The first in a series on how to run a better VR attraction. 

There are two critical success factors for location-based VR: repeat players, and group sales. In this column we’re going to focus on repeaters. Not only do these customers provide the recurring revenue every business needs to survive, they are most likely to play at off-peak hours and, most importantly, act as brand ambassadors, sharing their enthusiasm with their friends and social media network. This world of mouth marketing is free, and more persuasive than any other program operators can create to raise awareness of VR in their locality. 

Ilya Druzhnikov is CEO of Exit-VR, which has installed fifty small footprint VR arenas, reports thirty new units are going live in the next two months, making it one of the largest providers of VR installations in the world. Druzhnikov says the key metric for LBVR (Location-Based VR) success is utilization which in the long term is driven by return visitors. “Anything over 20% visitors returning in a month is good. If you’re over 40%, your business is blowing up and you should be scaling as fast as you can,” says Druzhnikov

“As a pure distribution company, we focus on bringing the right experience to the right place at the right time. Some of it is common sense – match content to context: kids games before 7, more grown-up content later in the evening.” said Druzhnikov. “With enough locations in our network, we are able to analyze the data and help operators decide when to offer what content.” Exit licenses software from license aggregator Springboard (they license the hit LBVR title Beat Saber) Neurogaming’s playVR platform, and several others. Druzhnikov says that big IP holders see Exit-VR as a channel into the FEC (Family Entertainment Center) LBVR market because the company is scaling quickly and as has deep relationships with the operators.

One of the sure-fire ways to increase utilization is to introduce tournaments with attractive prizes such as cash, merchandise (t shirts, hats, etc), electronics (VR gear), gift cards, and store credit. “For certain locations that appeal to consumers with a competitive mindset, tournaments are an easy way to build repeat play,” says influential LBVR consultant Bob Cooney. “It doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple weekly leaderboard with cash prizes can work. The OmniArena tournament from Virtuix has shown that the top teams play as many as 14 games to gain and maintain their position on the tournament leaderboard.” Two other benefits to competition: practice, which means more pre-competition repeat play, and spectators, who will see their friends and other consumers enjoying the VR action. 

The way to incentivize and reward play is to add value, not to lower prices. There is one exception. Give your VR ambassadors a discount they can share with first time players who accompany them. The discount should not be monetary. Better to give the second game free. Studies have shown that the more people experience VR, the more likely they are to repeat. 

Repeat players want to feel special, and it’s critical to reward them, both tangibly and intangibly. We have seen apparel, coupons or discounts on merchandise or food used effectively in this way. Certain privileges, like the ability to make reservations, are highly valued, as the customer will not have to wait at peak times. Some venues treat VR (differently) than their other attractions, offering memberships only, rather than charging for the VR on an a la carte basis. Two Bit Circus, a 50,000 sf+ interactive entertainment destination in downtown Los Angeles takes a unique approach. “We love to turn repeat visitors into brand ambassadors by offering specialty access. Circuses have lots of nooks, crannies, and corners that aren’t necessarily apparent on your first visit. Once people discover something new, they often like sharing it with a friend,” explains Two Bit Circus CEO, Brent Bushnell.  

Perhaps the most important way to retain a repeat player and turn them into a VR brand ambassador is to have a relationship with them, both in-person and on social media. Store managers and employees (including new employees) should know who they are and greet them by name. They should engage them as you would a regular in a bar. The bartender metaphor is a good one here. Mix and serve that VR. “Employee engagement has been statistically proven to have the biggest impact on how players rate their VR experience,” says Cooney. “Ultimately the quality of the experience is what drives repeat play.  And that starts with employees.  

“We train the heck out of the line workers,” says Druzhnikov. “It’s like delivering a piano, tuning it and giving them a couple of lessons. We then track their performance and if it dips we proactively reach out to people.” With delivery, an Exit-VR four player set-up can cost $90,000, although financing is available on attractive terms, so that even with utilization as low as 20% the unit will pay for itself in less than a year.

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