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VR is Here to Stay

VR is Here to Stay

Virtual reality continues to expand into the location-based entertainment market, and the use of the technology will continue to accelerate.

As our games get more immersive, complex, and expensive, operators need to gain a deeper understanding of the trends, technologies, and business models that will drive our business over the next few years.

I’ve been working in “immersive entertainment” since 1989 and founded one of the first “successful” laser tag companies. Laser Storm expanded to 230 locations in 30 countries. We were the first to apply storytelling and theming to laser tag, first with our own IP. Galactic Marauders and Circuit Commandoes were created by published science fiction writers. We then launched Stargate and Marvel X-Men Laser Tag, bringing movie-based IP to family entertainment centers way before it became a trend. As far as I can tell, it was the first immersive entertainment concept to scale globally.

Along the way, I’ve also worked at the intersection of VR and LBE going back to 1992 when Edison Brothers Mall Entertainment brought Virtuality to the US. It was the first VR arcade game and was way ahead of its time.

Since then, I have been fortunate to help launch some of the most successful VR products in the LBE market. I’ve worked with over 20 virtual reality developers to help them hone their games for different market segments. Some have been more successful than others, and some are just now finding their stride. From Global VR’s Vortek featuring Beachhead 2000 in the late 1990s to Zero Latency, Hologate, Virtuix Omni, and VRsenal in this latest wave, I’ve been more deeply involved in bringing more virtual reality to the LBE market than anyone else.

Thirty years of virtual reality from both an operations and manufacturing perspective gives me a unique view of the market. In this guide, my goal is to translate that experience into clear recommendations so operators can navigate the complexity and confusion of this rapidly evolving market. I see lots of mistakes
made by operators in their VR acquisition strategies. Mostly, this is because they see virtual reality as a product category. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not All VR is the Same

VR is a display technology. The tracking systems enable players to immerse inside the game so their bodies become the controllers. The best systems create experiences that cannot be replicated in the real world and transport players into alternate realities. That’s the power of virtual reality.

Seeing all VR as one product category would be like seeing all games that spit out tickets as the same. But decades of experience have taught us there is nuance in balancing redemption games in an arcade. There are high play-value games like Skee-Ball and Connect 4 Hoops, and money eaters like Big Bass Wheel (Best. Game. Ever.) and Tower of Tickets. And then there are coin pushers, cranes, and self-redemption machines. Any well-designed arcade will have a balance of these games.

Seeing all VR as one product category would be like seeing all games that spit out tickets as the same.

Operators are advised to look at virtual reality the same way. Like redemption games, there are many product segments in the VR landscape. A mix of VR is important and that will vary for different locations. For those operators looking to have multiple VR attractions, understanding this balance can be the difference between bringing in lots of new traffic and increasing per-cap spending, versus blowing their capital budgets on the shiny new object.

This guide will break down various products into segments and categories. Categorization is a subjective exercise. My segments might differ from other pundits’. That’s OK. If you get the concept of how these products are both different and similar, you’re on your way to making smarter decisions.

I reached out via email multiple times to every company listed as a VR supplier on the IAAPA website to get their most recent information. Some companies responded, while others did not. For those that did not respond, I used the best public information I could find. Usually, I used the information they supplied as background. If I missed anyone, I apologize. Let me know and I will include you in the post-IAAPA update.

Many companies are not showing up at IAAPA this year. Some of these are from Russia, Ukraine, and neighboring countries affected by Putin’s war. Some have chosen not to exhibit because of the expense, which is getting obscene with inflation and supply chain disruptions. I will include the Russian, Ukrainian, and some other companies and products I think are worthy of investigating in a future update.

Disclosures and Relationships

I have been widely considered the leading expert in location-based VR since 2016 when I helped launch Zero Latency to the world. Since then, I have worked with more than half of the companies in the LBVR market. Often, that work came down to helping with positioning the products so they could find a niche where their product would resonate with a market need. Sometimes, I would advise them on product development, as many companies didn’t understand the needs of the LBE market. Some of those engagements were for a single day. Some have lasted for years.

My position in the industry has led me to have financial relationships with many companies in this guide. I have been transparent about my financial relationships and incentives for any products listed.

I have tried my best to not let these personal financial incentives impact my reviews. I only enter relationships with companies committed to delivering the best products for our market.

I believe, as do they, that my continued involvement with them is better for the industry. I am also human, and we all have unconscious biases. If you have doubts about any recommendations in this guide, the best solution is to do your research. My goal here is to surface what I believe are the best products in the industry to save you time and money.

The statements here are my informed opinions. They are not the opinions of anyone else who might have helped me edit, print, publish, or distribute this guide. I’ve traveled almost two million miles in the last six years, reviewing and researching virtual reality attractions. Even though my opinions are well-informed, they are still my opinions. If you disagree with them, I invite you to email me at vrbob@bobcooney.com and tell me why. I am always interested in other perspectives.

Some companies in this guide are past clients, and some I am working with at the time of this publication. I will disclose my relationship with any business where money has changed hands between us. If there is no mention of it, that means I have never had a commercial relationship with them. I have not listed companies that have been sponsors of my events, or advertisers in this guide as I do not believe that creates a conflict and would become boring and redundant for the reader.

I rarely charge operators for advice on equipment purchases. I am on the Innovation Committee for Funlab, an Australian-based LBE operator, for which I am paid. At the time of this publication that is the only commercial relationship I have with an operator. I am open to more relationships in this area (hint, hint).

I have strategic influencer engagements with suppliers that are performance-based. I advise them on go-to-market strategy including product and content development, distribution, marketing, and sales. I receive compensation based on the total sales of a product in a region. At the date of publication, Spree, VRsenal, and VAR BOX are all on my strategic influencer programs.

I never take a product or company into a strategic influencer program if I do not believe they have the best product for a market segment. If I am recommending a product I get paid for, I will disclose it. It’s up to you to decide if my recommendation is biased. I do my best to separate my financial incentives from my recommendations. But I am human, and we all have blind spots. Other relationships, past and present, are revealed in the Directory Section of this guide.

With all of that out of the way, let’s go!

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