Welcome to August, where we’re going to start things off with a new guest post from Kevin Williams. One of Kevin’s specialties is Virtual Reality, where today he’s highlighting some of the latest developments in out-of-home VR systems (“Location Based Entertainment(LBE)” VR or arcade VR) which are still working hard on carving out their own space within the amusement industry.
KWP: While many have been following the success story of VR amusement pieces such as ‘Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride(LAI Games),’ ‘STORM(Trio-Tech),’ and ‘King Kong of Skull Island(Raw Thrills),’ there has been another aspect of VR that has started to grow in popularity on the scene: Free-roaming standalone VR experiences. This is best defined as players being able to move freely within an arena and playing as teams, no cables hindering the ability to roam within the space and interact with the game and other players.
This aspect of the VR revolution has seen several exponents offer standalone installations – Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) venues that offer a single (ticketed) attraction, usually installed in retail unit sized venues. The ability to offer a big entertainment experience in a small footprint has seen this aspect of the market gaining big support.
One of those developers is Sandbox VR. The company was supported in its initial investment raise by the likes of Alibaba, and has continued to attract investment from A-list celebrities and investment houses, raising an estimated $119m. So far, the operation has rolled out over 20-venues, building on their model of offering an immersive VR experience for up to six players. Over six different competitive VR games are available, ranging from the pirate adventure ‘Curse of Davy Jones’ to the zombie blaster ‘Deadwood Mansion.’ The company has also started to field licensed IP based experiences, such as their ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ game.
With the growth of their chain operation, Sandbox VR has its eyes on international expansion, and is signing up franchisees to achieve an ambitious 30 facility operation within the next few years. One of these first franchised venues opened this month in London, and we were invited to attend the VIP opening and get to grips with the latest immersive game experiences.
The new facility was displaying the company tagline “In Here, it’s possible!” Upon entering, we were greeted to a stylish venue like no FEC or amusement site, with clean lines and a robotic bartender in the foyer. The inclusion of food & beverage is the is is crucial to the Sandbox VR experience, as they aiming at a young adult market. Private parties and corporate events are also seen as an important element in the future of the revenue spend. This London venue is one of the first franchise run operations, emulating what we previously covered appearing in the Capital with Competitive Socializing venues.
Comprised in the multi-floor venue are four VR arenas, developed to offer the latest in immersive entertainment experiences. Powered by the HP Z VR backpack PC, the players wear Pico Neo 3 VR headsets, and wield unique force-feedback interfaces to control the action. The immersive feedback effect is further bolstered by a haptic vest while an an advanced sensor system tracks the arms & legs of each player. This places them in the virtual space for full body representation, creating a truly immersive experience. The loading and unloading of the VR adventure for the players was professionally handled by the facility team.
Having experienced many instances of VR over the course of my career, what I played at Sandbox VR was of high-quality, with the overall gameplay elements working in wonderful harmony. The fast-paced action bore all the hallmarks of a slick AAA developed game, Sandbox VR retaining a development team comprising of ex-EA and Ubisoft alumni. All of us playing the Zombie Blaster game had a whale of a time, with the onrush of the undead building pace and excitement to the point that the 20-minutes rushed by in a flash. How time flies when your having fun!
Obviously Sandbox VR are not the only player in this increasingly crowded space. London is no stranger to VR free-roaming, also having MeetSpaceVR with their ‘Zero Latency’ experience, as well as DNA VR, Navrtar and Omegascape venues; Many will also be familiar with Dreamscape Immersion, who uses a similar business model to Sandbox VR. Also there was TheVOID, with their Hyper-Reality concept that closed after opening some 17-venues including a high-profile location at Disney Springs in Orlando. While the initial concept was a victim of several issues that went beyond the global health crisis, they are returning with new management and investment capital, with the expectation to open their first new LBE site in the States here soon.
Regarding European developers, a Czech development studio with a background in VR free-roaming experiences recently opened a new facility-based VR free-roaming experience in the Westfield Mall of Scandinavia, Stockholm. Known as Divr Labs, their latest store is called the ‘Divr Labs Arena,’ sporting a selection of their own developed VR attractions where groups of guests explore the virtual world in a more adventure-style experience than an action/blaster one. The unique experience ‘Meet the Dinosaurs’ was designed to appeal to families of all ages.
Source: Divr Labs
These immersive VR adventures allows a capacity of 48 guests per hour, with a flow model through their centralized VR space. The company has also applied new streaming technology, which still provides a high-end VR encounter without the need for a cumbersome backpack PC, guests wearing HTC VIVE Focus 3 headsets. Divr Labs is planning to open their second venue in the Westfield Mall London, further boosting the immersive VR offerings available in the capital, with an ambitious roll out schedule of its own.
Source: Divr Labs
The next few months will see other developers and operators throw their hats into the ring, hoping to grab a piece of this exciting pie. Among the upcoming hardware advancements, we can also expect to see this include Augmented and Mixed Reality-based developments. Come November, we will also see launched a brand new VR system that is able to be integrated into existing laser-tag arenas, mapping the virtual to the physical walls of the space – with other new developments expected to be seen at IAAPA Expo 2022 in Orlando as the future of immersive fun will be on display for audiences returning to Out-of-Home entertainment.
About the Author – Kevin Williams is a widely-respected specialist on entertainment and technology assisting international clients in developing immersive and interactive entertainment technology and facilities. Kevin is Co-Founder and Technology Director for Spider Entertainment, a global leader in Out-of-Home Entertainment for retail destinations and beyond. Along with advisory positions with other entrants into the market he is founder and publisher of the Stinger Report, “a-must-read” e-zine for those working or investing in the amusement, attractions, and entertainment industry. Kevin is a prolific writer and provides regular news columns for main trade publications. He also travels the globe as a keynote speaker, moderator and panelist at numerous industry conferences and events. Author of “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier: Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities”, the only book on this aspect of the market, the second edition is scheduled for a 2023 release.
Kevin can be reached at email@example.com.