This has been a rough few weeks for VR. Sales are lower than expected, some developers are turning, and then this brutal headline dropped about Facebook’s efforts to sell the Oculus in stores.
We knew rolling out VR wouldn’t be easy but this is bad. Especially when you consider the millions Facebook, Sony, HTC, and Valve are spending to make VR desirable.
There is though, one example in the heart of Time Square that acts as a counterpoint to all the doom and gloom in VR. The “Ghostbusters Dimensions” experience from The Void appears to be crushing it. I checked it out this Summer, enjoyed it, and was amazed to discover recently that its still going. Not only has The Void been doing consistent, well reviewed, VR demos everyday for 9 months—they are getting paid. A combo ticket for Madame Tussauds and “Ghostbusters Dimensions” is $55. That’s for a VR experience that runs for about 15 minutes and uses hardware that is a generation behind what is being sold at Best Buy.
Oculus and HTC have a different mission than The Void, but if there is a shared goal to sell VR to the mainstream, “Ghostbusters Dimensions” offers some good lessons. Here are five.
1. Use a world people already understand and want to go to
Want to be a Jedi? A Hobbit? A Ghostbuster? If you want immediate intrigue and mass appeal, nothing beats pre-existing intellectual property. It helps set expectations and establishes tone. There are amazing, native VR titles developing now, but when it comes to mass public demos, a pre-existing world makes things so much easier. This is a major reason “Ghostbusters Dimensions” has been able to run for nine months straight.
2. Lead with the experience, not the technology
VR is jargon. Note that “Ghostbusters Dimension” poster doesn’t even use the term. Instead you get marketing materials that are more like what you’d see at a theme park. You can look at the Ghostbusters ad and have a good idea about the kind of experience you will have. Hot white girl starting into white space doesn’t tell us anything about whats to come.
3. Put it somewhere that gets a ton of entertainment minded foot traffic—Museums, Movie Theaters, Madame Tussauds
Fuck Best Buy. Yes, the stores get a bunch of foot traffic but its the irritated kind. Most people walk into Best Buy with a mission to buy something, browse a little without talking to a salesperson, then get the hell out. Unlike flatscreen TVs or video game displays, there is no browsing when it comes to VR. You need the assistance of a sales person and the friction is considerable. Its embarrassing but its not surprising that some Best Buy’s could go multiple days without doing a single Oculus demo.
4. Make it multiplayer
We are social creatures. Screaming your head off with a friend as you barrel down a roller coaster is what makes the memory resonant. Nearly ever VR demo I’ve seen at a conference or event (including my own) has been single player. In the “Ghostbusters Dimension” experience, you go four at a time and it makes all the difference. Being able to see and communicate with them in 3D makes it feel as if you’re sharing a real place and time together.
5. Charge for tickets (or make tickets special)
At around $1,500 for a rig, an Oculus or HTC Vive is about the cost of an early RCA TV set in the 1950s. Think about how long it took for someone with an average, middle class salary to be persuaded to buy a TV in that era. How many movie tickets would this person buy before they could justify a motion picture machine for their own home? Charging for tickets helps clarify expectations for the experience and anchors the value of VR as a high end entertainment experience.
Again, The Void and Oculus/HTC/Valve have vastly different missions and business models but everyone in the VR community right now is trying to figure out how to better introduce VR to a mass market. No one, right now, is doing that more effectively than The Void. It will take money and many more creative partnerships, but I would love to see more experiences like “Ghostbusters Dimensions” popup outside of NYC in 2017.
And if you live in NYC, tickets are still available.