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Escape Room VR Operation Guide (Part 3)

(Last Updated On: October 5, 2019)

International Immersive Technology specialist, Kevin Williams of KWP, concludes his coverage of the best practises and issues that shape the operation of VR Escape Gaming – and some of the lessons that need to be learned. This final section of the three-part report covers the important aspects of Waivers and Hygiene and hope they play a vital role in business, ending with a call to action on best practices in this sector.


Escape Room VR Operation Guide – At A Glance

In concluding this report that builds on the 2014 feature that offered “A Guide to Virtual Reality Demonstration” – and many of the lessons of some six years of actual VR entertainment operation, gathered from clients we have worked with, and operations we have reviewed has thrown up some interesting knowledge.

Most of the fundamentals have been covered in the two previous parts – but there are two elements of VR out-of-home entertainment operation that have not changed by becoming much more nuanced over the years. To the point that they are essential elements that each operator needs to be aware of and address in the best manner that suits their business approach. The first of these is the deployment of waivers and insurance or operation.

Waivers

The VR entertainment sector in public space is no different to any element of the location-based entertainment scene when it comes to the need of employing a waiver. Entertainment attractions such as Go-Karts, Laser Tag and other highly physical entertainment systems employ this protection on liability and fault and ensure the correct insurance for the guest and operator in the case of injury being sustained. This is a highly technical aspect of the entertainment business and in compiling this report it was felt to approach a respected and impartial source of information to best inform the reader.

Escape Room VR Operation
Arena-Scale operator Nomadic’s electronic waiver system [Source KWP]
For this report we approach Rand Wright, Owner of SafeparkUSA – a well respected provider of insurance and risk management services to the amusement and FEC sector with an extensive background and experience in the issues of risk management and safety issues in this sector – and has become a go too regarding the creation of waivers in the deployment of VR into this sector. Regarding the need for waiver, Rand stated that while their experience and perceptions of VR is that it is a low risk attraction, they still believe it to be a good practice to use waivers. It is important to understand the purpose of a waiver to understand its role.

A waiver does not “waive” or eliminate liability to the operator. The participant has a reasonable expectation that the attraction is safe, properly maintained and properly operated. However, other risks may be present that are inherent to the nature of the attraction and it is recommended that the operator notify all participants with assumption of risk warnings and notifications. Assumption of risk warnings and notifications include signage, verbal instructions, pre-recorded instructional video loops and waivers. If a claim for injury is made and it can be isolated solely to the risks inherent to the attraction, a case can be made in defence of the operator when assumption of risk warnings and notifications are present. The more warnings and notifications that there are, the stronger the case can be made in defence which can help in reducing or eliminating claim payments. We would add to Rand’s statement that appropriate signage and information plays a major factor in informing the guests of their risk.

Concerning the age group that these should be aimed at (and understand SafeparksUSA focus), Rand stated that the ages of 18 or over should be considered in all states. Some states will permit younger ages when signed by a responsible adult with certain conditions. Consult an attorney versed in law in your state. With the understanding that the parents or guardians will be signing for their wards. Regarding the what that this information is completed by the guests and how the operator stores, we asked Rand’s feelings about electronic against paper waivers and he stated that he prefers electronic over paper because it is much easier to store and retain electronic records. Electronic systems also allow for a more sophisticated method for the collection and retention of customer data for marketing.

These are some basic observations on a complicated subject – and as always, with regards to the elements of the business that impact insurance and liability, it is essential to get appropriate advice from those you deal with. But this offers a rule of thumb to consider when entering the field.

Hygiene

This element of VR entertainment is another highly contentious and difficult element of location-based operation of this technology. There is nothing new about the need to properly address hygiene in the deployment of hardware that so closely touches the guest and is used by several them each day. As important as correct maintenance the assurance to the guest that the operator is taking the appropriate measures to secure their health and safety is an essential of the entertainment landscape.

While many see hygiene as being not as big an issue as some would make out, it is important to be seen to be doing the correct response to guests concerns. What some have labelled “The Pantomime of Hygiene” – the guest seeing the attendants go through a “performance” to show that the system they are about to use is as clean as possible – with a wipe down, and even the use of “Ninja Masks” (hygiene covers) that the player wears offering a barrier between him and the headset. These are all aspects particular to the operator. But there are some overall considerations on hygiene protection that need to also be considered beyond the overt demonstration.

