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Competitive socialization is the new hot buzz in the location-based entertainment industry. New concepts are popping up everywhere. People love to socialize, and lighthearted, fun competition creates an experiential framework for people to spend a few hours together without the pressure of making conversation the focal point.
Lucky Strike Entertainment started the competitive socialization trend when the former Jillian’s Entertainment Executives acquired the remnants of the Hollywood Star Lanes, made famous by The Big Lebowski, and created a hybrid bowling center and nightclub. Up until then, bowling had been primarily leagues and competitions.
Now concepts like Top Golf, Holey Moley, and Puttshack have applied the concept to golf. Flight Club is expanding its upscale dart bars globally. And even axe throwing is getting into the mix.
What do these concepts have in common? They all have food and alcohol as a big part of the concept. They’re all turn-based, where each player is only out of the conversation for a minute. Nobody ever misses out on the exchange. Also, anyone can play. There’s not a high level of skill needed to have fun.
What makes these experiences social is that the conversation is the heart and soul of the experience. The activity is secondary.
Social experiences differ from shared experiences like movie theaters. In a shared experience, the activity IS the experience. The key to making a shared experience social is reflection.
We’ve all had conversations about Avatar: The Way of Water. Or maybe the new HBO show The Last of Us, which has captivated the zeitgeist and is creating water cooler conversation.
Most VR games are shared experiences. Players show up, receive a briefing, and they play. In the end, they move on to the next thing. With a framework for reflection, we can take advantage of the opportunity to make these social.
Jump from Limitless Flight has built a reflection room into their experience. At the end of your wingsuit flight, you get to watch your flight on a massive video wall in a room filled with bean bags. There are light refreshments, and people hang out and compare their experiences. With an intense experience, often, the emotion hits us afterward. And the feeling is what anchors the experience in memory. Jump creates the opportunity to feel those emotions and share them with friends.
Sandbox VR is another excellent company curating a shared reflection after each game. They have a series of couches and big-screen TVs in the lobby. Players are escorted to their lounge to watch a replay of their experience edited by AI into what looks like a movie trailer. Sandbox VR also prompts players to make funny poses and dance moves at the end of the game. This elicits inevitable laughs, cementing those memories.
These are excellent examples of how you might turn a shared VR experience into a more social one. But is there a way for the core VR experience itself to be more social?
A company out of Belgium might have just created the first truly social VR experience for FECs and arcades. Hero Zone is a compact, free-roam system for up to six players in less than 1000 square feet. They use Focus 3 to deliver a seamless VR experience across a growing library of seven games. They might be the biggest free-roam VR platform in the world, already in more than 180 locations.
But a feature they quietly unveiled at IAAPA last year was one of the show’s highlights. When players enter the Hero Zone arena, they gather in a shared space that looks like a cool home rec room in a basement. You can play a basketball toss game and a plush claw machine. You can pick up, eat and drink pizza and beer. You can throw the food at each other to have a food fight. Players have a blast hanging out and talking with their friends in VR.
When they’re ready to play, a voting menu shows up with all the available games. And players vote on which game to play. This always leads to discussion, and sometimes people change their votes. It’s social, and players love it.
This system also has operational benefits. An attendant hits the start button, and the players can move from the basement to their chosen game and back to the basement to choose another game, all without any assistance from staff. So players can spend an hour in that space with no labor cost. It’s as close to unattended free-roam VR as I can imagine.
Hero Zone has just launched a birthday party room with balloons, party blowers, and a cake with candles. I expect more interactive, immersive spaces to roll out this year.
Whether you add a reflection stage to your VR experiences or consider something like Hero Zone that’s built a social interaction into virtual reality, it’s worth investing in making your VR more social. As VR expands into more homes, these experiences will continue to give people a reason to put on pants, leave their homes, and cross the threshold into your business to have fun with their friends.