Virtual Arena: London Calling LBE – VR’s Venue Explosion! (Part 2.)
In part 2 Kevin Williams heads to several new VR arcades in London.
In the latest coverage of the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his latest Virtual Arena column, Kevin Williams reports on an eruption of brand new Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) VR entertainment properties making the capital their home. In this second part of this three-part report, we look at the emergence of new VR arcades in the capital, as well as the popularity of Arena-Scale gaming within many of these new offerings.
After covering previous the new start-up located in one of the many London arches (see the Electronic Theatre report in part 1), there is also another VR offering that was visited recently. Located in Haggerston, North London, the Otherworld VR is a unique adaptation on the VR arcade approach growing in popularity across the globe. Developed by The Dream Corporation, this VR entertainment venue attempts to offer a unique experience, while building off the proven aspects of pay-to-play VR.
Launched this year, the unique element of the delivery of the VR experiences is how Dream Corporation has developed its unique launcher, offering some 16 different VR videogames, reached by the user traversing a virtual island. Another unique element is the VR platforms themselves “Immersion Rooms” comprise a number of SFX elements married to the VR games to offer what the company like to call “sense-hacking” experiences. The site comprising 14 of these unique cylindrical VR pods – all powered by HTC Vive Pro headsets.
The key aspect of the overall venue is its marriage to a strong hospitality element, the Otherworld VR venue comprising a special bar and touchscreen ordering element. The Dream Corporation partnered with Red Deer on interior design, in what has been described as a “neon jungle“. Focused on the individual, but predominately for group hire of the space, looking at an average £30-per player price range for a 55-minute experience. The Dream Corporation having raised some $1.3 million to date, agreeing to terms for two additional UK sites and the commencement of a European expansion.
More conventional Free Roam VR entertainment has been created by UK operator MeetspaceVR in cooperation with Australia’s Zero Latency, who have opened recently at the Box Park location at Wembley Park, London. This venue is the latest deployment of an Arena-Scale (Free Roam) VR experience offering a chance for groups of up to 8-players to simultaneously experience the latest in true free-roaming VR experiences.
Deploying the popular Zero Latency platform, allows groups of players to select from five of the free-roaming VR experiences filling the 20 x 10m “warehouse-scale” arena. Players wearing the latest PC backpacks and using HP Reverb headsets (this being the new ‘gen2’ VR hardware from the company). MeetspaceVR offering 30-minute gameplay experiences, at on average some £30-per player.
An aspect of the deployment of the MeetspaceVR venue is the inclusion of VR eSports (vSports), that will see the Zero Latency system as well as standalone Vive VR terminals and eSport PC stations offering a competitive environment to the VR venue. There are also plans for the site to include VR escape gaming, creating a dedicated overall VR entertainment offering. Given the great success of their cooperation in the UK, Zero Latency and MeetspaceVR are already in expansion talks for further venues in Q1 and Q2 of 2020, including Birmingham and Manchester locations.
One of the other new VR arcade locations to throw open their doors this year are NAVRTAR – the company was the first site to offer a free-roam VR and bar experience in the capital. Located in a retail unit in London’s Ealing area. The venue offers three distinctive VR offerings, first with VR demo stations to allow players to get their VR feet, then with dedicated private booths, and finally with an Arena-Scale five-player HP backpack, and Oculus CV1 headset experience – this system provided by developer VRArcade – with NAVRTAR offering this from £28 per person. NAVRTAR has been specially designed to offer a social group experience, being one of the first VR arcades in this sector to comprise a dedicated hospitality component.
The popularity of Arena-Scale VR experiences has grown across the industry – with news that the poster-boy for this application, The VOID and their “Hyper-Reality” film based free-roaming experience planning on opening a permanent location in London in the coming months. This builds on the previous “Pop-up” of their ‘Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire’ that saw a temporary installation back in December 2017 at the Shepherd’s Bush, Westfield shopping centre. While the other big name in Arena-Scale VR installations, Sandbox VR, has also revealed plans for a new London opening, also in a couple of weeks, following its own major injection of financial investment.
Interest in this aspect of the technology and the LBE VR scene, in general, will be reflected in the coming new-look EAG International Expo 2020, taking place on the 14-16 January at London’s ExCeL. The leading trade gathering for the attraction and amusement trade, a special one-day conference has been organized by leading developers in this sector – promoting the new opportunities that LBE VR is offering the European and International sectors. Arena-Scale development, and the latest standalone VR experiences playing a major part of the event.
The next part of our coverage of developments in this sector follows shortly.