International Immersive Technology specialist, Kevin Williams of KWP, covers the best practises and issues that shape the operation of VR Escape Gaming – and some of the lessons that need to be learned. In this second part of a three-part report, and the game content and operation of the VR platform is addressed, along with the best presentation to maximise opportunities.
Table of Contents
Continuing with the essential of deployment of VR into the existing operation, and fundamentally we must avoid becoming fixated on the hardware and come to understand that this is all about the “Experience”, and more importantly the game content that is available to the players. As covered in the previous part of this report, we pointed to the options of either franchising the whole system, using a distribution provider, or directly sourcing the content.
In the previous Whitepaper on the explosion of VR escape gaming we touched on the wide plethora of content offering a strong escape game narrative – many titles that offer a draw for single or multiple players to solve puzzles and adventure through amazing environment virtually. The importance of game content is also to understand the duration of popularity, and how best to manage new content and audience needs. Unlike a physical escape room, the VR escape game has a dedicated shelf-life that needs to be tracked and replaced with another appropriate adventure. This can be judged through feedback from regular guests and the impact on revenue generated to play.
Many operators of VR experiences for the first time find it daunting to manage the systems, as well as appropriately promote them to their audience base. Just place a large sign in the facility that you also have VR is not enough, and a dedicated marketing and promotional campaign to your target audience is needed, as well as deploying the best skills in social media. In the Family Entertainment Center (FEC) business a number of operations have started to help promote and market operations to their target audience – companies such as FetchRev, who have created a dedicated platform for online marketing and promotion – and also includes dedicated approaches for private hire promotion (for much of the FEC sector private hire represents over 40% of their business, as many operators of Escape Rooms will be familiar with).
Gaining an insight into the likes and dislikes of your audience can also shape the VR escape gaming content selected for operation – understand the demographics of age, sex and tastes all go to selecting the right content for the right audience. Another factor in helping to promote this is the consideration of deploying branded game content linked to popular IP. As covered previously we have seen the use of movie and video game properties, licensed into VR escape game packages. For example, Ubisoft Escape Games – a division of the major consumer game publisher has VR escape-games based in the Assassin’s Creed universes IP, with ‘Escape the Lost Pyramid’ and new release ‘Beyond Medusa’s Gate’). We have also touched on movie properties that are being given VR escape gaming treatment, all worthy of adding additional promotion to a venue.
Placing a VR platform within an existing venue brings some additional hurdles to the already complicated application of physical Escape Room business. These elements are usually broken down in the areas of
- Staff Support
- Audience Management
- Problem Solving
I’ll cover each in the coming paragraphs.
Regarding Staff Support – the ability to load and unload the guest into the virtual environment, to adequately steer the players through their experience and also the need to be aware of issues happening within the space can seem difficult. This normally sees two staff needed in the process, with the loaders (Attendants) and the overseer (Game Master). A lot of the health and safety elements of the process fall into their hands, and the need for detailed training to spot issues before they become a problem is essential, (we deal in the next part of this report on the issues of Hygiene and Safety).
An element of training is to be able to impart the skills to the team Dealing with Disorientation – the issue of “Sim-Sickness” has become less of a problem the more that the audience has become familiar with virtual reality, but there is still a need for the operation to be aware of the best practices when confronted with guests that feel uncomfortable. We see the issue either being direct discomfort while in the virtual world, or discomfort felt at the end of an experience – linked in growing levels too headaches, disorientation and even in extreme cases to nausea. The tricks of the trade include having on hand ginger drinks or sweets (known to alleviate the symptoms in some cases). Also, the need to watch for the tell-tale signs of uncomfortableness.
