FeaturesLBE: A Remedy for the Growing Pains of VR

It’s no secret that the adoption rate of consumer virtual reality (VR) has been slower than many expected. With the PlayStation VR head-mounted display (HMD) having now surpassed 4 million unit sales and high-hopes for the recently released Oculus Quest, we’re arguably at an inflection point wherein consumer adoption will begin increasing dramatically and stay on that path for the next few years. But within those few years it’s still highly likely that some developers will struggle to find their audience, but one potential bide for this dilemma is the growing audience for location-based entertainment (LBE) VR.

Skonec VR Square

By-and-large, LBE venues can be defined by three broad categories: proprietary, venue hosts and collaborative. Proprietary LBEs are those who operate in a space solely dedicated to their own high-end VR works, such as The Void or Zero Latency. Venue hosts could be considered to be those who provide a variety of experiences including those developed by themselves and others – such as Skonec Entertainment’s VR Square venues, Two Bit Circus or Dave & Busters – while the collaborative approach looks more towards providing a venue and platform to engage audiences without the need for exclusivity, potentially using a middleware platform or Steam public distribution agreements, to ease the onboarding process for consumers. Each of these categories has its own strengths and weaknesses, but to software developers it’s of course the bespoke propositions offered by the latter two that could be of benefit to long term goals.

Each different venue host will offer developers a very different deal in order to include a title in their software catalogue, but while the minutiae may vary there’s typically two overarching schemes: pay per play or a rental fee. The first engages the venue and the software developer in a profit sharing arrangement wherein the developer is paid for each time a customer of the venue decides to play/use their game/experience. The second is a standard arrangement wherein the developer will be paid for the inclusion of a title in the host’s catalogue for a set period of time. Should the title prove popular the venue would likely opt to increase this period.

Which scheme you choose to accept entirely depends on your own business model and expectations; both have advantages and disadvantages, and if you’re the next Beat Saber or Arizona Sunshine making a powerplay for exclusivity could well work to your advantage. But, in the world of VR, doesn’t want to be leading the field in a similar fashion to Beat Games and Vertigo Games? Building your game or experience with the idea in mind that it could be scalable for LBE – including a version with alternative menus and suitably adjustable playtimes – is certainly a good idea, but banking on that alone is perhaps just as risky as expecting a $50 price tag to bring in hundreds of thousands of Steam users.

Arizona Sunshine LBVR keyart

In terms of hardware however, the story is dramatically different. Many existing LBEs – especially in the category of collaborative – are currently simply offering HTC Vive ‘booths’ and as such may not welcome new hardware that requires dedicated space. Instead, it’s more likely that venue hosts who welcome thematically themed areas to support the experiences available would be willing to house a bulky new piece of hardware. Virtuix, developer of the Omni VR treadmill, has targeted specifically this area.

The company’s first ‘Omni Arena’ attraction, a VR eSports installation, opened three months ago at Pinballz, a family entertainment centre based in Austin, Texas. The company has today announced that the installation has brought in $75,000 USD in revenue since opening thanks to attracting more than 5,000 players, with more than 1,000 repeat plays. The Omni Arena, operates with a single attendant and is charged at a rate of $15 per person, per play.

Omni Arena

“We believe VR esports with Omni Arena can be a new anchor attraction,” said Jan Goetgeluk, founder and CEO of Virtuix. “Our current Omni Arena installations are experiencing a high repeat play rate and are attracting an audience to the venue who visit specifically to play Omni Arena.”

So what has lead Omni Arena to this level of success? According to Virtuix, this comes from two unique propositions. Firstly, for the venue host, the system is compact (a footprint of 375 square feet) and costs just $121,000 for a complete set-up. For the consumers, the Omni Arena is a 15-20 minute multiplayer experience with prize opportunities, and each user receives a video of their playtime upon completion which can be shared directly onto social media platforms.

The value proposition of the Omni Arena is obvious to both consumers and venue hosts, and so the same should be assumed of any VR software designed with LBE in mind. While your game may well be a 40 hour epic that requires a deep understanding of the progression system and intrinsic knowledge of how best to utilise the VR hardware, maybe there’s an opportunity to re-purpose that content for a more immediate, less intensive experience aimed at a more casual – yet still inquisitive – VR audience.

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