The Virtual Arena: The Growing VR Out-of-Home Entertainment Dimension – Part 2

In part two Kevin Williams discusses the burgeoning amusement and attractions centre and it's connections with the likes of Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

In the second part of his three-part feature, Kevin Williams continues his coverage of the development in the VR industries involvement in the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector. In this report looking at the American, Japanese and Dubai amusement trades interest in the technology. (You can find Part 1 here.)

Amusement & Attraction Embraces VR

Moving to the Western territories, and the American amusement trade had a major exhibition in Dallas during March; the Amusement Expo saw the usual gathering of traditional amusement pieces, but also new virtual reality (VR) investment. Previously mentioned Universal Sales (UNIS) also made the trip to the American event to show their OMNI Arena VR platform.

This was also held in partnership with the Laser Tag Convention, and one of the new VR systems being presented offers an approach likened to “VR Lasertag”, Zero Latency. The world’s first free-roaming, warehouse-scale, multiple player VR game arenas, (using VR back-packs to create the Arena-Scale experience). Currently successfully in operation on four continents, while seeking to announce its first signing in the UAE. And one of the first commercial versions of the Arena-Scale experience from the company was in Japan, installed in the SEGA JOYPOLIS facility.

Beyond the US shores, the Japanese amusement sector has started to invest in VR initiatives placing investment towards VR as a major component in future expansion. During February’s major Japanese amusement trade event, major corporation BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment revealed that following a VR experimental location, the company would be opening a new and larger version of their VR ZONE in Tokyo. The facility will again be a temportay operation (opening in April and closing in October 2017), the facility designed to house VR attractions specially created by BANDAI NAMCO building on their amusement development skills marrying the latest VR technology.

Other Japanese arcade operators such as TAITO and Capcom revealed that they would be installing the VR Game Stage, powered by HTC hardware. HTC supporting the use of consumer content able to be legally used in commercial entertainment venues through the Viveport Arcade commercial subscription platform for China, and currently on test in Europe and the USA. A similar solution is planned from Valve for SteamVR – while Oculus VR stays opposed to any commercial usage (not prepared at this point to pivot).

But the big development, missed by many in the media was the announcement and reveal of Koei Tecmo, launching their ‘VR Sense’, an experience capsule using a Sony PSVR headset and Move controller (powered by an internal Playstation 4 Pro system). This system was the advance guard on the major announcement that Sony Interactive Entertainment would be creating a specific division to roll out their PSVR platform into the location-based (out-of-home entertainment) sector in several territories. The ultimate example of the pivoting of the consumer approach to VR into the commercial entertainment arena.

Dubai Amusement and Leisure Industry VR Aspirations

Another territory that is embracing the opportunity of deploying DOE VR platforms is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) market, a sector that has seen an incredible investment in theme parks and leisure entertainment venues for their diverse audience. Taking place at the Dubai Entertainment, Amusement and Leisure (DEAL) expo recently, prominent amusement and attraction distributor in the UAE market, gathered the latest new developments to their booth. Veteran distributor and developer ASI showed the Holocube – the multiple enclosure VR game system using the HTC Vive and offering a unique gun interface experience (winner of the Silver Virtual Reality Game BOSA award 2017), and categorized as a “VR Enclosures” approach.

Also on the ASI booth was the WePlayVR system from developers AiSolve, running the VR Backpack experience called ‘The Mayan Adventure’. Also shown was the Yotto Group “VR Game Platform” EXOPLANE an immersive paraglider experience. At the Dubai exhibition, another major distributor in the territory supporting family entertainment center businesses is Warehouse of Games (WOG), the company had on their booth the local developer NUAT’s ‘The VR Cube’ another “VR Enclosures” approach. DEAL exhibitor FUNCO – Fun Entertainment Company, a prominent developer of turn-key solutions for operators wanting to open entertainment centers, partnered with Chinese VR Park developer LEKE VR, showing their full selection of “VR Game Platform” units that were seen foot-foot from the Chinese trade show premier.

Away from the major distributors, several standalone exhibitors showed VR aspirations. These included a “VR Ride Attraction” from Turkish developer AMEGA Entertainment – Cinecoaster 360 VR. This multi-directional motion XD cinema system using mobileVR headsets. Or exhibitor DOF Robotics who showed their HURRICANE 360 VR – a extreme motion platform system using mobileVR systems to represent the virtual experience, (the system a Bronze Virtual Reality Game BOSA award 2017).

Reflecting the interest in the territory to embrace VR in all its facets in the DOE sector, the local developer ImSim, demonstrated a 3DOF racing cockpit with force feedback and a power VR component. Many companies in the West have invested in motor sports network simulator (“Race Room”) ventures – and VR technology seen as a possible replacement to conventional flat screen visualization. American manufacturer CXC Simulations, is another name in this scene, having recently installed a “Race Room” at the Andretti Indoor Karking location in Marrietta. The venue running their latest CXC Motion Pro II VR system, the only VR simulator of its kind in commercial operation in the United States

Returning to the investment made in the UAE market, facilities such as the brand-new Hub Zero have added a major VR element to their interactive entertainment. The wireless multiplayer VR attraction was developed for the facility by VRStudio developer of the VRcade platform (winner of the Gold Virtual Reality Game BOSA award 2017). A leading global VR technology company, located in 11 countries, delivering the first truly wireless, full-range-of-motion, multi-participant, immersive experiences for commercial enterprises.

VRStudio has taken their wireless head-mounted experience into the realms of “VR Dark Ride”. Signing major theme park partnerships with Universal Orlando and most recently with Knott’s Berry Farm and parent company, Cedar Fair – towards opening in South California a specialized VR experience at the park.

The concluding feature covering recent developments in the UK, America and the interest from the Gaming industry on VR based Out-of-Home entertainment, follows shortly.

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