It seems like every few weeks there is another announcement about the launch of a new virtual reality (VR) experience in the attraction industry. In March, Nickelodeon and IMAX announced their new SlimeZone VR experience. This syncs well with the forecasts in Tractica’s Virtual Reality for Enterprise and Industrial Markets report, which states:
VR will gradually become a common form of professional entertainment within the broad category of attractions. The category includes amusement parks, family entertainment centers, arcades, zoos, museums, and movie theaters. There are already hundreds of venues where consumers can go to engage in VR experiences, at both legacy venues and new ones, including facilities in Japan, China, Korea, the United States, Italy, France, and Russia.
Tractica estimates the addressable market for attractions to be more than 70,000 attraction venues worldwide. According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions and a study by Wilkofsky Gruen Associates, these venues attract 934 million guests annually.
Tractica believes the attractions sector will be the largest category spending on enterprise VR hardware and content in 2021:
- Attractions: $4.5 billion
- Training and Simulation: $2.2 billion
- Education: $1.6 billion
- Medical Therapy: $357 million
- Virtual Prototyping/3D Modeling: $349 million
Market drivers for VR attractions are strong and numerous. A broad range of entertainment venues, from small businesses like family arcades, museums, and movie theaters to multi-million-dollar amusement parks are looking for new ways to engage and delight visitors, and to drive profits. Of the primary use cases driving enterprise VR, attractions have the most potential to directly impact those businesses’ revenue, profits, and bottom lines.
The geographic addressable market for VR attractions is diverse and global. Consumer-grade or somewhat tailored consumer-grade equipment is widely available and affordable, and content developers and platforms are growing to support the category. The attractions category will see higher equipment spending than some others because Tractica expects the replacement cycle for VR equipment to be much shorter due to heavy communal use.
Startup THE VOID is one of the pioneers developing professional-grade location-based VR. The company has combined a VR head-mounted display (HMD) with a backpack-mounted PC and haptic vest to enable free-roaming VR experiences. The first VOID experience, Ghostbusters: Dimension, was launched in July 2016 at Madame Tussaud’s in New York City in partnership with Sony Entertainment. Participants get to carry “proton weapons,” move through and explore spaces, zap ghosts, and, even at one point, smell roasted marshmallows. While Ghostbusters has been a success, THE VOID’s latest project might be the most significant in terms of propelling location-based VR entertainment, which was the debut of Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire for Disney.
Star Wars debuted in December 2017 at Disney Springs in Orlando and in a pop-up at the Westfield Mall in London, and in Downtown Disney in California in January. Disney estimates it will be able to serve around 1,000 guests a day in Orlando, and about half of that in California.
(Source: THE VOID/ILMxLAB)
In September, 2016 THE VOID co-founder Ken Bretschneider told BGR:
“I have a lot of interest in location-based entertainment and started designing a concept that was going to be kind of a regional theatrical-based theme park concept. Almost like an event center on steroids. And the idea was to use technology like augmented reality and interactive 3D projection mapping to kind of bring the magic to it. And the park would change with the seasons. So we’d move from kind of a haunted autumn season to a magical winter festival season and then in the summer do another type of season with the design.”
THE VOID chief executive officer (CEO) Cliff Plumer told The Verge in December that the company would continue to produce traveling shows, “almost like a Cirque de Soleil.”
Global entertainment giant IMAX has committed to finding out how VR experiences will resonate with consumers through its entertainment venues. According to a November 2016 press release, the company announced the establishment of “a $50 million virtual reality fund between IMAX and other strategic investors to help finance the creation of at least 25 interactive VR content experiences over the next three years for use across all VR platforms including in IMAX VR centres.” The fund will target premium Hollywood filmmaker partners, gaming publishers, and other leading content developers.
The company launched six pilot VR centers: two in New York, in Los Angeles, and at ODEON & UCI Cinemas Group’s Printworks multiplex location in Manchester, United Kingdom, in Shanghai and Toronto. The pilots are being used to gauge several factors, including customer experience, pricing models, and types of content. If the pilots work out, IMAX would expand, but IMAX told Variety in March that, so far, the results are “mixed.” IMAX operates 1,000 theaters in 66 countries.
VRstudios provides a full spectrum of VR technology and experiences serving the commercial entertainment and gaming and enterprise industries. The collection of products includes a proprietary platform, a wireless headset, hardware devices, software solutions/gaming and entertainment experiences, and developer tools.
VRstudios is engaged and talking with companies from construction, design, architecture, aerospace, medical, military, and entertainment (family entertainment centers, AAA studios, retail, arcades, restaurants, etc.), but has seemed to find traction in the entertainment industry. Customers include Universal Studios Orlando, Knott’s Berry Farm, SNR Italy, and clients in eight other countries. The company aggressively signed distribution partners in 2016, including entertainment/arcade vendors Simuline and Smartlaunch. VRstudios says it provides a collection of differentiating capabilities that include wireless full-motion without wires; simultaneous multi-player; 1:1 positional tracking for full immersion with no ill physical effects; and immersive viewer participation through its Player Zero (spectator view) function.
It became apparent that all types of attraction owners from around the world are increasingly aware of the value of integrating VR into their locations, given the relatively lower price than other amusement rides and games. VR also can offer many different experiences in the same setup and generates revenue regardless of weather.
While the VR industry searches for the ‘killer app’ to accelerate consumer adoption of VR, Vitale believes that the killer app is in fact turnkey [location-based entertainment] LBE VR. VRstudios’ standard model is to sell a full-package solution to venue operators, including commercial-grade hardware that brings their large-format free-roam VR concept to life. The revenue share model for VRcade Arena covers licensing content and the Attraction Management Platform, AMP. The idea is that expansion can happen rapidly as the upfront costs are covered by operator customers, and ongoing revenue is shared.