In the fourth and final part of this comprehensive whitepaper looking at the deployment of VR escape game business, Immersive Out-of-Home entertainment industry specialist and writer Kevin Williams, concludes looking at the explosion in dedicated entertainment facilities offering a wholly VR based game narrative. With the final developers and trends defining this new branch of the entertainment industry, with a call to action for the escape room sector in general, not to be left behind!
Table of Contents
Dedicated Entertainment Facilities
Available VR developers offering turnkey VR arcade installation franchise solutions – several companies have focused not only on the experience but also the environment where the players go to play. As already mentioned, with sites such as the VR ZONE, and many other independents adding an escape game element to their mix.
The German-based developer and operator HoloCafé – has a long pedigree in the development of VR arcades. With four locations opened in this territory, the operation (at one site) offers single player booths, while all the rest incorporate multiple player spaces as well as their own multiplayer experiences.
The company was one of the first to chart the popularity of VR Escape Games as a draw to a interested audience, and their facilities include licensed content from Ubisoft Escape Games, as well as unique content like ‘Carpe Lucem’ – a magical tale seeing four team members working to utilize colored light beams to solve puzzles in a co-operative mysterious adventure
Russian operators sfera.one – developers of what they have labelled a “Hyperreality park”; their facility promoting the fact to be one of the first VR parks to use haptic gloves – as well as their whole haptic mocap body tracking suit, offering a high-level of interactivity with the virtual world. Their game ‘Phantom Squad’ sees four players, wearing tracked backpack PC’s undertake what the company calls an “Escape room hybrid” with shooting elements along with co-operative puzzle-solving, unhindered by the limitations of physical walls.
In Canada, there is Dreamland – a dedicated VR entertainment facility with a restaurant that comprises both ‘VR Chambers’ for individual immersion using over 60 VR arcade quality games using wireless VR headsets. Also having two ‘Holodeck VR’, free roaming experiences, for up to eight players each, wearing backpack PC’s. This VR escape room experiences powered by TruVRSystems.
Belgium-based The Park, with three locations opened so far in the territory. These facilities follow a similar mode, offering two experiences – the first being their VR demonstration booths, for those trying this technology for the first time, and then there is a main multi-player experience. Based on a backpack PC, free-roaming (Arena Scale) platform, for up to eight players, this space has three different games.
Of these games, ‘De Dag’ is the one that offers a group game that along with a police and hostage style narrative incorporates puzzle solving elements, borrowing slightly from escape game approach. The title based on a popular Flemish television program. The operation looking at an international expansion to the chain this year.
Located in Manhattan, Bulletproof Productions is a developer and operator of entertainment facilities, and in support of their haunted house business opened their Bane Escape location. The company in 2019 added a VR escape game to their facility mix with ‘The Offering’ – a four-player backpack PC mysterious magical adventure – set tasks by the demon summoned to challenge the players.
VAR LIVE – a Malaysian corporation that has opened several venues sporting their unique selection of VR experiences, themed with a social bar atmosphere – locations opened in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines. The company has also developed their own game content, including a number of puzzle and adventures titles, such as ‘Horror Hospital’ and ‘Treasure Hunter’, along with their latest puzzle escape game called ‘AZUWA’ – a two-player, backpack PC experience, exploring a mysterious jungle island, depending on teamwork to survive the traps.
One of the leading advocates of the free-roaming VR experience, Australian-based Zero Latency has established a respected platform in the free-roaming VR scene – with several operators over the Globe installing their hardware. The company along with numerous zombie-blasters, has also innovated, with titles such as ‘Engineerium’.
The backpack PC experience has up to eight players walking up and down virtually twisting and curving platforms that defy gravity in a colourful ancient alien world, solving puzzles. The experience offers a wonderous adventure and is one of the best examples of innovative immersion achieved by this game. One of the many operators running the platform is Virtual Galaxies – located in Canada, offering the full complement of VR free-roam games at their venue.
An example of how a conventional Escape room venue combines VR escape games is best illustrated by Omescape London – first opened in 2012 with four areas, the venue has expanded to two sites, and incorporated VR experiences last year – adding experiences from Exit-VR and developer Avatarico.
The pricing comparison is interesting with conventional escape room games costing $33 per person, while VR escape games cost on average some $36 per person. For many operators the issue of offering a flexible VR experience adds an additional revenue stream to the mix and is finding favour beyond just Escape rooms, but also cinemas, bowling, FEC’s and the emergence of a new category of venue.
