The Virtual Arena: The Amusement Business Embraces VR

Guest columnist Kevin Williams, continues his coverage of the emerging VR Out-of-Home entertainment scene, with an exclusive report from the floor of America’s largest dedicated amusement industry show.

The Virtual ArenaThe American amusement trade held their annual convention in the heart of Las Vegas during February, the Amusement Expo International, saw the AAMA, AMOA, along with NBVA trade associations and Lasertag Convention combined to create a dedicated gathering for all aspects of the American digital out-of-home entertainment (DOE) sector.

For the first time, the event comprised a Virtual Reality (VR) Educational Summit, reflecting the impact that VR out-of-home entertainment, along with dedicated exhibitors from the emerging sector, hoping to influence the family entertainment centre, leisure entertainment and location-based entertainment business landscape.

The issue with new entrants into the established amusement landscape is the learning curve that these start-ups must undertake to establish themselves; so, turning Amusement Expo into an impromptu beauty pageant of the latest VR platforms developed to capture the public’s and operator’s attention.

One of the traditional amusement trade to embrace VR in this sector, BANDAI NAMCO Amusement represented A.i.Solve’s WePlayVR – the maze enclosure based system that has individual players navigating the virtual environment wearing a backpack and HTC Vive headset. As well as revealing plans for BANDAI NAMCO to bring their VR ZONE Portal facility concept to the States, later in the year – something VRFocus covered last month as they look to further expand the chain throughout the US and Europe, particularly the UK.

2018 Amusement Expo International - WePlayVR

Another developer of this approach was TRIOTECH, partnered with Asterion VR, to develop their ‘VR Maze’, running the Virtual Rabbids: The Big Maze – again with a single player backpack approach. The Ubisoft property was also on display on the LAI Games booth with their Virtual Rabbids: The Ride – this time a two rider VR motion experience using D-BOX motion hardware.

2018 Amusement Expo International - TRIOTECH and Asterion VR
A player is prepared to navigate the VR Maze
2018 Amusement Expo International - Virtual Rabbids
A wild ride, racing through the Rabbids universe.

The need to generate a strong ROI from operating VR hardware has seen many multiplayer approaches, Creative Works represented Hologate VR at Amusement Expo – the four-player enclosure, uses a ceiling tethered HMD approach (again, with HTC Vives); strong initial sales seeing the company working on their own and licensing content to support the platform.


2018 Amusement Expo International - Hologate
Players do battle in Hologate VR

Amusement manufacturer and distributor, UNIS Technologies has partnered with Virtuix to present the Omni Arena – the two and four player configuration arena stage utilizes the companies omni-directional platform. Virtuix promoting that already some 2,500 of their platforms were in operation at some 500 location-based facilities internationally.

2018 Amusement Expo International - Omni Arena
Frantic competition on the Omni Arena.

Another omni-direction system on display at the Las Vegas show was represented by FOCUS VR, showing the Cyberith Virtualizer – this approach was more based on offering a delivery platform for VR arcades. Several new exhibitors to the amusement trade took this approach, with the likes of Springboard VR, who have created a turnkey package for those wanting a plug-and-play VR arcade approach.

2018 Amusement Expo International - Cyberith Virtualizer
The Virtualizer being put through its paces

Content for the virtual arcade was also provided by exhibitors such as EscapeVR – offering a room-scale escape room experience in a virtual environment.  While the ability to capture footage of the player within the virtual environment was offered through Blueprint Reality’s MixCast platform. The company bringing a Windows Mixed Reality system from Acer, to demonstrate their platforms versatility.

2018 Amusement Expo International - Mixcast
The MixCast platform running in conjunction with the Acer headset

Also walking the show floor were several of the up and coming operators and developers of new VR arcade locations, hardware and content – many sitting in on the VR Educational Summit sessions dedicated to the new technologies opportunity for amusement application.

Free-roaming (Arena Scale) VR experiences has gained great momentum in the DOE scene, exponents of this could be found on and off the show floor, including exhibitor Modal VR, presenting their PING experience. The system using a special tracking architecture, linked to mobile VR (Samsung Gear VR derivative) headsets – players taking part in a virtual game of an interpretation of the Atari classic Pong.

2018 Amusement Expo International - Ping
Player’s prepare for a one-on-one game of virtual PING.

While, Hyperverse promoted their own VR free-roaming solution at the show, based on backpack PC’s and Oculus VR CV1 headset. To experience a full free-roaming VR system, all the delegates had to do was travel down the Strip to the MGM Casino, and their new Level UP entertainment location, which has newly installed a Zero Latency four-player backpack VR system and a suite of games.

2018 Amusement Expo International - Kevin Williams At Zero Latency
Kevin Williams and associate suit up ready to play at Zero Latency in the MGM Casino.

It is the reality of the actual hardware deployment in the field that will validate its worth from this business. Already the Zero Latency system will soon be joined by at least two new free-roaming installations in Las Vegas – and along with the other fielded VR entertainment systems on display, it looks to be a very interesting time for this emerging market. It will be interesting to see their penetration into the Western market – watch this space for more coverage from this sector.