Could VR kickstart the comeback of the arcade?

POPSCI: A scientific slant on what’s trending in popular culture

If video killed the radio star, it’s fair to say that home consoles killed the arcade. Between 1983 and 1985, more than 2,000 of America’s 10,000 arcades had been shut down, and when the NES exploded into US front rooms in 1985, that decline only steepened. But could a return of ambitious gaming technologies see the arcade make a comeback?

Virtual reality is big news. “Digital technologies enable us to create experiences, which are reality-based experience overlain with bits,” says Joe Pine, author of The Experience Economy. “It means we can experience things that don’t exist in present reality — experience the past or envisage the future.” And with augmented and virtual reality predicted to be bringing in $150 billion in revenue by 2020, it looks like people are willing to buy into these experiences.

Ever since Oculus Rift raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter, a glimmer of hope reappeared for the future of VR — buffered by the announcement that a consumer-facing headset will be hitting the shelves in 2016. But whether or not consumers will all have a headset on hand remains uncertain; currently, 21% ‘aren’t that interested’ in the prospect of owning a VR headset, while another 39% show no interest at all.

The Icaros at-home gym boasts a pretty hefty price tag

One of the major inhibitors of VR is the fact full simulation from the comfort of your home is still far from feasible. While Sony, Oculus and other similar businesses are investigating input controllers not unlike the Wii’s, some of the more adventurous examples — take the Icaros full mind-and-body workout — require far more heavy duty machinery, with a heavy duty price tag to match.

Even headsets like the Oculus Rift aren’t going to come cheap; Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe estimates that the headset and an appropriate desktop will cost in the range of $1,500. “Nobody buys a piece of gaming hardware because they think it looks cool,” says Lewis Ward, analyst at IDC. “Until there’s a great experience to go along with it, the hardware simply opens the door.” In short, the odds are stacked against the likelihood that the masses will be prepared to buy VR for their homes anytime in the imminent future. So what better place to experiment with this new frontier than at a contemporary take on the arcade?

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Written by Lore Oxford, deputy commissioning editor at Canvas8

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