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Cut the Crap: VR Laser Tag

As the founder of Laser Storm in 1989, I know a thing or two about laser tag. While I am not an expert on the state-of-the-art of laser tag hardware, I know a fair bit about laser tag arena design and game mechanics.

I’m not a fan of this new wave of compact, free-roam, player-vsplayer (PvP) VR games. Replicating laser tag with VR in a small space doesn’t make sense. How many laser tag arenas have you seen that were less than 1000 square feet? There’s a reason for that.

Developers have taken the approach of copying laser tag without using the advantages that VR offers. Things like making the space feel bigger than it is with elevators, moving platforms, and teleportation. Or using weapon variation, power-ups, and other things found in consumer PvP games.

VEX has come close with their VEX Arena games. But at last report they were still using Antilatency’s tracking system, which is obsolete and of questionable reliability. The best version of VR laser tag I’ve played was a game called Polygon from Neurogaming in Russia. It was a 1000 square foot play space that felt like a 3-story 5000 square foot arena.

That was in 2017, and nobody has come close to that since. Unfortunately, Polygon was tied to an expensive optical tracking system and didn’t make financial sense.

Laser tag is still the most popular anchor attraction in the FEC world.

Laser tag is still the most popular anchor attraction in the FEC world. The capacity and throughput of laser tag is still beyond any VR attraction. But with the HTC VIVE Focus 3 and their LBSS system enabling arenas as big as 10,000 square feet, I believe it’s only a matter of time before VR headsets replace laser tag vests and guns. We are already seeing a ratio of one VR player per 100 square feet in these compact arenas, so we know we can scale capacity to 30 players in a 3000 square foot space.

Creative Works, the leading laser tag arena builder, has been increasing its catalog of VR products since helping launch Hologate in 2017. Last year, they showcased an early prototype of a Focus 3 laser tag hybrid system called Limitless VR. They’re using photogrammetry to map virtual environments over existing physical barrier walls in an arena. This is a great first step, despite the occlusion challenges of tracking 30 players in an environment with lots of walls. Operators are not ready to throw away their arenas and embrace VR laser tag so Limitless VR offers the opportunity to run VR games in addition to laser tag, for now.

This year I expect to see Limitless VR as a new standalone option to replace laser tag. Creative Works has been working on getting 18 players in a 2400 square foot space. Look for it at the IAAPA show.

The financial advantage of virtual reality over laser tag is considerable. Arenas can be re-themed at the push of a button. One arena design can scale over hundreds or thousands of locations. And with platforms like Unreal Engine, these environments can be photorealistic.

The cost of a turnkey laser tag arena can easily be over $300K, while 30 VIVE Focus 3 headsets cost only $45K. And imagine a world with no cables.

This cost delta makes the shift inevitable. My guess is that 2023 will be the year we see the transition begin, and within five years, I predict the end of laser tag as we know it.

Long live VR laser tag.

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