#157: Kevin Williams on the future of VR arcades & location-based experiences

Kevin-Williams2The major players within the consumer virtual reality space seem to be settling in with Valve & HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Sony Morpheus, Samsung Gear VR, & Google Cardboard. However, none of these HMD manufacturers have expressed any interest in producing a more ruggedized version that could withstand being used by VR arcades or theme parks.

There’s still a market for VR HMD manufactures to fill the needs of the digital, out-of-home entertainment needs of that range from location-based VR arcades, theme park attractions, 4D driving and flight simulators, and other experiential VR attractions.

Kevin Williams is the founder and director of the out-of-home leisure entertainment consultancy KWP Limited, and he’s collaborating with ImmersiON-VRelia to produce a ruggedized VR HMD called the BluSky Pro. Kevin produces a comprehensive newsletter following this space at The Stinger Report. He’s also written an extensive book on the history and current state of the DOE space called The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier: Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities. Kevin and I dove into that book in a lot more detail in this previous interview.

I had a chance to catch up with Kevin at SVVRCon, which was just a few weeks after The VOID first got announced, which is VR laser tag experience based out of Pleasant Grove, UT. They’re building virtual worlds onto actual environments, and using their own customized untethered mobile VR HMD solution with body tracking.

As an example for how Kevin tracks these developments, here’s an excerpt from his latest Stinger Report newsletter talking about The VOID:

Focusing on a growing interest in “room-scale” VR experiences and a move towards considering an Out-of-Home approach – and just as we were putting the current Stinger to bed – announcements were made from a new Salt Lake City-based start-up. The concept called The VOID (“Vision Of Infinite Dimensions”) proposes to develop what has been dubbed Virtual Reality Entertainment Center (VREC) that will take guests through specially developed environments corresponding to the visuals and movements tracked on specialist head-mounted displays (HMD) and motion-tracking suits. This is stated as being a new development in the field of out-of-home entertainment and free-roaming virtual reality.

This is the latest in a number of new start-ups proposing the development of virtual environments (covered under the VREC acronym for now) where players can immersive themselves in virtual worlds in special environments tailored to their activities. The Salt Lake City start-up proposes to develop some 80 centers round the USA, with the first venue to open in 2017 in their home town. Players pay their fee, estimated at around $35, and once they have donned their backpack ‘Rapture’ HMD will traverse specially developed environments with the surroundings that correspond with the visuals. The company also plans to offer flight simulators using the same principle.

It was revealed exclusively to The Stinger Report, in contact with MaxFlight the leading manufacturer of a range of fully interactive simulators that can perform 360 degree motion over two axes, that the company has been approached by those behind The VOID, towards the development of a special two-rider version of their popular ‘FS3000’ platform, which will also include yaw and heave. This special version of the company’s simulator will be part of the facility being developed by the company, and is expected to be a considerable part of the overall VR experience – players using the proposed HMD while riding the motion simulator…

It is now obvious from the developments in and popularity of new entertainment technology concepts (such as The VOID) that we are on the cusp of a new era of development that could lead to a new approach to location-based entertainment (LBE) – what some have described as a rebirth of an arcade-style experience. We are seeing the creation of a brand new approach, and as the traditional amusement trade convulses, there is a possibility that some in amusement may be able to make the transition, though it is speculated that the majority have played their hand and will reap the results. What happens next will shape everything.

If you’d like to read more, then click here to send an e-mail to subscribe to Kevin’s The Stinger Report newsletter.

Kevin says that he expects to hear a lot more VR-related technology announcements happen at the The International Association of Amusement Parks Attractions Expo (IAAPA) that’s coming up in November. Some of the other big conferences that he’s tracking in this space include CinemaCon, Digital Hollywood, Augmented World Expo (AWE), Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Asian Attraction Expo (AAE), and the Park Avenue Openday.

Kevin seemed surprised that he’s starting to hear more about these types of digital, out-of-home VR arcade experiences like The VOID showing up in this phase of VR. Kevin has been involved in the VR scene since 1994, and he sees that we’re currently in the fourth phase of VR. The first phase was in 1968 with Ivan Sutherland’s Sword of Damocles, then Virtual VPL phase, then Jonathan Waldern’s Virtuality machines, and now we’re at the fourth phase that started with Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift. But he expects that we’ll continue to hear more about these types of VR arcade experiences, and so if you’re interested in learning more or talking about your own ideas then feel free to reach out to Kevin at kwp@thestingerreport.com

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