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The Virtual Arena: Competition is King in VR!

Covering the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his latest Virtual Arena column, industry specialist Kevin Williams reports on a multitude of brand new commercial entertainment platforms, new eSports offerings and London VR site openings that caught his eye traversing the international XR entertainment scene.

The frantic nature of VR in the commercial entertainment scene continued to gain momentum, with several new platforms launching and facilities opening internationally. While in London, a number of these new developments were on display.

First off was the International Casino Exhibition (ICE), the gaming and gambling industries largest European convention filling the London ExCel centre. While in previous years, virtual reality (VR) had played a larger part in the gaming show, it was much harder to find this year. But one big showing was the Vbet platform, developed in conjunction with BetConstruct. Called ‘VR Fight Club’, two-players in their own ring spared with each other using the Oculus Quest headset. A VR attraction that will be deployed in casinos as an audience draw.

Vbet
Image credit: Vbet

Another major show for VR at the casino event was on the Gaming Malta booth – a local operator of an eSports racing simulator centre presented their race-rig’s – using the ImSim racing seat, with the latest iRacing content, able to be experienced on the Oculus Rift headset. The ability to offer intense VR entertainment is also supported by the audience appeal of this kind of installation.

The explosion in eSports was a major component of the ICE gaming and gambling trade conference, with a vast dedicated arena streaming live. VR is playing its part in defining the eSports business. Recently SpringboardVR, one of the leading distributors and service suppliers of game content for VR arcades, announced they had teamed up with the Virtual Athletics League (VAL) launching the “Pistol Whip VR Tournament”, supported by Oculus and iBUYPOWER. It’ll feature across SpringboardVR’s 500 connected locations for the second round. With the final streamed live on Twitch and Facebook there will be a prize pool of $10,000 up for grabs.

VAL - Pistol WhipConcerning the London area, the deployment of Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) VR facilities across the international market has continued to gain mentum. And Just down the road from the major gaming exhibition, the UK capital welcomed its latest slew of new VR venues hoping to drive the sector.

First off and the massive entertainment venue that is The O2 arena has already included a VR element, in partnership with the venues’ Hollywood Bowl placement, BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe had installed Europe’s first “VR ZONE Portal London”. Based on the Japanese parents dedicated VR installation concept, the first UK installation has been revitalized – along with the Mario Kart Arcade GP VR (£7.99 p/p) set-up, the brand new experience ‘Godzilla VR’ (£4.99 p/p) saw the use of two unique motion cockpits.

VR Zone Portal London
Godzilla VR – VR Zone Portal London. Image credit: KWP

The uniquely created Godzilla VR was launched in Japan last year, and this was the first chance we had to play the Western version of the game – an on-rails helicopter simulator experience, with the player only interacting in high adrenaline moments blasting the movie monster with missiles and cannons, as Godzilla levels city-blocks and skyscrapers. The game proved a fun, but short, experience – more a ride with some shooting elements, reflected in its lower price to play.

Hollywood Bowl is not the only VR entertainment installation at the O2 arena, with the adjacent opening of a VR cluster by IMMOTION – the company operating its popular Thrill Coaster, the ‘VR Cinema Pod’ extreme-ride experienced themed around the capital city (as well as a library of other ride scenarios). Next was the new inclusion of their own racing sim area for four of their ‘VR Multi-Racers’.

Immotion - Thrill Coaster
Immotion – Thrill Coaster. Image Credit: KWP

The IMMOTION experience included a VR Gaming Arena, based on the popular Raw Data videogame. This was a unique tethered version of the title, developed in partnership with originator of the game Survios. One of the many consumer VR game developers that are pivoting into creating a commercial entertainment presence. IMMOTION was charging a standard pass (£6 p/p), as well as variety (£20 p/p), and premium pass (£30 p/p), for game time duration on the assembled systems.

England saw the opening of its latest VR ZONE Portal and the third installation of Mario Kart Arcade GP VR in Europe. BANDAI NAMCO’s operation division runs the well-known Namco Funscape, located on London’s South Bank. This multi-level amusement venue has added a compact VR ZONE Portal Westminster that houses the four-player racer based on the popular Nintendo franchise (£7.95 p/p).

Mario Kart VR
Mario Kart VR. Image Credit: KWP

But Funscape has also added third-party VR amusement pieces to their mix, away from the VR ZONE Portal. The venue had three of the most popular VR amusement platforms, (as we touched on in our Entertainment, Attractions and Gaming (EAG) expo coverage last month). The London site including a VRsenal Beat Saber Arcade machine, and the two-rider Virtual Rabbid’s The Wild Ride (LAI Games), all front-and-centre. Funscape had also installed two version of the Xtrematic ‘Extreme-Machine’ – a standing VR ride experience, using an innovative standing motion platform.

It was also interesting to see other new London based VR arcades jumping into the mix – while visiting London’s Shepherds Bush area, we had a chance to briefly pop into the new Electric Dreams – VR arcade. Located in a retail unit, the operation, along with a KATVR Omni direction treadmill system, runs two VR multiplayer enclosures using the three-player, wireless, free-roam, HTC Vive system as well as a franchise of the ‘Arkave VR’ platform from YDX. The operation charging a sliding scale for duration of play, (starting at £7 p/p, for 10-minutes). This latest operation reflecting that there are many other venues currently in the works to populate this scene.

Beat Saber Arcade
Line-up of Beat Saber Arcade cabinets put through their paces at Korean VR Festival

Other VR developments taking place recently, included the holding of the Japan Amusement Expo 2020 (JAEPO) the trade event for the territories amusement and gaming sector. On display for the first time on the amusement giant SEGA Interactive’s booth was the SKONEC Entertainment ‘Beat Saber Arcade’ machine. This is the Asian variant of the popular VR music videogame being presented to Japanese trade. It was interesting to see the reaction to the VR machine, attracting attention. Looking to challenge the plethora of traditional music rhythm titles that dominate the Japanese market, (as well as on the international amusement gaming scene).

This concludes our whirlwind reporting from the LBE VR scene. Next month will see major developments as the action moves to the USA and several momentous location openings and major trade conferences that will offer a taste of the evolving future of this scene.