The Virtual Arena: The Growing VR Out-of-Home Entertainment Dimension – Part 3

Part three focuses on the UK, America and on interest from the games industry.

In the third and final part of this feature series, Kevin Williams concludes his coverage of the development in the virtual reality (VR) industry’s involvement in the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector. Ending with coverage of the recent developments in the UK, America and the interest from the games industry.

Moving beyond the UAE (discussed in part two), and the UK theme park and attraction market has invested heavily in being first to embrace “VR Ride Attraction” and “VR Dark Ride” attractions. Premier venue Thorpe Park recently relaunched the Derren Brown’s Ghost Train: Rise of the Demon VR experience, comprising fright elements and unique HTC powered VR elements. The venue part of the major Merlin Entertainment empire, the company also owning the Madame Tussauds franchise, and who have investment in the Ghostbusters Dimension attraction, developed by the The VOID, building on their physical space “hyper-reality” VR platform.

Along with the first New York facility, a second version of the site was opened in Dubai – a third site was also opened in their company’s home state of Utah, and along with running the Ghostbusters experience is being used to present their latest backpack and head-mounted display (HMD) platform with further games planned. The new executive structure within The VOID has revealed a new roll out plan for their location-based aspirations. Though still no word of the schedule on the first Chinese openings.

Retail VR & Theme Park Entertainment

A term that is not in general usage outside the commercial scene is Retail-tainment, defined as the use of entertainment and attraction elements to increase the dwell time of patrons in retail establishments. Where once the arcade was a popular component in many a shopping mall, amusement in most cases has been replaced by cinema multiplexes as an entertainment hub. England saw one of the first VR pop-up entertainment installations in the South London Whitgift shopping center. The temporary operation run by Sol VR London and running Chinese VR entertainment pieces from Movie Power. The spread of pop-up VR entertainment installations in malls seen as far afield as a Prague (Czechoslovakia) shopping mall running a 4D motion seat system and Ocululs VR DK2 headsets.

We have seen some retail venues incorporate directly an entertainment approach using VR technology, Samsung, no stranger to VR technology, are planning to embrace this approach, with plans to open an ‘Experience Store’ in Canada, an 21,000-square foot, two-story, facility that will include an ‘Interactive Zone’ including VR based attractions employed as demonstrators too interested customers. Building on that used by Samsung at other pop-up exhibitions promoting the company.

Regarding retail units in the West comprising more permanent VR entertainment experiences, generally referred to as “VR Arcades” – UK facilities have been opened in Leeds, and more recently in Birmingham saw the opening of Virtual X, the first VR arcade facility opened in the area. Sources have also revealed that along with the pop-up VR attractions, the UK capital London is about to see the opening of at least three VR Arcade and full VR Park installations.

Across the water, and North America has seen investment in this approach with the California seeing the opening of the first IMAX VR venue, part of the initiative by the film and cinema corporation to embrace this new entertainment media, offering their take on the “VR Arcades”, utilizing both HTC and StarVR head-mounts. Supporting this effort, IMAX and Warner Bros., have partnering to develop and deliver premium VR experiences for the out-of-home scene, including the support of the new venue; with the corporation confirming plans to open five more centers in New York City, California, the UK and Shanghai over the next few months. While Canadian “VR Arcades” chain CTRL-V was also linked to media stories surrounding their plans to expand from their first flagship location.

The concept of VR amusement ad attractions, and the whole aspect of out-of-home entertainment has gained momentum in the thinking of once consumer facing corporations. This was best illustrated at the recent VR World Congress in Bristol – along with the consumer game developments, and investment into new technology, the approach of DOE business was championed by event sponsor AMD, who invited on stage companies like MK2 VR from France, operator of a Europe’s largest permanent VR virtual reality facility in Paris; and Chinese based SoReal venue, developed by SLE who have created a unique VR Park operation with seated motion VR simulators and VR backpack game experiences.

Also, VR World Congress saw a local executive of HTC revealing the investment they have made into the ‘Viveport Arcade’ platform supporting the new VR arcade operator landscape, targeting to become the world’s largest platform for this emerging scene. The conference was kicked off by a far-reaching presentation from KWP, focusing on the opportunity that the Out-of-Home entertainment market has for those wondering on the viability of conventional consumer VR investment.

VR Gaming Enters the Fray

The way that VR entertainment systems could find their way into commercial venues has also taken on a new dimension with the land-based casino and gaming industry investment in deploying “VR Enclosures” systems to appeal to the Millennial audience visiting their sites, but not interested in the conventional table games. The inclusion of eSports has been enhanced by the consideration of adding a VR element to their activities. Companies such as MediaMation, VRStudio, and the developers of the Holocube, are just some of those involved with the deployment of their VR technology into casinos, and extensive testing of this approach is ongoing.

The recent VR / AR Gambling convention in Prague, marked the first dedicated conference run by specialist from the online and land-based casino industry, covering the impacts issues and opportunities for this technology in their business. And a second major exhibition in the United States (GiGse) late this month will see further discussion of this business pivot for the gaming industry, led by a presentation by KWP, concerning the VR promotional, operational and content development in the gambling and skill gaming sector.

Much of the investment and future development across the international scene will be presented in a dedicated convention, schedule for September in Las Vegas. The Future of Immersive Leisure (FOIL) conference will be gathering speakers from the core businesses leading the DOE market regarding immersive technology ranging from VR and AR, but also including the new disciplines of 3D projection mapping, and digital display immersion (VRFocus one of the media partners for the event). This first true B2B gathering is expected to offer a true snapshot on the emergence of this scene as a dominant player regarding driving the next phase of innovation in this technology as the consumer side of the sector restructures business plans.

As mentioned we will have more about FOIL in the coming months. As always for more information about any of the above you can reach Kevin Williams at kwp@thestingerreport.com.

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