The new era of virtual reality was supposed to begin last year with the release of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR. Well, they built the hardware, but the buyers didn’t come by the numbers a lot of analysts expected — while PSVR, with over 1 million units sold, is seen as a success story, the Vive and the Rift have fallen well short of expectations, and mobile VR doesn’t quite deliver the high-performance VR a lot of people expect from the technology.
There are probably a lot of reasons for the slow start, and one of those is certainly price — the Rift and the Vive require high-performance PCs, and while this year has seen cheaper laptops and desktops that can run VR, the cost still exceeds $1,000 for a platform that isn’t overflowing with games and experiences that make the cost worth it.
Enter entertainment centers. If it’s not worth it for people to get all that equipment into their homes, it’s worth seeing if they’re willing to pay up a fraction of the cost for a fun VR afternoon. That might be the right approach — IMAX has begun rolling out their VR centers nationwide, with successful launches in Los Angeles and New York City. Now we’re seeing what might be the arcade chain answer to that, with the opening of VR World in New York City last week.
While the IMAX locations focus on VR experiences that complement feature films, VR World is more interested in showing off the latest and greatest games across VR platforms. They’re not sparing any expenses, either — the 20,000 square foot location on East 34th Street will eventually house four floors worth of VR experiences, using HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR headsets — but not the more cinematic Acer Star VR headsets found in the IMAX locations. Once the location is built out, VR World expects between 600 and 800 visitors per day, with 45 VR pods to accommodate a full range of motion — forget about VR while sitting in a chair!
VR World intends to be more than just a VR arcade. CEO Yasser Ghanchi sees the New York location as a complete entertainment center for a day out. Likening it to an art gallery, Ghanchi told me he wants to leave customers with an experience exciting enough to be worth sharing on social media, getting the word out about the potential of VR. He’s got all the extras to make it happen, too — the location has food and a full bar for those much needed VR breaks.
It’s not just about gaming, either. Ghanchi wants to show off the full range of what VR has to offer, including 360-degree videos. VR World also has TVs up near the VR pods, showing what the players are seeing. It’s a cool way to get customers interested in checking out new games, but there’s also potential for excitement around emerging competitive VR games that aspire to become esports.
While the IMAX locations will end up being great for anyone who wants an additional VR experience with a movie, VR World looks like it’ll be the more economical choice for people to find out what VR is all about. The location sells day passes at $39 before 3:00 PM and $49 after, allowing customers to stay and play the whole day.
But, VR World doesn’t want to just show customers how entertaining VR can be — Ghanchi wants to be an integral part of the VR ecosystem. In addition to opening up more locations nationwide, Ghanchi wants to use feedback from customers to pass along to hardware and software developers to try to make VR more attractive to consumers. One of the critical problems for the VR market is a lack of scale — there aren’t enough people with access to VR to make the investment worthwhile for many software devs. By figuring out what people want and expect from VR, VR World and other VR arcades and theaters could end up paving the way to success for the home market.