The Virtual Arena: LBE VR Success on Parade (Part 2.)

In his coverage of the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his second part of his latest Virtual Arena column, Kevin Williams reports from the IAAPA trade show on the other emerging categories of “VR Enclosures”, and “Arena-Scale VR” both including backpack PC and now the new launch of Standalone systems.

In this, the second part of our coverage of the mammoth International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) held in Orlando and covering some 580,000 net square feet of exhibit space, and accommodated some 1,140 exhibitors – of those exhibitors it was calculated that over 70 of these had some form of VR product or initiatives on display.

IAAPA 2019 hall
The vast vista of just one hall of the IAAPA 2019 show floor. Image credit: KWP

Continuing the different categories of VR business that were on display during the convention and we come to “VR Enclosures” – this represents the creation of structures that enclose a space within a facility to offer a VR experience. This is best illustrated by leading provider HOLOGATE, who has developed and launched its ‘HOLOGATE Arena’ placed with some 300 active locations throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, and North and South America. The four-player tethered enclosure revealed that the company would be moving from HTC headsets to using the Valve Index. And at IAAPA it also launched an eye-catching ‘HOLOGATE Tower’ – a two-floor steel platform that doubles the floor space to play on.

The company also entered the motion racing VR scene with its new ‘HOLOGATE Blitz’ – the developer partnered with an established motion platform manufacturer to create a unique motion cockpit system as a companion to the successful Arena. As we have seen in the first part of this report, the interest in VR racing simulator videogames has grown, and HOLOGATE is looking to offer a varied selection of both content and VR experiences to drive interest in this platform. 

Another VR enclosure developer that had big developments at IAAPA was Minority Media, the company is the developer of the four-player ‘Chaos Jump’ enclosure, and building of success selling this system launched their new ‘Transformers: VR Battle Arena’, created in collaboration with Hasbro. Again, four players battle against each other, but this time the videogame uses the new version of the StrikerVR haptic weapon for added immersion.

Hologate Blitz - IAAPA 2019
Extreme racing on the HOLOGATE Blitz. Image credit: KWP
Transformers: VR Battle Arena
Transformers: VR Battle Arena at IAAPA 2019. Image credit: KWP

One of the other VR enclosures developers on the show floor was Inowize, presenting the ‘VR Quest Arena’ – this is one of the first systems that offered six-player competition within their platform, using tethered HTC Vive Pros. The company has also partnered with an already established sales veteran, sharing space in the Amusement Products booth during the show.

Aiming at a younger audience has been the focus for several the new VR enclosure developers, hoping to attract the widest demographic. One such developer presenting at IAAPA 2019 was AlterEyes with its ‘DOJO’ – this system using the latest wireless HTC Vive Pros, uniquely able to accommodate four synchronize players. While another developer Boxblaster VR also presented a cost-effective tethered four-player VR enclosure platform, also announcing that its moving across to the Valve Index headset.

Inowize - VR Quest Arena
Inowize’s VR Quest Arena. Image credit: KWP
AlterEyes - Dojo
The AlterEyes DOJO at IAAPA 2019. Image credit: KWP

Another example of the successful deployment of this approach to VR entertainment, the Funovation represented their partnership with Virtuix, (the pioneer of “Active VR”) – who launched last years’ ‘Omni Arena’, a four-player VR enclosure employing their omni-direction movement system and HTC Vive headsets. Virtuix has focused their system on offering a perfect competition platform partnering with HP, to double the 2020 eSports prize-pool from $50,000 to $100,000. The company also announced the launch of the new eSports game ‘Elite Force’, a player-vs-player military blaster.

Another company that has expanded the approach to a VR enclosure from just a structure, but into a full game stage is MajorMega – presenting at the Orlando show its completed ‘Hyperdeck’ platform. Offering multi-sensory effects (wind, heat, motion), running the HTC Vive Pros for the four-players. The company has already seen a strong return on investment numbers while on test at a few well-known venues, and during IAAPA the company gave a sneak peek of its next videogame title on the system called ‘Dream-Saver’.

