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The VR Time Crunch: Crafting an Experiential Occasion

The VR Time Crunch

There’s a reason that movies are 90 minutes or longer, escape rooms run for an hour, a line of bowling takes 45 minutes to an hour, and the average restaurant visit is one hour and 45 minutes. Those are entertainment events or “occasions”. Or, as I like to call them in the post-pandemic era, a reason to put on pants.

When I first experienced Zero Latency VR in 2016, it was an epic 43-minute adventure where I walked almost half a mile exploring a massive post-zombie-apocalyptic landscape. Tickets cost AU$88 per person and were sold out weeks in advance. But they were met with skepticism when they explained this to amusement operators at the IAAPA show in Orlando. “We can’t have a 45-minute game! It has to be 10 minutes.”

I warned the team at Zero Latency not to listen to the conventional “wisdom”. This was, after all, an industry that spent decades making money 25 cents at a time selling three-minute arcade games.

Zero Latency’s next game, Outbreak, clocked in at 12 minutes. And while it was intense and fun, it lacked the epic scale of the original. Operators soon realized that such a short game presented all kinds of challenges. Increased capacity strained employees and equipment. They also needed to sell two to three times more tickets, even though at a lower price, to generate the same revenue. Ultimately operators bundled two plays of Outbreak together into a half-hour experience and raised the price. Since then, almost all Zero Latency games have been around 25 minutes.

Even that length is a compromise. A 45-minute or longer game is feasible and desirable in some instances. Now that the backpacks are gone, and the equipment is lighter and more comfortable, players can easily spend 45 minutes inside a VR experience (see the feature on Escape Rooms.) Zero Latency operators are adding other VR attractions like arcade games, simulators, and escape rooms to create more capacity, extend the length of stay, and increase per-cap spending.

I refer to these short, 25-minute VR experiences as Drive Through VR. Unlike a sit-down restaurant where you look forward to spending time with friends and a meal, the drive-through is when you’re between occasions and want to get some food quickly. From a consumer experience standpoint, these short experiences create challenges.

The average transaction for free-roam VR is a group of four tickets. This means four people must coordinate meeting at the same place and time. This creates friction, as evidenced by the high levels of cart abandonment several free-roam companies have told me about. Their research suggests that customers struggle to coordinate dates and times amongst their friends.

On the big day, they show up and play. And after half an hour, they have to figure out the next thing to do. “Should we eat? Go to a bar? Something else?” A half-hour can be wasted just trying to figure out their next move.

Successful operations like The Park Playground in Europe have integrated a café and single-player VR games into their package. Everyone purchases a minimum 60-minute experience, including a free-roam game, single-player games, and a social VR experience.

The Cafe at Park Playground — The Haag, Netherlands
The Cafe at Park Playground — The Haag, Netherlands
Bob gets instructions on a parasailing sim at Zero Latency Gold Coast, Australia
Bob gets instructions on a parasailing sim at Zero Latency Gold Coast, Australia

Lightning VR in the Netherlands also offers both room-scale and free-roam experiences. Customers can purchase either a 50-minute or 1-hour 40-minute package. Both come bundled with a game of RevolVR 3, a popular multiplayer VR arcade game. The dual session includes time to play arcade games and enjoy a beverage.

For a standalone VR arcade, you must program at least 60 minutes of entertainment, whether a combination of experiences, arcade games, simulators, developing a quality food and beverage program, or all the above. If you want to be a destination, the total occasion must last at least 60–90 minutes.

And if you think being in an entertainment district with many other things to do contradicts this, read my story about Why The VOID failed.

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