Virtual Reality Arcades: Making VR a Destination Activity

Shredding a Virtual hill.

Virtual Reality isn’t slowing down for anyone. In fact, as demonstrated by the skateboarding VR experience displayed above, VR’s hardware and accessories industry is continually expanding, offering users new, often amazing, products that make Virtual Reality feel that much more, well, real.

Peripherals are rapidly changing how VR can be experienced

For instance, HTC’s recently announced Vive Trackers are supplemental movement trackers that can be added to almost anything, allowing developers to turn everyday objects (like baseball bats, finger-tracking gloves, and toy guns) into peripheral devices for their VR games. Users can even attach 2 of these to their feet and one to their waist and suddenly have a full body experience in VR. The entire point of the trackers is to make almost anything a trackable object in VR.

Human Driven Locomotion

Then there are locomotion focused VR accessories like the skateboards shown above or more flexible products like the Virtuix Omni, which is an omni-directional treadmill that allows users to walk or run through the virtual world just as they would in real life.

Products like the Omni and other accessories are catching on quickly in China, and HTC hopes that they will catch on in the US and Europe soon. There is no question that people are curious about general VR, but many are equally curious about how far we can push this technology. Being able to use these (sometimes outlandish) devices adds to the VR experience and is something users they can go home and tell their friends and family about.

VR Arcades Range from relatively simple setups (Left) to sprawling VR experiences (Right) so large that users have to wear the computing system on their backs.

In October of last year, HTC announced that the rollout of a new program called “Viveport Arcade.” Arcade’s aim is to grant VR arcades access to hundreds (and eventually thousands) of VR titles for a flat rate, making VR a subscription service akin to Netflix. The ultimate goal of this program is to make it far simpler for VR Arcade owners to acquire the most compelling VR content at a reasonable price, thus allowing them to charge lower admission fees for users to come in and try the latest and greatest in VR technology.

Giving consumers low-cost options for trying high end VR is incredibly important for the industry on the whole. Consumer Virtual Reality is expensive. While many in the VR industry may marvel at how affordable this technology has become, the everyday consumer sees the price-tags associated with VR and quickly turns away. This problem is compounded by the ever-growing smorgasbord of amazing (and costly) VR peripherals. And let’s not forget the “everyman constraint” that is the lack of space in most people’s homes. Put simply, VR’s barrier to entry is a high one that rises exponentially as you acquire more and more gear to “immerse” yourself in the experience.

But, with a VR arcade, everyday consumers can come in and try the latest and greatest for a reasonable price, which is is great news for consumers and developers. Consumers will have access to a wealth of new and diverse experiences and hardware for a less than a fraction of what they’d have to pay to get these same experiences for themselves. Developers will have a larger audience and, thanks to HTC’s “Viveport Arcade” program, they’ll be able to make more money by receiving a bit of payment every time their title is played in an arcade.

The other massive benefit afforded to those with access to a VR Arcade is the ability to experience local multiplayer Virtual Reality. Because VR is still a relatively niche market, it is unlikely that most people in your friend group will have access to the VR headsets required to share a Virtual Space. However, with VR Arcades, you can bring large groups together for shared experiences in VR.

Vive’s First Branded VR Arcade in China

Now, many of you may think that VR Arcades are something that only a few people are experimenting with, but this is simply not true. While the concept has yet to catch on in the US, it is absolutely booming in China. In an October interview with Alvin Wang Graylin, China Regional President of Vive, stated their were 3,000+ VR arcades in China already — a number they expect to continue growing after the announcement of Viveport Arcade.

VR arcades have a lot of potential and are likely to boost the VR industry overall. Perhaps what is most exciting about them though, is the fact that they will be relatively age-proof for the forseeable future. In 10 years time, when everyone has a Virtual Reality system akin to an Oculus Rift or HTC-Vive right in their home, VR arcades will still have a market, because they’ll have the next thing. They’ll have the crazy body suit with haptic feedback and inner-ear vestibulation and 4k per eye resolution. They’ll always have something that you cannot get in-home.

This is where VR arcades come in. Even right now, very few people are going to be able to experience skateboards in VR, or even just experience the sensation of actually walking in VR for example. But they can experience it in a VR Arcade, and they can do it with friends.

Perhaps the best example of this is not a VR arcade per say, but rather a VR experience in Utah and New York called “the Void”. After a very valuable partnership with Sony Studios, the Void became widely known by the masses for its “Ghostbusters” VR experience at Madam Tusande’s.

The Void’s Hyper-Reality Experience

While the above image is supremely cheesy, the technology and design behind the Void itself is anything but. The Utah based startup has gone as far as calling their experiences, including ghostbusters, “HyperReality: Beyond Virtual Reality”. This is because they merge real world sensory elements with the Virtual playspace. They achieve this by building mammoth real-world arenas, and instead of having you tethered to a single spot, you wear a computer on your back that tracks your movements and adjusts the images in your Head Mounted Display.

Ontop of this they employ a number of classical special effects, like sudden gusts of air, pumped in smells, and basic geometry that matches your what you see in your head mounted display. For a better sense of what the Void can do, take a look at the video below:

The Void demonstrates the potential of VR arcades like no other arcade I’m aware of. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates the unique value proposition of these businesses. Even if, 10 years from now, everyone owns their own VR headset, they’ll never be able to experience anything remotely close to what that Void is offering here.

Even as the technology improves for in-home use, so too will the technology in general, meaning that VR arcades will always have something new and different to show users who cannot afford the cutting edge technology of the time.

While not everything will be as genuinely awe-inspiring as something like the Void, most VR arcades will be able to offer much higher end technology than any reasonable consumer could get their hands 0n.

Virtual Reality Arcades are turning VR in a destination activity. The kind that, even if you’re already into VR, you’ll want to run home and tell your friends about. It’s like going to the waterpark for a day instead of just going to the public pool. Sure, the pool is always fun, but is there a 200ft waterslide there? … I didn’t think so.

**Written by Nathan Hoffmeier.

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