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Virtual Arena: London Calling LBE – Immersive Fun!

Recommencing his semi-regular coverage of the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his latest Virtual Arena column, Kevin Williams reports on an explosion of brand new LBE VR entertainment properties making the capital their home. The first part of this three-part report looks at the appearance of the first true Mixed Reality (MR), hyper-immersive group gaming space in London.

While the consumer virtual reality (VR) scene still attempts to find its feet, the use of immersive entertainment has blossomed internationally, several LBE VR venues have broken ground across the Western market after we previously saw investment across the Asian market. This momentum has grown, and the UK is one of those pivotal territories that is leading the charge.

In previous coverage we reported on one of the UK’s first VR arcades – with the opening of DNA VR back in 2017 –  along with VR arcades, we have also seen major investment in immersive attractions, such as the exclusive launch in London of (‘The War of the Worlds: Immersive Experience’) that brought immersive theatre and the latest VR technology together.

War of the Worlds LBE
The star-studded opening of the War of the Worlds experience. Source: KWP
War of the Worlds LBE
The star-studded opening of the War of the Worlds experience. Source: KWP

The capital, because of its diverse audience, and large footfall is being used as a proving ground for new immersive entertainment technology, and along with VR, we are also seeing the inclusion of the latest XR hardware. While VR may be the current zeitgeist – the real investment is looking at the overall experience, and the use of immersive technology to create social entertainment that guest a unique and repeatable entertainment.

We were lucky to be invited to the opening of the latest new development that offers a unique experience like no other. Electronic Theatre has styled itself as an “Immersive experiences in interactive digital rooms” – taking group fun to a new level and revealing the compelling social engagement that this kind of technology offers. Located in the arches close to Southwark tube station, the new start-up locations offer a glimpse of the future of entertainment.

Electronic Theatre location
Entrance into the new Electronic Theatre premises. Source: KWP
Electronic Theatre location
Lobby of the new Electronic Theatre premises. Source: KWP

Following checking in, the group of players (accommodating up to six) enter one of eight rooms – which the company have dubbed the “LightBox”. No 3D glasses or VR headsets are employed, all the players need to wear are specially tracked poker visor. LightBox is equipped with four HD projectors, that project the videogame experience on the walls which the group of players interact with within the 200 sq.,ft., hyper- immersive group gaming space, taking part in these experiences at some £25.00 GBP per person.

Electronic Theatre has crafted two “Adventures”, the one tried on this visit was ‘Alien Aptitude Test’ – set in a retro-styled 1984, players compete in minigames against hordes of aliens inspired by the classic arcade videogames of the time. The players compete in groups in many cases steering the character on screen with their body movement or interacting directly with the screen in several challenges accruing a score. The highly compelling Adventure lasting either mini 30-minutes or full 60-minute adventures. The second Adventure to play in the LightBox is ‘Rescue The Royal’ – a tongue in cheek romp set in a 2026 Britain, rescuing the Queen from captivity in a despotic game show.

Inside the Lightbox
Inside the LightBox, with this unique immersive experience. Source: KWP
Inside the Lightbox
Inside the LightBox, with this unique immersive experience. Source: KWP

The adventures are fun and compelling, and the players are soon pulled into the action and competition – the developers have created a strong social gaming experience. Electronic Theatre is the brainchild of two business partners (Will Dean and David Spindler), who saw the opportunity for a media-based videogame experience that could offer a social experience. The need for a socially inclusive adventure was built on Will’s previous project ‘Tough Mudder’ – global mud-run phenomenon. The team looking to roll out a chain of sites based on this fun social experience.

While this can be called a “projected interactive experience” (sometimes called Mixed or Cross Reality (XR)), an explosion of more conventional VR location-based entertainment venues have sprung up in the London capital, and we will chart them and other VR experiences in the following reports.

The next part of our coverage of developments in this sector follows shortly.