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The Virtual Arena: LBE VR Success on Parade (Part 1.)

Kevin Williams heads to the IAAPA Expo for the next Virtual Arena.

In his coverage of the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his first part of his latest Virtual Arena column, Kevin Williams reports from the exclusive IAAPA trade show on the emerging categories defining the market of ”VR Based Attractions”, “Standalone VR Arcade” including motion rides and kiosks, and even the concept of “VR Water Attractions”.

While the consumer virtual reality (VR) community attempts to regroup towards a workable business model, there is one industry that has seen an explosion of VR investment and innovation (in many cases using the same consumer VR hardware). The evolution of the Commercial Entertainment (Enterprise) market is at an adverse to that seen in the consumer VR arena.

The best illustration of this was seen in November this year, when the largest theme park, water park, amusement and leisure entertainment convention took place in Orlando, Florida. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) held at the vast Orange County Convention Center (OCC), covered some 580,000 net square feet of exhibit space accommodating some 1,140 exhibitors from across the Globe, and attracting some 42,600 international attractions professionals.

IAAPA Expo crowd
IAAPA Expo 2019. Image Credit: KWP

This was the leading convention to illustrate the valuable revenue generation that VR is offering an industry, (against the speculation of possible future profits seen in consumer). A show littered with products that are installed and are generating revenue. This vast convention is impossible to simply encapsulate, but the key categories shaping the Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) scene, are now highlighted in this two-part feature.

The first of these categories to observe is ”VR Based Attractions” – the use of VR technology in the immersive entertainment attraction sector. While consumer VR has attempted to find a mainstream home the application – in the other sector VR is excelling. The IAAPA 2019 convention allowed the key developments to promote their success. Dreamcraft is one of those corporations that has taken the consumer VR platform and applied it to commercial entertainment with the ‘DreamSet’ – a two-part VR headset system based on the HTC Vive that offer a solution to effective “Onboarding” (the allowing of simple loading and unloading operation on large throughput rides).

In successfully creating a VR system based on the available consumer VR hardware that can be reliable for Out-of-Home entertainment – and interest has grown in deploying this approach. It was revealed that Dave & Busters’ had signed up to utilize a special version of the system (including headphones). This major entertainment centre operator has worked on a number of VR systems for their audience, D&B working in partnership with VRstudios – who announced the new VR attraction ‘Terminator: Guardian of Fate’ installed on some 140 of their four-player VR motion simulator attractions at D&B locations. VRstudios also had their own VR enclosure system (‘VRcade Dual Atom’) on display at the show – this category of system will be covered in more detail in the second part of this report.

Dreamcraft - DreamSet
The DreamSet headset conversion to HTC Vive. Image Credit: KWP
VRstudios - DualAtom
The VRstudios Dual Atom promoting its accessibility. Image Credit: KWP

One of the pioneers of this technology in large throughput attractions is VR Coasters who has recently installed their “Roam & Ride” VR system for Eurosat Coastiality. At IAAPA the company was promoting their continued work and cooperation with SPREE Interactive. At a press event, Italian bumper car manufacturer I.E Park (who also working in cooperation with VR Coaster and SPREE) revealed that they will be representing the ‘VR Bumper Car’ platform to other entertainment venues. The development of free-roaming VR in this market and SPREE’s development of such platforms will be covered in the second part of this report.

Another major amusement attraction developer, DOF Robotics has already achieved success with their award-winning ‘Hurricane 360 VR’ attraction, employing Oculus Go mobile VR headsets and an extreme 360’ motion platform. The company used the IAAPA 2019 event to launch their brand-new VR attraction ‘Defender’ – a four-player highly themed motion platform, with players sited in the cab of the simulated vehicle using force-feedback machinegun blasting at aliens attacking their virtual convoy.

Extreme motion platform partnered with VR was a common deployment on the show floor at this year’s IAAPA – one of the veterans of these kinds of motion platforms, Maxflight – showed their 360-degree motion two axes ‘FS3000’ two-seat flight simulators, configured to run the Oculus Rift CV1 headsets, offering an immersive flight simulator experience with extreme motion.

DOF Robotics - Defender
DOF Robotics’ Defender at IAAPA 2019. Image Credit: KWP
Maxflight - FS3000
The Maxflight FS3000 simulator. Image Credit: KWP

Beyond the big attractions, a surprise category for this technology was “VR Water Attractions” – last year saw the first deployment of VR water flume experiences using new waterproof headsets. This year VORTEX Aquatic Structures International and Ballast VR presented the latest application of VR water attractions Ballast VR having already installed their ‘VRSlide’ – waterslide VR experience at several European sites and building on this and their waterproof VR hardware exhibited at the Outside Exhibit space where they had set up a swimming pool allowing attendees to done swimming costume and try for themselves the new system. The ‘DIVR’ is a free-floating experience while the ‘DIVR+’ incorporates handles to grip and a unique water jet system to simulate movement, creating unique and compelling experiences.

