Top Location-Based VR Entertainment Providers in the US
Overall, virtual reality hasn’t really lived up to the billing. The initial wild optimism has been replaced with a “trough of disillusionment”. Still, amidst the disappointment with the initial performance of the industry, there are some VR niches that are seeing some roaring success such as enterprise VR and location-based VR in the fast-growing VR arcades across the world.
Location-based entertainment (LBE) basically refers to a physical arena that hosts virtual reality experiences and where users are able to physically interact with the immersive environment in a more engaging and richer way than they would actually do in their homes. There is no cookie-cutter LBE model. As we shall see, the VR arcades take various forms and models.
In a bid to differentiate themselves, each of the providers go out of the way to offer very unique business models. Some go as far as incorporating haptic experiences. They vary according to the space provided, the content as well as technology used in the arcades.
The LBE model can take three main forms:
- VR Arcades
- VR Escape Rooms
- Free-Roaming VR
A VR Arcade works like a cyber-café for VR. They are the easiest to set up and are space-efficient. The space simply provides the VR headset within a small physical space and makes it available to guests within the premises. Most VR arcades provide the same virtual reality experiences that are available for home use. The content is mostly single-player but there are still a few multiplayer experiences. Most of the content offering on VR arcades assume the guests have had experience with the game before.
Free-roam VR requires a lot of space and that is why it is sometimes known as warehouse-scale VR. Free-roam VR is also very costly to set up and needs an arena with an area of approximately 100-200 square meters for multiple players who wear backpacks and guns. It requires a lot of equipment which adds to the high cost. Its content offering is often impressive and they are usually LBE-exclusives that have been created to be played in groups. The content offering on free-roam VR mainly consists of the zombie shooters such as Zombie Outbreak by Zero Latency. The experiences are impressive but they still have a limited mass appeal.
The VR escape room games do not require a lot of space as they are room-scale. Like free-roam VR, VR escape rooms are also LBE-exclusives and have been designed for multiplayer (group playing) experiences. Just like the real-life escape games, the VR escape games also target mass audiences. Anyone can play these games so they are more accessible than the warehouse-scale games.
The VR LBE market is growing rapidly in the US in spaces such as malls and movie theaters. Here is an overview of some of the leading VR location-based entertainment providers in the US.
The VOID is one of the fastest growing and also better known free-roaming (arena-scale) LBE providers in the market currently. The LBE company has built extensive partnerships with Walt Disney and the development studio ILMxLab which has enabled it to offer guests high-profile LBE experiences.
The company has already opened 16 locations across four countries. Other centers are currently in the works which will be in situated in both US and Europe. The VOID offers some of the most iconic experiences such as Ghostbusters, Star Wars and Wreck It thanks to its partnerships.
Late last year, ILMxLAB and Marvel Studios announced that they will be launching a new location-based virtual experience, Avengers: Damage Control, at The VOID for a limited time duration.
The Avengers experience will take the same format as that of the other VOID experiences with a setup that will combine virtual reality with real-world sets. This setup will enable players at the VOID centers to physically interact with the real objects as well as environments.
Recently, The VOID also collaborated with Sony Pictures Virtual Reality for Jumanji: Reverse The Curse VR experience. This is a four-player experience which is already available in some select VOID locations.
According to information on The VOID website, other immersive experiences that are available in its centers include Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment and Ralph Breaks VR.
Hologate has the biggest network of VR multiplayer systems with its 340 centers across 32 countries. Its compact VR system is the most installed in the world. A total of four players can play in a space measuring 25 square meters or 270 square feet. Hologate offers some of the most popular VR hits including World of Tanks, Angry Birds 2 and Das Boot.
Hologate launched Hologate Blitz following its success with Hologate Arena. Hologate Blitz is a motion simulator platform that has been built for underwater, racing and flying virtual reality experiences.
Sandbox VR is another location-based virtual reality entertainment startup that has been making waves over the past year. At the start of last year, the startup closed a $68 million Series A funding round which was led by Andreessen Horowitz. The company also raised $11 million from some of the leading music, sports and film celebs including Katy Perry, Kevin Durant, Justin Timberlake, Orlando Bloom and Honda Keisuke among others. The support from some of the leading stars is a vote of confidence in Sandbox VR as a leading spearhead in what will soon become the new storytelling medium.
Last year, Sandbox VR also launched the first attraction from a franchise that is internationally recognized: Star Trek: Discovery Away Mission. Visitors at a Sandbox VR location can join the crew on board the U.S.S Discovery as Starfleet officers, then stand on the transporter pad and have themselves beamed to an Away Mission.