Concerning Audience Management – beyond the need to watch for discomfort in the virtual experience as stated above – there is a need to place the guests at their ease and to make their virtual experience a great one they want to repeat. Along with the loading and loading the Games Masters duties are doubled compared to the conventional escape room. The movement of the players and the imparting of clues to help the process are exaggerated as the individual is in a virtual realm, so the games master must be incredibly familiar with the elements of the experience, as well as the ways to break or hinder progression.One aspect of the VR experience is the pre and post boarding process. Many operators of VR entertainment miss the opportunity of the group photo – preferably standing next to a very big sign promoting the facility and showing the Hashtag or URL. The ability to see the previous teams in action can also allay some concerns of what the VR experience is like for new players – and finally there is a need for the operator to ensure an appropriate wind down period for players. After exploring and virtual world, they should be given enough time to assimilate what they have just done, share stories with their team members and return comfortably to the real world.
Finally there is Problem Solving – along with navigating the guests team through the VR escape game, there is the loading and unloading of the hardware, the collecting of information and personal belongings, and the issues of appropriate games to suit the age of the team and their skill level. It will take numerous dry-runs and testing to come up with the best experience to suit the particular mix of the location, and it is also necessary for the operator to understand the best age group, and skill level of player they should be aiming at with the best available game content.
Problem solving goes far beyond the accommodating of the guests, but also addresses the operation of the VR hardware. This is still highly temperamental no matter the plug-n-play nature of the systems available. And it is important that installation of software patches and updates – machine configuration, and calibration of the hardware is carried out and fully understand to ensure the maximum usage of the hardware. Also, the need to create a regime for the maintenance, operation and cleaning / setup of the hardware – agreed amongst the team and taught to them – essential for effective operation.
The way that the VR Escape Gaming element is incorporated into the facility is essential – just hoping that a machine or enclosure can be placed in space and will draw attention is short sighted, and for the expense and attention to operation needed, it is essential that the VR experience is well accommodated. Issues that shape the operation and placement of the hardware can be broken down into the following issues:
Is the experience going to be operated as a secondary payment element of the facility or part of the overall guest’s attendance price. If a separate element then the need for a POS system is needed, either with a separate cash payment, but, the need for a card-swipe and payment systems should be considered. The ability for both the card to be used as a payment tracking device, as well as a promotional devise and an encouragement to visit again. Smart operators always offer some free credits as an incentive to come and play again.
Booking Management Systems
As stated previously the need for private hire of the system is a fundamental for all operators of Escape Rooms – the importance of private parties and corporate events married to large group hire. All the distributed VR game systems come with some level of play management, though it is the more sophisticated platforms that include the party and single player managing system, that also needs to include booking elements. It is essential that a smooth process of booking play slots and ensuring that over runes and technical issues do not knock the schedule totally off, and so result in unsatisfactory visits.
Loading & Unloading Area
We have also stated on the need for well trained staff for the loading and unloading into the virtual experience. But there are a multitude of issues to consider, along with creating a space for the players to wait for their allotted experience, with signage and information on what they should know before embarking on their adventure, there is the issue of personal belongings (unlike most VR arcades, Escape Room facilities in most cases have some accommodation for lockers or personal belongings storage).
Another element forgotten by many operators new to VR, is the “Eye Candy” element of the technology. Meaning the way that many players and guests will want to watch others immersed in the VR experience. This element acting as an attraction, and able to encourage guests wanting to try for themselves or have a repeat experience. The creation of an appropriate audience viewing opportunity with repeat screens of the action can also be linked to the performance capture and recording feature touched on in the previous part.And so, we move to the final part of this report, and the element of this informative document that will hold the most important wisdom. We end this part of the feature moving on to the vial element of Waivers and Hygiene, and other elements that define success and failure in operating VR Escape Gaming.
References & Further Reading
- VR Whitepaper
- EscapeFront’s VR Directory Listings
- The Out-of-home Immersive Frontier
- Attractions Pro
- The Stinger Report
Kevin Williams – a leading specialist in the digital Out-of-Home entertainment industry, through his consultancy KWP Limited, specializing in interactive entertainment. Coming from a long career in the theme park, amusement and entertainment software industries, being an ex-Walt Disney Imagineer. Well known for his news service, The Stinger Report that has become a-must-read for those working or investing in the international market. Along with this, he is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market, “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier” – currently working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at [email protected].