Virtuix Omni Arena IAAPA 2019
The Virtuix Omni Arena. Image credit: KWP
MajorMega Hyperdeck
The MajorMega Hyperdeck in action. Image credit: KWP

The development of VR enclosures that also expand into the other new category of “Arena-Scale VR – Backpack” was also witnessed, as well as the pivoting of many consumer VR developers into supporting LBE VR. Exhibitor IMMOTION was working in association with Survios to launch ‘Raw Data Arena’, a VR 4m x 4m multi-player enclosure based on the popular game. While Vertigo Games’ LBE VR division Vertigo Arcades made the trip to the Orlando show with their LBE version of their popular ‘Arizona Sunshine’ and their new release ‘Corsair’s Curse’. Both running on backpack PC’s and using HTC Vive Pro headsets.

Not all Arena-Scale VR – backpack systems are housed in enclosures and many builds on free-roaming spaces dedicated for their deployment. One of the veterans of this space is Zero Latency with its multi-player “warehouse space” VR experience. The company showed at IAAPA the Gen 2 VR System, developed in partnership with HP, Microsoft and Intel, with an HP backpack and HP Reverb headset. Zero Latency has started the process of retrofitting across some of their 41 venues, recently adding MeetupVR in London Wembley at Boxpark (as covered in the recent VRFocus report).

More exhibitors promoted their platforms that offered a multi-player arena-scale solution; developer Ideas Extremas presented their ‘VR Ideas – Cybengerz VR Arena’ – a three-player using wireless HTC Vive headset so removing the need for a backpack. While developer ARena Space showed its wireless HTC Vive Pro multiplayer platform, deployed in the companies established chain of stores. The appearance of wireless solutions shows the latest phase of development, while examples of the use of standalone headsets was also evident.  

Another Backpack PC VR provider is VEX Solutions – the company showing at the show their previously launched ‘VEX Adventure’ – run as a large VR enclosure employing FX elements such as vibrating floor and heat elements – along with the four players wearing haptic vests and HTC Vive headsets. But the company also launched a new variant of this approach with their “Arena-Scale VR – Standalone” system called theVEX Arena’. This platform making use of the Oculus Quest headset, the company offering a flexible game space of between 16 up to 100 square meters – with between two or 12-players.

Arizona Sunshine LBVR IAAPA 2019
Vertigo Games’ Arizona Sunshine LBVR enclosure. Image credit: KWP
VEX Arena IAAPA 2019
The VEX Arena deployed on the Oculus Quest. Image credit: KWP

Another exhibitor with this approach was ANVIO that showed their Standalone VR system running on the Oculus Quest. This was not the only company that looked at Standalone mobileVR headsets, with their all in one approach to offering immersive experience as a new opportunity for cost-effective deployment in the LBE VR scene, and there are several other manufacturers on and off the show floor that are taking the same approach. So much so, that OculusVR has undertaken to re-evaluate their approach to Enterprise business (including LBE VR) and will be making an important announcement in the coming weeks.

But not all Standalone developers are depending on the Oculus Quest – there are several alternative hardware offerings. Emerging VR developer SPREE Interactive; (formerly known as Holodeck VR) has created a suite of Arena-Scale VR experiences that use the Pico standalone headset. The company creating multiplayer free-roam experiences based on their patented technology aiming at a family-friendly approach with their ‘SPREE Arena’.

As touched upon in our previous report SPREE Interactive have taken their tracking technology and in cooperation with VR Coaster launched their ‘VR Bumper Car’ platform, converting a conventional bumper car attraction into a virtual experience – again using their standalone headsets. The company has also built on a third partnership with Hollywood VFX team Pixomondo – to launch a new experience called ‘Mission to Mars’. This free-roaming VR experience accommodating 20-players and allowing them to explore mans’ attempts to inhabit the Red Planet.

The SPREE Arena in operation. Image credit: KWP
SPREE VR Bumper Car
Taking SPREE Interactive’s VR Bumper Car for a spin. Image credit: KWP

Obviously, these two features can only offer a snapshot of this amazing trade gathering regarding some of the myriad of exhibitors that came to IAAPA 2019 – but shows the incredible diversity in development in VR applications for Out-of-Home entertainment. 2020 will continue to see the diversity grow with the launch of new hardware and entertainment platforms continuing, and also the opening of a number of the latest LBE facilities across major cities such as from Sandbox VR and The VOID, (to name just two). Watch this space for the next series for reports from this dynamic sector.