Location-based VR, coming soon to a cinema near you

In all honesty, before I arrived in LA, I was unfamiliar with the term ‘location-based VR’. In fact, when I heard it for the very first time, I immediately linked it to a mobile VR experience taking into consideration a user’s profile and specifically its location. This is not the case. Location-based VR is a VR experience by a user or player who is physically located in a room equipped with high-end VR devices, installed ‘locally’. Sometimes location-based VR is referred to as ‘Arcade 2.0’ or ‘ Out-of-Home market’.

Awesome Rocketship

During his VRLA keynote, Roy Taylor (AMD’s Corporate Vice President Alliances and Content) pointed out that one of the current obstacles for a larger consumer uptake is the high cost of the headsets — and he came up with an interesting strategy. Because when one thinks of democratising access to an experience, it is often assumed that a mobile app is the logical way forward. For Roy Taylor however, given the current state of VR, a better distribution strategy for VR would be to introduce the medium to the bigger masses via installing ‘VR pods’ in cinemas, retail stores, museums, shopping malls and hotels. At VRLA AMD and Awesome Rocketship revealed their ‘VenueVR Gateway’: the first of its kind in North America. The VR pod features a head-mounted display combined with a motion-controlled platform and a PC powered by AMD’s chips (see pics below). Awesome Rocketship’s CEO Jim Stewartson confirmed that the potential for location-based VR is effectively unlimited. “We consider any location with existing foot traffic and a bit of excess or underperforming floor space to be viable. As a single example, there are about 150,000 movie screens in the world, roughly split in thirds between EMEA, the Americas and Asia. Almost all of these theatres are potential distribution points for VR content”. Their goal is to be in several test markets by this fall and in wide deployment by Q2 2017.

Awesome Rocketship’s VenueVR Gateway @VRLA 2016
Mall setup of 8 VenueVR Gateways

Starbreeze

Another company focusing on location-based VR is Sweden-based and publicly-listed Starbreeze. Earlier this year, they teamed up with Taiwanese electronics company Acer to develop the StarVR HMD aka headset. In a conversation I had with Starbreeze Chairman Michael Hjorth, he confirmed that location-based VR has become their number 1 focus. In May 2016, the company announced a strategic partnership with IMAX to develop a “premium location-based virtual reality offering that will deliver immersive, multi-dimensional experiences, including entertainment content and games to multiplexes, malls and other commercial destinations”.

IMAX strongly believes that location-based VR will get movie fans off their couches and into the multiplex. The first pilot venue will open in LA later this year.

China

In China however, location-based VR is already happening: VR pods are up & running in more than 1,000 Chinese theatres provided by VR promoter 87870.

Solving the chicken-or-the-egg question of content

When discussing the state of VR today, many speakers at VRLA raised the chicken-or-the-egg question of content. For a larger consumer base to be interested in VR, we need more high quality content. For content creators to level up their game, they request a larger consumer base, plus the definition of a revenue stream. Location-based VR is expected to solve that question. Revenues will be generated by tickets sales to a huge market of frequent moviegoers. Also, it leads to higher headset sales as viewers are expected to want to buy the headset to replicate the VR experience at home.

At VRLA, AMD’s Roy Taylor confirmed to have high expectations for location-based VR. He strongly believes it could become the next trillion dollar industry.