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DIY VR Free-Roam: Essential Guide to Building Your Own Free-Roam VR Experience with Optimal Hardware and Accessories

This post is a section of the Do It Yourself Free Roam article in Bob Cooney’s VR Arcade Game Buyer’s guide (download full guide here). Links to the other sections of the article are at the end of this post.

The free-roam systems that use all-in-one headsets generally don’t require much computer power or high-end networking equipment. You run the entire system on one PC for the operator console and to run the spectator screens. A decent gaming router is all that’s needed to keep the headsets connected to each other.

Especially if you’re using the Focus 3, consider spending a little extra on a Wi-Fi 6E router, which runs on a unique 6 GHz frequency (instead of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz on other routers) and won’t see much interference from personal devices in your center. It’s a significant upgrade and future-proof, and the prices have come way down recently.

Here’s is an example of a recommended router which you can get on Amazon as of this writing for about $500.

If you elect to offer high-end gaming via the PCVR route, you will need to have one gaming computer for each player.

The Asus Rapture Wi-Fi 6E is an example of an inexpensive gaming router

Each PC will stream video to a headset via a Wi-Fi 6E hotspot. You’ll want to use enterprise-grade networking equipment to guarantee uptime and quality of service. Cisco Meraki is the go-to brand here. Most operators recommend one hotspot for each two players. So, a six-player system would require six PCs and three routers on top of the headsets. You can see how the cost mounts quickly.

My recommendation is to start with an all-in-one system using the Focus 3. If you decide to upgrade to PCVR, you only must add the computers and networking gear. There’s plenty of content for AIO systems today, and its hard to justify the added capex unless you can generate significantly higher revenue through increased ticket prices. Since most AIO systems are pricing in the same price per minute as PCVR systems, I just don’t see the advantage today. As more consumers get VR at home, then upgrades to PCVR might make sense.

The Cisco Meraki line is the most popular enterprise hotspot for LBVR providers

Accessories

Like with fashion, accessories for your free-roam VR system can make the difference between turning heads and blending in. But as with a good pair of shoes, they come at a cost. And it’s not just the up-front expense to be wary of. Some accessories can reduce operating expense, and others will increase them. Most will enhance the customer experience, some dramatically enough to increase ticket prices.

Must Haves

BATTERIES AND CHARGERS

The one peripheral that every free-roam arena needs is extra batteries and chargers. The VIVE Focus 3 is the only headset that comes with removable batteries, though they are not hot-swappable, unless you plug a power bank into the USB-C port while swapping batteries. It’s not a big deal if your attendant monitors battery levels and changes them between games. VIVE offers spare batteries and multi-battery charger accessories so everything you need is compatible and part of the VIVE system.

BOBOVR

Pico and Quest have built-in batteries that only last a couple of hours, so you’d need to have double the number of headsets, charging one while using the other. Or you can get BOBOVR, a headset strap with a hot-swappable extra battery on the back. In addition to doubling the battery life, it’s easier to adjust for players. And the battery on the back balances the weight of the headset making it more comfortable.

BOBOVR is a must-have peripheral if you are not using the Focus 3. By the time you read this they will release their M3 for the Quest 3. At less than $100 per headset it’s a bargain. I’ve spoken to dozens of operators who swear by it.

The BOBOVR for the Quest 3 is now available

HAPTIC VESTS

One of the best ways to increase immersion is using haptic vests. Similar to the vibrating sensation on laser tag vests, a haptic vest not only lets players know they’re taking damage but can let them know where it’s coming from. There’s nothing worse than facing off against an enemy and having another one taking you on from behind and not knowing it.

The leader in the space is bHaptics. Their new TactSuit X Series has two models, 40 and 16 feedback point models depending on the level of immersion you’re looking for. They offer an API (Application Programming Interface) that makes it easy for developers to integrate into their games, so the feedback is meaningful. But it needs to be implemented correctly by the game developer. I’ve played some games where the vibration is constant and ultimately becomes a distraction. I’ve done others where the feedback adds a layer of immersion and feedback to the experience.

GUNS

Every free-roam game lets you use the standard controllers as a gun. If you’re focused on shooter games, adding a gun peripheral increases immersion and fun. There are lots of options ranging from cheap plastic housings that cover the existing controllers to sophisticated, software-driven weapons that would make a starship trooper swoon. Here are a few of the most popular. (Make sure they’re compatible with your controllers. The mechanical interface is different between Quest 2, Quest 3, Pico, VIVE Focus 3 and others.)

ProVolver Haptic Pistol from ProTubeVR has a moving breech-lock that lets players feel the recoil and realistic weight for a realistic shooting experience. Developers can simulate vibration and feedback for multiple weapon and firing modes like single shot, burst, full auto, or even laser. Operators can add a front-extension upgrade and turn it into a two-handed SMG. Available at protubevr.com.

Compatible with Onward, Pavlov, Contractors, Sniper Elite, AMF, H3VR.

HelloReal SnowFox Pro pistol grip is a low-tech, low-cost plastic adapter that turns a Meta Quest 2 controller into a handgun. The added weight, trigger, and grip make shooting games more accurate and fun.

No guarantee on durability, but at a cost of about $35 they’re almost disposable. They’re customizable with weights and colors to fit your brand. Available at helloreal.com.

StrikerVR Mavrik-Pro is the Ferrari of VR guns. It’s a serious piece of kit that shares technology with the training simulators of the US military. When fully implemented by the game developer it transforms the VR experience into something from a science fiction movie. The Mavrik-Pro contains multiple capacitive touch control surfaces to enable things like pulling back a bolt on a crossbow, swapping, and reloading weapons. Their haptics engine recreates effects ranging from almost any military weapon to plasma rifles, chainsaws, and more.

Compatible with VIVE Focus 3 and integrated with Spawnpoint, Tower Tag, and Swarms with more games on the way.

The Mavrik-Pro from StrikerVR uses the same tech as the military simulators

TOUCH — THE FUTURE OF HAPTICS

Haptic gloves are on the horizon. bHaptics is selling a consumer version developer kit for $299, and HaptX is showcasing industrial gloves that simulate heat, touch, and pressure, powered by pneumatics and requiring a backpack that costs as much as a small car. As hand tracking becomes standard, some haptic feedback will be required to prevent breaking immersion. But for now, controllers rule the day.

Conclusion

Free-roam VR is the current state of the art in video gaming. Two thirds of people identify as gamers, and people love playing together. Putting six to 10 people into a room together so they can play in virtual worlds was a fantasy 10 years ago, cost prohibitive five years ago, and accessible right now to every entertainment center. Operators that measure customer satisfaction average nine points out of 10 for their free-roam attractions. By selecting the right components, you can add free-roam VR in as little as 60 days, with little financial risk and a ton of upside. If you made it this far, you’re either really bored, or seriously interested. Either way, reach out to me and let’s talk. You know where to find me.

Other sections of this article you may be interested in

  1. Launchers and Content
  2. The Arena
  3. VR Headsets
  4. Do it Yourself Free-roam VR

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