There are Sandbox VR locations in 12 cities in the U.S. and across Asia including Dallas, Austin, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and Jakarta.
Ubisoft Escape Games is the LBE arm of the Dusseldorf-based Blue Byte Dusseldorf studio which has done some pioneering work on VR content focusing on the consumer in-home space. The company has also been quietly expanding its VR escape rooms which grown into one of the most distributed in the immersive industry.
The company ventured early on into the development of virtual reality games with titles such as Star Trek: Bridge Crew (2017), Eagle Flight (2016) and Space Junkies (2019) among others. While it does a booming in-home content business, its LBE venture is also making waves in the industry.
Under Ubisoft Escape Games, the company has released two LBE games namely: Escape the Lost Pyramid (2019) and Beyond Medusa’s Gate (2018). Both of these games have been set in the Assassin’s Creed universe. Ubisoft’s LBE content is already available in 240 locations around the world which puts the company is a market-leading position among LBE providers.
Ubisoft Escape Rooms’ virtual reality experiences are available in the VR ‘escape rooms’ format rather than in the format of the traditional virtual reality gaming content. Ubisoft’s games are built for the mainstream market rather for seasoned VR players. As a result, its content is more accessible to users across a wide spectrum of demographics as well as physical abilities.
Zero Latency was the “original free roam VR system”. It offers a more technical implementation with fine-tuned location-based experiences with very high accuracy tracking.
Zero Latency currently has 41 venues spread across 21 countries, making it the largest virtual reality network in the world. Each of its installed systems can serve up to 8 players. Late 2019, Zero Latency upgraded its venues across the globe to the new generation Gen 2 Zero Latency VR System.
Zero Latency has promised that the new technology will improve the overall quality of the experiences while also cutting down the cost of the warehouse-scale packages. In August 2019, Zero Latency hit a milestone of 1 million plays. In October, the LBE company opened its first London location.
The precursor to the Dreamscape Immersive platform was birthed from a technique developed by Swiss technologists that merges the “motion capture” techniques that are deployed in Hollywood movies with cutting-edge programming as well as a deep grasp of body mechanics to create a platform capable of simultaneously tracking six people in real-time and with full body presence and then render these people as characters in a computer-generated (virtual) world.
The Swiss team of Caecilia Charbonnier, Sylvain and Ronald Menzel were later joined by Dreamworks Motion Pictures, serial entrepreneur and global music events producer Kevin Hall and his partner Aaron Grosky, Walter Parkes and Disney Imagineering Chief Creative Officer Bruce Vaughn to create Dreamscape Immersive.
Dreamscape Immersive combines its technology with the power of Hollywood’s emotional storytelling and the traditional theme park excitement to create stories and experiences at the cutting edge of virtual reality.
The company started launching its locations in December 2018 and now has locations in Dallas and Los Angeles with new ones planned for Dubai and Ohio.
Spaces was founded by Brad Herman and Shiraz Akmal who previously worked at Deamworks in a division known as DreamLab charged with working on new immersive experiences. Already, Spaces has locations in China, Japan and the U.S. with new centers expected to open soon.
Spaces is better known for the Terminator Salvation: Fight For The Future experience where teams of four people can wear a full head-to-toe gear and freely move on a shaking platform. The animation is further brought to life with fans, heat lamps and misters.
Like he VR Company, Survios is primarily a content creation company. It has had some competitive multiplayer titles such as RAW DATA and Sprint Vector. Survios is also pivoting to location-based entertainment (LBE) to diversify its revenue base and reach a broader audience outside the Vive and Rift device owners.
The company began in 2012 as Project Holodeck which was an interdisciplinary effort at the University of Southern California that brought together a large team consisting of engineers and technical artists. Its focus was on tackling major challenges such as positional movement, avatar embodiment, VR game design and 3DUI. It soon evolved into the building of immersive virtual reality environments that are not just engaging but also intuitive and very entertaining.
Survios already offers location-based experiences in Dubai, New York, Los Angeles, Seoul and Tokyo. Some of its hit titles include Creed: Rise to Glory and Electronauts which are more single-player focused. Survios offers very unique virtual reality experiences that have very innovative and VR-native content.
Exit Reality provides both fixed and mobile virtual reality setups. It is unlike other location-based virtual reality companies that provide only fixed setups. The company specializes in setting up various kinds of pods which can be used in virtual reality experiences.
Exit Reality partnered with a casino gambling company to showcase how its X Hub platform enables users to gamble on the results of competitive virtual reality matches. The company already has various partners although most of its business is centered on the set up of LBE hardware as well locations that enables just any user to have an LBE setup either permanently or temporarily on their business premises or events.