The Virtual Arena: Growth of Out-of-Home VR Entertainment 

Kevin Williams begins his new column with an overview on the commercial applications of VR.

In this first column of our monthly feature on Virtual Reality (VR) in the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector, it would be good to accurately define the market, and chart the different categories that are shaping a growing sector that has been under reported, in comparison to the explosion of interest in the consumer application of the technology.

While consumer VR has only recently started to be available to purchase, applications of VR in out-of-home (or public-space) sector have been growing in popularity, with numerous systems and attractions currently operating. It is fair to say that VR has been experienced more in public demonstration and installations than has at this time been achieved with consumer ownership.

In the commercial entertainment scene, the application of VR is broken down into roughly seven categories:

VR Ride Attraction’ – The deployment of VR as a component to update existing theme park ride attractions has grown in popularity. Best illustrated by the number of Samsung Gear VR mobile VR headsets being employed by the Six Flags regional theme park company on a number of their roller coasters. A number of ride manufacturers are evaluating the addition of their own virtual display component to their ride system, seen as rebooting (updating) current steel ride experiences.

VR Dark Ride’ – Along with the steel attractions, the application of VR within themed dark ride experiences builds on utilizing virtual environments as part of the experience offering a new level of immersion. One of the latest applications can be seen with the Thorpe Park, Derren Brown’s Ghost Train immersive experience. A number of developers have started to work on new concepts using VR in this approach.

Derren Brown Ghost Train

VR FX Theater’ – The 4D (physical effect) 3D theatre sector has been a popular genre with amusement attraction operators. In using VR, the need for a large screen is replaced by individual head-mounted displays (HMD) for the audience. Systems using VR and the latest motion effects seats and platforms have been launched into the industry, such as the Simuline VR X-Rider product, using mobile VR headsets and offering unique 360? VR film experiences.

VR Enclosure’ – The DOE sector is playing host to the development of stands-alone enclosures, comprising VR experiences, being either multiple VR Game platforms, or modified VR station experiences. Enclosed in a self-contained package, these systems are able to be installed in a wide variety of locations (from shopping malls, cinema lobbies and family entertainment centers), as seen with the newly launched VenueVR Gateway system from Awesome Rocketship. This approach is also open to application with new VR platforms for eSport application, the hardware’s versatility sees these enclosures used as short-term (pop-up) experiences.

VR Arena-Scale’ – Becoming a very popular concept in DOE application of VR, the creation of a stand-alone operation comprising wireless, untethered VR game platforms (in many cases using a backpack to supply the experience), ranging in proportions from room-scale to warehouse-scale. Many of these systems housed in dedicated location-based entertainment (LBE) facilities, VR games housed in what many see as VR Entertainment Centers (VEC). The VOID concept is one of the most popular representations of this approach, recently opening an attraction as part of Ghostbusters: Dimension in New York.

THEVOID-GB-arnolds-apt-logo

VR Game Platform’ – Beyond dedicated environments to play VR experiences, there is a growing number of manufacturers that are creating stand-alone platforms, operated like conventional amusement attractions with immersive entertainment. Many of the systems are using specialist interfaces and effect platforms. Hardware that is cannot be replicated in a consumer package, such as the latest haptic technology, packaged into an out-of-home system. Systems deployed from Russia and China, and from the West, such as the VR Standing Roller Coaster by JMDM. These game platforms will also find homes in unique locations, a number of developers proposing fitness and leisure venues utilizing VR Sports systems; while the diversity of the DOE sector also opens up the opportunity for systems to be used in eSport, or even finding a home in the casino sector.

VR Arcade’ – Some observers have seen interest in revising the concept as ‘Arcade 2.0.’, but it is much more than this. We see start-up retail units turned into venues where guests can walk off the street and play the latest VR experiences, utilization expensive consumer VR hardware and game content in a pay-to-play environment, (consideration is needed however to commercial usage of consumer products). Along with a number of LAN gaming and cybercafé center approaches, CTRL V, is a bespoke new facility in Canada comprising 16 player booths (stations) equipped with HTC Vive units. While another approach to the VR Arcade concept sees operators placing the latest commercial VR Game Platforms in a single ticket facility, (a virtual theme park).

Beyond these basic categories, the correct application of this hardware is vital in this sector. As a specialist in this industry, we have conducted considerable research into the requirements of operating the encumbrance of VR head-mounted display systems in large through-put entertainment environments. We point all our clients to the issues that are vital to address to achieve this safely and successfully.

Issues that need special consideration include hygiene & safety, the need to ensure the correct cleaning and servicing of systems worn on guest’s faces is of vital consideration. Along with this the need to deploy correct supervision to address cable hazards, correct operation and monitoring of players’ comfort while in the virtual environment. Supervision that also includes the adhering to age restrictions for VR hardware and proper safety procedure.

The opportunity to deploy new technology application in the public-space is a constant in this fast moving and innovative sector, while fixating on VR, we also have to be aware of developer’s researching Mixed Reality (MR), including the application of Augmented Reality (AR), with the future combining these approaches into a single system (dubbed ‘Merged Reality’, as being developed by AMD and Intel).

The development of VR usage in public-space opens a brand new landscape of opportunity for content developers; ranging for the needs of 360? VR films, to the unique application of VR game experiences. Offering a more believable revenue stream for smaller studios and start up manufactures. Avoiding many of the restrictions that come with consumer development.

In conclusion, this first feature has covered just the periphery of this innovative and fascinating aspect of the VR revolution – for DOE, this is the second time that VR has been deployed in their facilities, and it is hoped that this fourth phase of VR investment will prove a dependable aspect of our business. We will continue this monthly feature with detailed coverage of the latest trends and developments in this unique sector.

Kevin Williams will return to VRFocus next month for another visit to The Virtual Arena.

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