Ballast VR
Going for a swim with Ballast VR. Image Credit: KWP

The ability to have a simple plug-n-play VR solution for deployment in entertainment venues has seen the establishment of the “Standalone VR Arcade” category. One of the aspects of the new investment into LBE VR was that of self-service (automatic) VR experiences – systems that do not need an attendant and are self-serviced.

Examples of this categories growth in popularity was seen from VRsenal who presented their previously launched ‘Virtual Arcade Cabinet’ – a “Self-Service VR kiosks” that runs a amusement version of the ‘Beat Saber’ videogame experience – incorporating a special headset and controller wired retraction system for simple ease of operation allowing the system to be automatic to run. This game licensed from developer Beat Games, who were in the news after being acquired by Facebook, the owner of Oculus.

Another self-service VR game kiosk was presented from VR LEO USA, with their LEO platform developed in partnership with Shanghai Lions Intelligent Technology. The kiosk also employs a retention system for the Acer VR headset incorporating a unique feature of cleaning the headset when retracted using Ultraviolet light, in the top structure. While another Chinese invested system on the show floor was ‘VR Magic Box’ from Steki Amusement Equipment (Owatch). Their kiosk also comprising 3Glasses S2 headset retention system and a large touch screen display. It is expected that these turn-key automatic kiosks will continue to be a popular element of VR deployment.

VR Leo USA IAAPA 2019
Self-service kiosk by VR Leo USA at IAAPA 2019. Image credit: KWP
VRsenal IAAPA 2019
Self-service kiosk by VRsenal at IAAPA 2019. Image credit: KWP

One of the leaders of the “VR Self Service” platform approach was amusement developer LAI Games, who have seen great success with their ‘Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride’ – the two-seat motion VR experience using HTC Vive’s was developed in partnership with Ubisoft. It also needs to be remembered that Ubisoft is also instrumental in the LBE VR escape room business (more on this in later reports). The ‘Virtual Rabbids’ system has proved a major success with over 500 units already installed across the market.

This two-seat, self-service platform has proven a popular approach and other developers are throwing their hats into the ring. Launched at IAAPA this year was a new system from media attraction and amusement company TRIOTECH with their new ‘Storm’ two-seat motion system offering a roller coaster adventure in the canyons and caves, but adding the new element of interactivity, with the use of a Ultraleap tracking system on the HTC Vive Pro headsets – tracking guests hands as they collect coloured balls during the ride.

Virtual Rabbids IAAPA 2019
Riders enjoying Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride. Image credit: KWP
Triotech - Storm at IAAPA 2019
Triotech’s new Storm platform at IAAPA 2019. Image credit: KWP

Another amusement manufacturer, Universal Space (UNIS) showed its VR amusement system with an attendant free approach called ‘Ultra Moto VR’ – a ride-on street racing motorcycle experience with its own motion platform employing the 3Glasses headset. This is the latest VR arcade machine from the UNIS (also developed by IGS), the company launching last year their car racer ‘Overtake VR’.

Motion racing simulators married to VR has grown exponentially in this sector and a number of the latest offerings were seen at the Orlando show, Talon Simulations launched their ‘Talon Vortex’ –a turnkey amusement focused VR cabinet, using their ‘Atomic A3’ dynamic motion platform, the system running at the show the ‘Assetto Corsa’ VR racing title, developed by Kunos Simulazioni.

Ultra Moto VR
Ultra Moto VR by UNIS. Image credit: KWP
Talon Vortex - IAAPA 2019
The new Talon Vortex simulator. Image credit: KWP

And talking about racing content – IAAPA 2019 showed a considerable number of racing releases for eSport and tournament activities for Race Room deployment. Leading provider CXC Simulations showed their ‘Motion Pro II’ in a six-networked race setup supporting tournament installation. While another big announcement saw a major theme park media attraction developer Brogent Technologies pivoting to the launch of racing and flying simulator attractions. More than just a Pay-to-Play entertainment but offering eSports revenue, with an audience as well as a player experience – the future will see if this tournament activity will be driving future LBE VR investment.

CXC Simulations - Motion Pro II
Intense competition on the Motion Pro II. Image credit: KWP
Brogent motion simulator
Brogent’s new motion simulator. Image credit: KWP

This is a good point to pause, while in the second part of this feature we will look at the other categories that were promoted during this years IAAPA trade convention including the launch of new VR enclosure systems and the growth in Arena-Scale VR experiences. The next issue follows shortly.

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