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Virtual reality arcades – A Comprehensive Overview

virtual reality arcades

Virtual reality arcades offer a great experience for people first trying VR. Arcades let people play games while others can watch, trying out a new headset with friends and family. From parties to events, they are a lot of fun for everyone.

Several words describe virtual reality arcades. PubVR experiences is a personal favorite, though VRcade is a nice, short-form way of describing it. But generally, the public recognises it as a way to play VR experiences without having an expensive virtual reality headset. It is fun to immerse yourself in a new experience. For this reason, and may others, they are going to be important for VR adoption.

This is a guide on virtual reality arcades, and some things to bear in mind before playing in them.

What is a virtual reality arcade?

Virtual reality arcades are installations in a public location, such as a bar, pub or beer garden, where participants can play with VR games for a small fee. The arcade can be a solo unit in the corner of a building, or a dedicated warehouse where participants can free-roam across an area.

There are various locations around the UK, particularly in London. IPG has several installations in London, including the Elephant Arena and the Four Thieves. Occasionally, the Loading Bar hosts VR setups as well. In Nottingham, Zero Latency opened a warehouse-scale installation, where people can fight zombies in multiplayer games.

All these arcades have in common is that they can be used outside a home, among friends and family. This adds a social element to the virtual reality experience.

virtual reality arcades
Virtual reality arcades may be the next step in arcade culture. Photo: Pexels.

Why are virtual reality arcades suddenly more popular?

Since 2014, when Facebook bought Oculus, there has been a resurgence of companies making virtual reality games for players to use. The PSVR has seen great success with new IPs like Tetris Effect and ASTRO BOT. The Oculus Rift, alongside the Oculus Go, has seen some great interest among technology journalists and enthusiasts alike. The HTC VIVE is also a popular virtual reality headset, with very high fidelity and quality, while standalone headsets are getting more popular.

Some party games work very well in the home. Beat Saber, a personal favorite, gets people in the mood and swinging to play games. Beat Saber is also great for cardio, something which many players may not have the time to do otherwise.

In virtual reality arcades, set-ups normally have the HTC VIVE. With its reliability and quality of controls, the virtual reality headset provides many experiences for players to use and play with. Provided that there are clean tissues to wipe the sweaty lenses afterward, the games are set.

What is the cost to start a VR arcade?

Likely to be expensive. The first step is to rent space, which is extortionate in London. Then multiple HTC VIVEs, and the corresponding powerful PCs, need to be bought and maintained, alongside the games to run alongside them.

Then there needs to be a trained attendant who handles the virtual reality headsets, making sure they do not break. Drunk people may play, which adds a layer of risk.

As long as the VR arcade gets a flow of customers who use the set-up, then it may work well for the company. Arcades have already seen enough success to pop up along the UK and USA, and continued growth is expected.

Corporate events and birthday parties

Virtual reality arcades can be used by friends who catch the eye of a set-up and want to have a go. This was what happened with my partner and I. Additionally, it can be used for corporate events and birthday parties for fun with friends and colleagues.

This is where virtual reality arcades flourish. VRcades are designed for social experiences, where players can have a go and share experiences. In the case of Serious Sam, players can shoot zombies together, much like co-op play with Call of Duty many years ago. Among colleagues, it is a great team bonding exercise as well. Companies encourage colleagues to leave the office and have a pint, to de-stress and bond over non-work matters. In the same way, having a VR experiece with colleagues is a great use of finances and time. The experiences do not necessarily have to be bloody or violent, as there are escape room experiences as well.

In any case, immerse yourself into a new experience and have fun. yet sometimes, they can fold.

IMAX Virtual Reality – A Case Study

IMAX made some hefty investments into VR a few years ago, making a variety of IMAX VR centres in the US. It was a pilot program, an exploration of something new. It also had $50 million in VC funding, a substantial amount. The VR centre initially opened in New York, L.A., Manchester, Bangkok, Shanghai, and Toronto.

However, in late 2018 the company announced that it will be closing down its centers, with no further investment through 2019. A spokesperson said they will conclude the conclude the program by the end of Q1 2019.

In short, the virtual reality arcades closed down due to lack of interest after hefty funding. The experiment failed, and it may indicate a general slow-down in the market. IMAX virtual reality now rests in the history books.

Yet despite the potential lack of interest, there are plenty of great games out there to try out with friends.

IMAX VR centres closed in 2019. Photo: UploadVR.

Games for virtual reality arcades

There are numerous games which work well with virtual reality arcades. They include:

Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter

Fight alongside the Earth Defense Force and fight against the hordes of hell, with a variety of massive guns. From chainsaws to shotguns and chain guns galore, the co-operative experience is a great way to pass the time. The experience goes well with mulled wine and cider.

Escape the Lost Pyramid

Set in the world of Assassins Creed, participants work together to work out how to escape a pyramid. As an escape room concept set in VR, it takes certain liberties which would be far too dangerous in real life. In virtual reality, the barriers are broken down and the experience is more dangerous than any normal set-up.

Loco Dojo

Made by the excellent people at Make Real, Loco Dojo is a party game with a series of ‘trials’ that players can pass. With 16 minigames to play, there is a large amount of fun for players. The game also features the voice of Brian Blessed, which is always a bonus.

How popular are virtual reality arcades?

Reports indicate that interest is steadily growing. Greenlight Insights report that arcades provide consumers with a way to demo VR. It provides a cheap, easy way to try it out without the powerful PC or headset. This means customers are interested in trying them out and buying a set for themselves. Virtual reality arcades are part of the customer journey towards a purchase. According to their survey, 53% of consumers are interested in arcades.

This may change in the future as headsets enter the home. With a premium experience ready to be played with, then people may be less likely to go back to arcades. However, this is far in the future, and for now, arcades provide a gateway to great games to play.

Dirty VR headsets in arcades

One topic I have seen raised consistently is the filth gathered from headsets used by multiple people.

Imagine playing a video game, moving arms about in Beat Saber or Fruit Ninja. Getting a high score takes tenacity and focus, and sweat starts to build. Eventually, eyes blinking, the headset is removed to reveal a hot-faced and happy player.

Cleaning the headset afterwards is incredibly important. Germs can spread very quickly, and no user wants to have a hot and misty headset after vigorous use. Wet wipes should be used liberally.

Conclusion: Virtual reality companies in the arcade business

Seeing a business opportunity, many companies are investigating arcades for play. Popping up all over the place, the immersive experiences are capitalising on a new experience for those who want to play.

In the past, some immersive experiences folded; partially due to the high costs of setting up and running the place, partially because the audience lost interest. If a VR company will attempt to make more virtual reality arcades, they must provide a value proposition which will continually bring new people to the place. Then, the arcade will thrive.

With the new wave of immersive reality, time will tell whether they will stick. For now, there is always a subtle draw to the arcade cabinet – more so if a headset is rigged to it.