The Why and How of VR for Family Entertainment Centers

Posted on: 2021-03-24

If you’ve been paying attention to trends in the family entertainment center industry, you’ll be at least somewhat familiar with virtual reality by now.

After the emergence of modern VR with the Oculus Rift in the early 2010s, the technology has grown and staked out a firm foothold in the popular consciousness. Headsets can be operated at the consumer level in people’s own homes — but business owners have found that there are some lucrative applications for location-based entertainment.

Why Virtual Reality Is A Strong Fit for Family Entertainment

Before we get into the options themselves, let’s talk about why virtual reality can be such a strong fit here. It comes down to one thing: commercial VR installations can provide a fundamentally better balance of quality versus required resources than people can support at home. You can give them what they're missing.

  • People do want to experience virtual reality. The market size has grown every year, reaching USD $15.81 billion in 2020.
  • Despite growth, consumer VR experiences are limited and expensive. Few can support top-quality home VR.
  • Commercial, location-based entertainment centers have the space and capital resources to take advantage of this opportunity and offer high quality VR for entire groups at a cost people can afford.

At the consumer level, VR technology is growing — but still requires a fairly significant investment for many. Headsets like the Oculus Quest or Sony's PSVR have brought the price and complexity down, but home consumers still often require more open space than they have available.

Most users will have enough room to play some games standing, but they probably won’t be able to take the next natural virtual reality step: an actual step.

Person playing PSVR seatedHome headsets are typically limited experiences

Even if a user does have an entire room they can dedicate to their VR, there are few enough of them that software developers typically do not create VR games designed for that level of freedom. The home market for these experiences just isn’t there, so there’s a fundamental limit on what’s possible with home VR both physically and in terms of software.

VR In Commercial Settings

In a commercial setting, a VR operator has much more space to play with. Moreover, a commercial VR operator can support multiple headsets rather than just the one a home consumer would typically buy.

This creates an opportunity. Not only can you host VR experiences that those without any VR at home can enjoy (which is still the vast majority), but you can also offer something that those with VR at home are missing.

Now, rather than VR being the domain of solo hobbyists at home playing expensive, isolated experiences, VR is available to any group of people coming into an entertainment establishment. This greatly expands the possibilities for people with a more casual interest in VR who want to try it, but don't want to commit to the hardware themselves.

Ease of Use of VR in FECs

Still, you might worry about the cost and expertise involved with operating VR in a commercial setting, both on your side and the customer’s.

The good news here is that VR headsets are actually quite easy to run. Again, with the Oculus Quest and Quest 2, these headsets are wireless by design and don’t require a PC to work.

These setups are also very intuitive for the end user. Handheld controllers track themselves so that people moving their hands in real space see their virtual hands moving with them. If they want to move around, they simply walk. This means these games can be open and accessible whether they're a first timer or expert — not just for existing gamers already familiar with typical video game controls.

You may have heard of VR sickness, where some leave long VR sessions feeling nauseous? Well, when people are able to move around naturally and feel physical motion in sync with the visuals in the headset (as opposed to remaining stationary and moving around the virtual world via controller input), this problem is eliminated for most.

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Virtual Reality Options for Family Entertainment Centers

Now let’s talk about the VR options for commercial settings.

Commercial Licensing of Consumer Games

One option is to tap into the growing consumer software market. By obtaining commercial licenses for widely available titles, you can offer plenty of choice to your customers. However, you’ll have to keep a few things in mind:

  • Obtaining many commercial licenses from many publishers is an involved process
  • Many of these titles will not be designed to fully leverage what you can offer (freedom of movement, multiplayer for whole groups)
  • Many games will be better enjoyed by those with experience with video game controls, limiting the appeal somewhat
  • Newcomers may not know what they want, and if they have a mediocre experience, they won’t be back

vrCAVE’s VR Escape Rooms

At vrCAVE, we’ve developed a growing library of VR experiences designed not for the home market, but specifically for FEC VR use cases.

Running on both the Oculus Quest series and on high-end headsets like the Vive Pro (powered by backpack PCs), the hardware is easily available and maintainable. And the software is designed for cable-free movement, with intuitive and accessible controls that anybody can pick up.

As well, by transferring the escape room format to VR, we’re taking a proven commercial entertainment experience and giving it a new spin to help business owners be confident that the scenarios will be appealing to customers. The social problem-solving gameplay has universal appeal, gets everyone in a group involved, and the experiences are designed for a win-or-lose, tight 45-minute session that’s perfect for the reality of accommodating many groups per day.

From the customer’s perspective, they get to tackle a memorable, complete challenge with their friends that won’t feel like they just got cut off from something they were enjoying at the end of their time. That completeness, win or lose, gives them a rich experience that they’ll be talking about to their other friends, and will get them coming back to try the other scenarios.

More than 50 location-based entertainment venues worldwide run vrCAVE games. Want to be the first in your area? Check out our games here, or if you’d like to find out what a VR installation in your family entertainment center looks like, contact us now.

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