Covering the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his second and concluding part of his latest Virtual Arena column, industry specialist Kevin Williams continues the observations made while many location-based entertainment (LBE) venues remain in lockdown. This section looks at the growth in Arena Scale immersive entertainment and investment towards the sector’s future after lockdown.
While many of the venues are in lockdown, the continued investment in the entertainment business has seen the development and launch of new products that will drive the investment in a sector of VR that has benefited from a strong audience appetite.
One of the first territories to see their VR arcade business emerge from lockdown was Taiwan. In this sector, HTC has opened its chain of Viveland sites. A cross between a VR park and a showroom, these have also expanded into “HTC Viveland XR Super Somatosensory Paradise” – a new popup variant. And it was at one of these sites that Fantahorn Studio debuted ‘Dinosaur Age XR’ – a prehistoric VR motion seat experience. Post-lockdown audiences flocked to try the attraction, underlining the considerable interest still seen in this deployment of the medium.
The VR Free Roam Scene
Following on from the last report and speaking of the new distributors of free-roaming (Arena Scale) platforms, its time to look at the considerable popularity of this application with the entertainment audience pre-pandemic. One of the first and leading providers of this application was Australian based Zero Latency. Not allowing the current global crisis to impact their continued investment in developing its platform, the company used May to announce the launch of its latest title. Called Undead Arena VR, the videogame planned to be installed across their 45 Zero Latency venues internationally, (subject to when each will resume business).
The game offers from one to eight players the chance to play as a team in a post-apocalyptic world, part of a retro 80’s TV game show. Fighting off hordes of zombies to gain the high score and become a celebrity. The developers have jokingly defined the game as Smash TV meets The Hunger Games. Deployed on the latest free-roaming backpack PC platform, the company recently adopting the HP Reverb headset for their latest system. This coming as HP rolls out its new HP Reverb G2 (supported by Valve and Microsoft), offering a strong platform for LBE consideration.
A new free-roaming entrant into the market revealed its platform recently. YULLBE is an advanced backpack VR system, developed between Vicon Motion Systems, VR Coaster and MackNeXT (media development specialists in the Mack Group of companies). The platform supports up to 32 players, fully-body tracked in large arenas, employing Vicon’s advanced camera-based architecture, (architecture already used by Arena Scale operations such as Dreamscape and SandboxVR). The YULLBE system will see its first outing for summer 2020, in Germany, as an attraction next to the Europa-Park and the Rulantica waterpark. Seen as a new fully immersive form of VR entertainment, it is targeted at a broader audience than before. VR Coaster having previously partnered with SPREE Interactive on the Roam&Ride attraction ‘Eurosat Coastiality’.
Recommencement of LBE VR Business
All this preparation is to ready for the staggered re-opening of VR entertainment businesses internationally, as reported in the first part of this feature. There has been even greater scrutiny paid to the safe and appropriate operation of VR technology in the commercial entertainment environment #AfterLockdown.
One of those leading the charge is also one of the largest providers of VR entertainment systems internationally having sold some 400-units of their Hologate Arena tethered enclosure platform. The company has amassed a wealth of experience in best practise of operating and cleaning VR in commercial settings, compiling all this knowledge into a simple guide for operators and developers across the market. The Hologate Hygiene and Safety Standard condensing the essential practice towards checking, operating, and cleaning this technology as well as the wider requirements regarding operating VR simulator rigs. The guide shared with the whole of the industry offers support to all to ensure a common practice in providing the best experience to the paying audience, as the industry emerges from forced hibernation.
Another aspect of Hologate’s support of the impacted VR amusement scene is to backup struggling operators beyond advising them on the best practice in operating their hardware. The company announced that it would be offering two months subscription-free to owners of their hardware to take effect as soon as their venues reopen. This was intended to help ease some of the stresses that hard-pressed facility operators were experiencing as they prepared to reopen their businesses after such a long period of disruption.
The reopening of the LBE VR scene has started to gain momentum, in Asia, several venues have thrown open their doors – and with the applying of new health measures has still seen strong interest from the playing audience to enjoy VR. As we mentioned previously, HTC has been promoting its Viveland operation – the company is one of the leading VR headset providers to invest considerably into a lucrative commercial entertainment strategy. While consumer VR has proven a slow burner, the commercial deployment has proven a more productive business model, that others now hope to emulate. Last year the company also pointed to wireless multiplayer LBE VR as “the next big thing”. This was part of a drive to establish the company’s Focus Plus standalone mobile VR platform that had been first to prove the genre.
Looking to the future of LBE deployment, the next phase of VR development has supported this growth of interest on arena-scale VR applications. Beyond the conventional backpack PC approach, we have seen the investment in standalone systems. Initially, this approach was popularized by the HTC Focus Plus, but it has been dominated by interest in the Oculus Quest. However, the restrictions of the platform have impacted some plans for Commercial Entertainment application. But the standalone enterprise market will soon be flooded by a new phase of systems. As revealed by Qualcomm and its new XR2 architecture powering the ‘XR Viewer’ series. Amongst these VR and AR 5G enabled headsets are a number of enterprise-focused systems that point to the future of new arena-scale deployment, with a much higher quality of immersion, pointing to the next phase in mobile VR application.
Now towards the reopening of the shuttered LBE VR businesses, and the recommencement towards the new normal. How the scope of impact that the global health crisis has had on the business of immersive entertainment, and if encumbered head-mounted displays, or the development of unencumbered immersive projection systems will spell the next chapter in the deployment of out-of-home entertainment.