Virtual reality has a lot of obstacles to overcome and one of the main ones is simply getting players into a VR headset. Key to the industry’s growth is democratization and increased accessibility but an underrated aspect of this is location-based VR like Nomadic’s Arizona Sunshine: Contagion Z experience.
Video games are such a widespread and popular form of entertainment, we don’t often think about the places were people who don’t own game consoles and PCs get a chance to play. With the often-high price of access for virtual reality gaming, these avenues have gained importance. I spoke with Doug Griffin, head of Nomadic, about the impact of location-based content, the different forms it comes in, and the challenges facing the industry.
Griffin said there are three types of location-based virtual reality: arcade, free roam and premium. When it comes to arcade VR experiences, the simplest to understand, Griffin believes the biggest challenge is related to the growth of the VR games that players can achieve in their homes.
“As the consumer market takes off, I think that there won’t be enough differentiation between the types of products that VR arcades [have] versus what is offered at home,” Griffin said. “I’m concerned about how those businesses continue to compete with the home market when that takes off.”
“Taking off” would mean VR has become a mass consumed product similar to home gaming consoles, thus challenging arcades to make the price of access worthwhile. Non-VR gaming has already achieved this and arcades remain relevant in some ways. The path to evolution for VR arcades may lie with the other two location-based formats: free roam and premium.
“The challenge from the business perspective [for free roam VR] is there’s a limited number of customers that can occupy that space at any given time,” Griffin explained. That means a relatively low throughput and, if you think about location-based entertainment as being a Friday, Saturday, Sunday business, you need to be able to accommodate customers when you have them.”
An established example of free roam VR is Zero Latency. The company has 30 venues across 18 countries and offers six different games including team-based shooter Sol Raiders and VR puzzle game Engineerium. Freeroam’s biggest opportunity is something premium location-based VR encounters as well but Griffin points out an even bigger obstacle for those hoping to invest in experiences like Dreamscape, The Void, and Nomadic.
Nomadic delivers the third type of location-based VR, premium, in San Rafael, California and Orlando, Florida. Free-roam gives you large, open spaces to explore in VR but premium experiences enhance that with real physical interactions like doors that you actually open, motion platforms, buttons you press, and more. This makes it more difficult to switch up the different games visitors can try but gives them a more immersive experience.
“The biggest challenges are the capital expenditures to startup these locations,” he said. “We all tend to put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that the customer journey starts at the door, not when you put the VR headset on. So, we all do nice, high-quality build-outs of the lobby, [which creates] a good on-boarding experience for consumers to come through. All that costs money. When you’re thinking about creating a new medium of entertainment and bringing it to the market at the same time, it’s a challenge.”
Beyond being an avenue where arcade VR could evolve, how important is premium location-based VR to the growth of the overall VR industry?
“I think it’s incredibly important. People are looking for differentiated, exciting experiences on their night out, on birthday parties, and corporate events,” Griffin responded. “People want to get together. People want to physically engage with one another and do something really unique. By creating these fantastic worlds, the most immersive experiences on the planet, I think we deliver something that they can’t get elsewhere. Being able to continually upgrade and update that experience, I think, is important in a time and age [where] people are offered an unlimited amount of entertainment at their fingertips. If you’re not able to deliver something high-quality I don’t think you’ll be able to stick around over the next few decades.”