The quintessential augmented reality VR gaming experience isn’t possible in a living room.
The introduction of virtual reality (VR) tech looked like the beginning of a revolution in the electronic gaming world.
As gamers of the early ’90s booted up Doom on MS-DOS, many fantasized about putting on a pair of goggles and physically stepping into the immersive sci-fi hellscape that made Doom an instant classic. That dream came true in 2016 when the Oculus Rift hit the scene as the first consumer-grade VR rig to truly deliver on the VR promise. Since then, the Oculus has been followed by several competitors from some of the tech world’s biggest names. Three years later, however, at-home consumer VR remains a niche product. While developers can now create incredibly immersive worlds for VR users to step into, home video game setups remain unfit to facilitate the virtual environment needed to simulate real-world experiences.
For a truly immersive, social and engaging VR experience, gamers are being forced out of their living rooms. Location-based VR gaming arenas combine the immersive experience of VR headsets with the physical space and personal tracking needed to put players onto the augmented field of play. These location-based experiences are gaining steam, popping up in cities all over the world as a potential entry point for VR gaming.
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Location-based VR gaming arenas
Location-based VR gaming arenas are turnkey attractions, commonly operating out of malls or other high foot traffic commercial spaces that host elaborate setups for VR gaming experiences. A typical VR gaming arena will have an open playing space contained by safely padded walls with VR setups that include headsets and player tracking sensors. Unlike at-home VR games, players are free to move around the physical space unimpeded by dangerous obstacles while the VR program transforms the space in the eyes of the players into whatever interactive world the developer has created.
“Location-based gaming can bring the most immersive and social experience in virtual reality since it uses the latest technology and systems that are not available to be used at home. When you add the freedom of movement, the ability to use your body to interact and the social element of being inside the game with your family or friends, it’s hard to even compare to the single-player experience, which is not that much different than playing on your TV,” YDX Innovation (TSXV:YDX,OTC Pink:YDRMF,FWB:A2AP0L) CEO and Director Daniel Japiassu told the Investing News Network. YDX owns location-based VR gaming platform Arkave, which operates locations in South America and the US.
The industry that is being built around these experiences is growing. According to Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) white paper on location-based entertainment virtual reality solutions, revenues from location-based VR gaming experiences are closing in on US$1 billion and are expected to hit US$8.1 billion by 2022 at a compound annual growth rate of 69 percent.
Even as-home VR systems become more accessible and affordable, location-based VR gaming is positioned to provide an experience that gamers can not easily or affordably replicate at home. The early adopters who purchased Oculus rigs in 2016 for that purpose likely discovered that moving around with a handheld controller in the confines of a living room does not make for an immersive experience, and can often lead to motion sickness. The VR motion sickness phenomenon has significantly limited game design options for at-home games, effectively ruling out traditional first-person shooters and other popular game genres. In contrast, location-based VR gaming arenas with specially designed spaces and player location tracking technology allow players to move around on their own feet, eliminating the cognitive dissonance that can cause motion sickness. Developers can use this to design games that are not possible at home.
Additionally, the price of admission for a one-time VR experience is significantly lower than the cost of buying a VR setup at home, making these experiences more appealing to casual gamers. Since few households have more than one VR headset, location-based VR arenas are often one of the few options for social VR experiences that can be enjoyed in person.
The novelty of location-based VR games has the potential to garner initial interest as new gamers are exposed to immersive VR technology. However, in order to keep gamers coming back as location-based VR gaming becomes established, developers are going to have to build bigger, better and more innovative games in order to keep the experience fresh. Gaming arenas will need to provide a wide range of options that cater to differing tastes, age groups and skill levels. Fortunately, the gaming industry has no shortage of creative and talented developers. As the popularity of location-based VR games grows, the development budgets of major companies could follow, enabling bigger, better and more complex games for VR gamers to enjoy.
“The challenge is to be the one to release that game title that will bring the crowds, a game so entertaining that will bring people to a location. Of course, we want to be the ones to deliver that and are creating two new titles with that potential,” said Japiassu. “One of them is with Disney (NYSE:DIS), which will bring very advanced gameplay and rich storytelling.”
Companies turning VR into a reality
Through the company’s Arkave brand, YDX Innovation is one of the pioneers in the location-based VR gaming space. Utilizing HTC Vive VR headsets, motion controllers and full body tracking sensors in a 300 square meter arena, Arkave VR gaming arenas operate a range of first and third party VR experiences, including the upcoming “Mickey and the Golden Heart,” an Arkave-exclusive game developed in partnership with Disney. Originally operating in Brazil, Arkave has expanded throughout South America and is now moving forward in the US. In May 2019, the company announced its latest upcoming US location at the District Eat and Play Family Entertainment Center in Orlando, Florida.
“We also see location-based VR as a way to create VR fans, providing an experience they didn’t know was possible. Most of the events where we bring Arkave about 40 percent have never tried VR before, and after the experience can’t believe how something like this exists, that it’s possible to live such an immersive experience. It helps the whole industry because it shows why VR is here to stay,” said Japiassu.
Location-based VR has been recognized as a unique and significant growth area for the games industry, with a number of companies looking to establish themselves in the industry. For example, Mass VR operates a single 40,000 square foot VR gaming facility in Chicago geared towards a more competitive esports shooter experience. Similarly, The Void has locations in Canada, the US and Dubai and offers games based on the Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Wreck-It Ralph licenses. Based out of San Francisco, Nomadic VR offers a VR experience augmented with physical sets, props and other practical effects.
VR gaming has come a long way over the past few years. What was once a concept for science fiction has become a reality for those with access to dedicated VR gaming facilities. While VR games are also being offered on home gaming consoles, gamers seeking a truly immersive VR experience will need to gather their friends and visit a location-based VR gaming arena. This new field of gamers could create an opportunity for forward-thinking tech companies to build the next major segment of the games industry.
This article was originally published on the Investing News Network in June 2019.
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