in the Divercity Tokyo Plaza shopping complex. The 8-minute experience features an adventure with Gundam, a giant robot, in a mock battle. A heat lamp helps add some real heat for explosions and fireballs. Eight stations are set up in an arcade-like setting with a stage performance as an alternative VR adventure.

Sega Live Creation has created a VR experience in its Tokyo Joypolis amusement center, with an eye toward expanding the experience to other Joypolis facilities across Japan and China. Developed by Australian-based Zero Latency, the six-player experience features a VR headset, backpack, an optically-tracked weapon and a large playspace for cable-free movement and interaction. The experience is called Zombie Survival Crossover.

Other VRcades are popping up around Tokyo. Some allow on-lookers to see the VR world, but not necessarily for the user’s point of view. Just replicating the first-person-shooter view can be nauseating as they spin and twirl their heads and bodies. Instead, an alternative camera view is offered which is more stable and offers a more pleasant way to watch the action. This is a very clever innovation that will help garner better connection with the player.

IMax has also announced plans to open six VR centers at malls and multiplexes by the end of the year. It is working with Goggle to develop a cinema-grade VR camera and Starbreeze for a wide field of view (210 degrees) VR headset, being co-developed with Acer, as we reported from IFA. (Acer Jumps onto Gaze for Monitors & PCs – subscription required). First up is LA, followed by Shanghai, London and New York. Content will be tied to movie franchises, but could resemble the theme park type experience like the Ghost Busters one described above. The experience will be short – around 10 minutes – and cost $7 to $10.

At IFA, we also heard AMD talk about location-based VR as a huge opportunity for them as well (AMD Lays Out VR Vision in IFA Keynote subscription required). So much so, that the firm made an appeal to companies to join them and create the new experiences. AMD sees VR as the “Next Billion People Market Opportunity” so they have to do their part to commoditize the technology, lower barriers for content creation and expose more and more people to VR.

I must say, this idea of a multi-player VR “ride” seems pretty enticing and something I would very much like to try out. This could indeed be a very big market in the near future. (CC)

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