Escape Room VR Operation
Example of the Ninja Mast in operation modelled by our author [Source KWP]
This is not the first entertainment industry that has had to consider the real issues of hygiene – after the bowling industry addressed their shoe cleaning issues, as well as seen in the 1980’s with the Laser Tag industry addressing their vest cleanliness issues. We have seen the 3D cinema sector look at the issues of cleaning their 3D glasses after hundreds of usages during operation. So would come the time of the VR entertainment sector to look at the needs of hygiene and cleaning methodology for what is a completed piece of hardware that is in direct contact with the guests face. The issues to consider are split into these issues:

Transference

The common guest will bring with them to your facility dirty hands, sweat, makeup and even head lice (gross) as possible contaminants to the headset they are about to wear. There are other bacterial issues, but the fundamentals in them between three- and 20-minute usage of your hardware. One of the biggest issues is sweat, all VR experiences exert the player and sweating is natural, a wipe down process should address this, along with cooling. Like wide the use of proper wipe-down material should also address the other issues.

Regarding our consultancy we advocate the process of “Wet on – Dry off” approach to preparing the headset. This refers to the process of using a liquid based cleaning material for the first process after the system has been handed back to the attendant at the end of each game. Then after enough time, a dry cloth is used to wipe down the headset before handing it to the next player. This approach has been used on large audience-based VR attractions such as VR roller coasters, and in VR arcades. It is important to state that if using “Wet wipes” for the first part of the process that the operator avoid using alcohol based products, and particularly avoids using “Baby wipes” – Baby wipes are made for babies backsides and not for faces, (more information on appropriate materials can be found from developers).

Most VR headsets derive their development for the needs of the consumer VR application they were intended and so many need some modification to be deployed into high traffic scenarios. One such customisation that many operators make to their headsets is the inclusion of a cleanable cover placed over the notorious “open-foam” padding of the face gasket portion of the headset. One of the leading providers is VRCover, who have supplied cleanable and durable covers for most VR headsets used in the Enterprise market. Along with more robust closed-foam replacement inserts and linings the company makes covers that go over the existing insert.

Escape Room VR Operation
Example of the HOLOGATE system employing VRcover [Source KWP]

Cleaning

A common mistake is the confusing of wiping down as cleaning a headset. One is the preparation of the system for the guests, while the other is ensuring that the platform is not acting as a medium for bacterial agents, odours or detritus. Many operators and manufacturers have come to their own methodology to address this. Usually at the end of the day the systems are cleaned and prepared for the next day of usage. How this is down changes from case to case, but usually involves an inspection of the system, wipe down with a stronger wet solution and storage. But some operators are moving to a new process.

Championed by the medical industry, and used to address surgical procedures, the assurance of cleaning is essential – and for many years the medical industry has employed Ultraviolet light (UV-C in particular) to act to clean and decontaminate. Many operators purchased UV-C light emitters and constructed their own cleaning housing. But more recently this process has been made available in a simple and convenient platform from CLEANBOX Technology. The company has developed a range of platforms that place the headset, and earphone in a sealed box that then goes through a one-minute cycle to decontaminate the unit with the medical grade wavelength of ultraviolet light and a high velocity air to dry the headsets; this approach also neutralizing odor.

While the final process of cleaning is left to the operator to select the best one that suits their needs, it is essential that they offer a professional approach to an issue often raised by guests – that the operator and his team have addressed hygiene and can explain this to their paying visitors is essential towards accepting their trust.

A Call To Action

And to the point of this report – the assurance of appropriate operation of what is a new technology, and in many cases a major unknown. We have touched upon the key issues, but there is much more detail to be focused on – and it is the job to the operator entering the deployment of VR Escape Gaming to be fully versed in the issues and opportunities.

What we feel is needed is a code of practise that is standardised and adopted across not just the VR Escape Gaming sector but across the whole Out-of-Home entertainment adoption of this burgeoning and developing hardware system. However, we still seem to be in a “Wild West” period of the deployment of VR technology, and less scrupulous operators would prefer to cut corners than consider “Best Practices” towards making a quick Buck.

It is also common to see some new operators dismiss the issues and pitfalls – riding roughshod over the need for appropriate training and business practise in order just to get as many players on their machine and make that valuable “Return on Investment” before the get caught. This includes many “cowboys” operating facilities without appropriate insurance of waivers, and illegally ignoring payment of software fees to developers of content, (or use hardware and software against the terms of service issues by the developer).

For this market to grow we need to offer a professional front – we need to police our industry, because when someone fails to offer appropriate service then we are all tarred by that neglect, we all are losing the chance to grow a regular guest alienated by others activities. No industry can grow and prosper in those conditions.

References & Further Reading


About The Author

kevin williamsKevin 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].

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