The development of standalone Arena-Scale (LBE VR) experiences has seen major Hollywood Studios and executives invest heavily into developing their own facilities – seen as a possible successor to the passive cinema experience.
A big name in LBE VR is Dreamscape Immersion, with investment from the likes of AMC Entertainment and IMAX. The company’s VR experience ‘Curse of the Lost Pearl’ sees fully tracked backpack PC wearing players split into two groups to solve traps, while exploring an ancient temple for the hidden treasure.
While Californian-based corporation, SPACES have added to their innovative four-player backpack PC experience ‘Terminator: Fight for the Future’, a co-operative puzzle-solving element, platers completing objectives while defending themselves against hordes of Terminators. Their platform found in cinema lobby’s as well as in their own dedicated location.
One of the most famous of these developments has been The VOID, and their “HyperReality” experience (having placed 11 experiences in Cites in the US and Asia), seeing investment and support from Walt Disney and Lucasfilms (through their ILMxLAB operation). While shooting-centric, game experiences such as ‘Star Wars: Secret of the Empire’ included brief co-operative puzzle solving sequences, interspersed along with blasting Stormtroopers.
Developments in their operation reach a new peak with the news that heir to the media magnate Murdoch empire had invested some $20 million into the operation – and taken a seat on the board. These VR adventure seen as more than just Escape room emulations, but a future experience entertainment industry that could compete with cinema and theme parks.
And not only Hollywood is investing heavily into LBE VR – several major multi-million Dollar deals have been signed investing in new Asian Arena-Scale VR start-ups. Newcomer Hong Kong-based Sandbox VR had already opened four LBE venues in China, when they received a $68 million Series A round of funding, (including investors such as Alibaba) to build on their own chain of free-roaming VR facilities.
The Japanese developer Tyffon, behind the “HyperReality” VR experience, also receiving support from Disney, seeing a $7.8 million Series A round of funding that has gone towards a rollout in the States of their Tyffonium facilities. While one of the most recent Asian investment stories is the Hong Kong operation Xigua Huyu Entertainment Technology, with their Player No. 1 VR arcades offering free-roaming entertainment, receiving $21 million in investment from Yunyou Holdings, to roll-out their approach.
This movement is seen as a “land-grab” for technology and franchises in the Asian Arena-Scale VR scene. The commercial entertainment market a lucrative investment opportunity, with those with the technology and established presence being sort by investors. Investors that had previously been interested in consumer VR.
Along with the facilities, we are also seeing this sector deploy new technology far beyond the use of previous consumer-based VR headsets, with game developers focusing on this business using new interfaces, sensors and haptic elements, taking the experience far beyond what had been achieved with consumer hardware.
A Call To Action
The need for the conventional (physical) escape room industry, both owners and operators to not be complacent regarding the opportunities that the new Virtual game-space has to offer. The VR escape game is born of a perceived need by established operators to be able not only to embrace popular technology, but to have an offering in their mix that appeals to a repeat audience and brings a new element to a stayed facility layout. It is the immersive nature, but also the simple re-configuration that a VR escape game offers that started this love affair.
The Escape Game business has proven incredibly staying power in the face of competition – where many expected the business to be a fad, Escape rooms cover the Globe and offer a level of entertainment far beyond the original interpretation. But the conventional multi-room offering offered a space with no flexibility.
Now with VR entertainment systems, a location can add a secondary spend to their mix, if not fully integrate the VR offering into the mix. This has also worked for the sectors competitors – entertainment facilities able to add a Escape room-offering to their family entertainment center build-out.
The big question is, can the traditional Escape room business embrace this new technology and make it their own – helping drive development of new game content, and using their vast experience to shape new narratives. Or will the escape game scene be steamrollered by the explosion in interest and investment in VR escape games?
The VR escape room platform has now become a popular concept, offering a level of repeat-visitation that the traditional Escape room finds hard to achieve. This business has also become a major component in the growth of LBE VR business. What we need to see moving forward:
- Investment in more immersive escape game content for the existing VR platforms
- A new level of innovation to make the operation of VR games as simple as operating a physical Escape room
- We need to be ready to invest new technology concepts entering the market such as the latest Augmented and Cross Realities.
This market is at a turning point in its establishment, with developers of the game content, and hardware, pivoting into commercial deployment. And the distributors of this content and the location operators that provide the experiences to an eager and hungry audience. KWP looks forward to tracking who of these corporations we have covered in this first whitepaper will make it to the next level!
References & Further Reading
- 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, schedule for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at [email protected].