In a three-part feature, Kevin Williams continues his coverage of the development in the VR industries involvement in the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector. This first part looking at the major Chinese exhibition and new developments on display.
It has been an incredibly busy time for the immersive entertainment sector focused on Out-of-Home experiences, an industry embracing the utilization of virtual and augmented reality technology at a speed that seems to have surpassed the noticeable slow-down in the consumer adoption of the technology. This slow-down has seen some investment and developers consider a new term in their vocabulary – "pivot".
During recent meeting and conference events, the term “pivot” has been bandied around to describe moves by corporations and executives towards repurposing their business from previous aspirations in the consumer entertainment scene and re-organize to develop for the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector. This has been best illustrated by the restructuring that Virtuix undertook with their Omni-directional treadmill. The company now in partnership with amusement machine powerhouse Universal Space (UNIS), having launched their new OMNI Arena competitive virtual realtiy (VR) attraction.
Over the last few months of the beginning of 2017, our consultancy (KWP) specializing in the DOE sector has been rushed off its feet attending conventions and conferences as a speaker and observer on the latest inroads that are being made in the utilization of VR tech into the Out-of-Home scene, and I have attempted to encapsulate the key developments seen across the global business.
Asia’s Focus On Phase Four
The Chinese market has become a firebrand of new development in VR, and has also been the powerhouse for the investment and development of its application in the DOE sector – one of the major trade conventions that has embraced this new development is the Asia Amusement & Attractions Expo (AAA) taking place in Guangdong in the vast Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex (Asia’s largest exhibition hall). This year’s event included the Asia VR&AR Fair & Summit, a dedicated section of the show for the VR community embracing the commercial entertainment scene – and the organizers invited experts from home and abroad introduced the latest technologies and achievement, KWP was one of those invited to present to the assembled audience.
On the Show halls of both AAA and VR&AR, the exhibition booths were crammed with new VR offerings that moved to a new phase of investment, best described as a phase four for the market, moving beyond the original egg-shaped 9D VR film experiences, and the early VR arcade investment, and now to a brand-new approach to the business. Even the established amusement trade has been forced to consider deploying a VR solution in their venues. One of the large Asian amusement manufacturers and distributors, WAHLAP Technologies underlined their investment in this sector, by partnering with prominent VR Park developer Movie Power; the company showing a selection of the systems they field to VR Parks, including a unique HTC based VR boxing game called Kuntun Fight. Movie Power had an extensive booth of their own on the show floor, showing their latest networked driving simulator VR experience.
Another major amusement player in the territory is Universal Space (UNIS), along with a wide slew of first and third party amusement machines on display the company promoted their association with Virtuix, the developer of the VR motion platform, having partnered with Fun VR Tech, (a newly created division of Universal Space) to distribute the OMNI Arena internationally; one of the best examples of ‘pivoting’ business aspirations from consumer aspirations. The OMNI Arena is a winner of an Honourable Mention in the Virtual Reality Game BOSA awards 2017. The BOSA Winners covers categories of Video, Videmption, Redemption and recently VR / Motion simulation, and is judged by trade executives representing leading online amusement distributor BMI Worldwide Gaming and DOE news services Arcade Heroes and The Stinger Report (owned by KWP).
A consolidation has been achieved in the Chinese VR arcade scene, with investment consolidated into successful VR business, while a few scruple less operator have started to fall by the wayside. We have seen an evolution in the business approach seeing VR arcades (known as “VR Parks” in China), the business has seen major investment as the market has solidified into franchise operations, and revenue sharing opportunities.
At the Guangdong show the leading developers of these VR Park operations showed their latest packages. NINED is one of the first developers to make headway in this approach, and along with their HTC powered five-player standing VR system Platoon – or the unusual UFO inspired VR motion capsule experience; the company show the KAT Walk system, a VR walking simulator using a special harness that allows the player to navigate the virtual environment running the networked shooter V-War – the KAT platform another example of a pivoting business approach.
Another leading light in the VR Park scene is LEKE VR – the company showed at AAA their considerable range of specially presented VR amusement pieces to be placed in their own or franchise facilities, the company involved with over three thousand Chinese based ventures. Along with standing VR experience the company also showed a network VR racing game experience calledExtreme Racing VR. LEKE VR also had platforms aimed at younger players. This approach was also seen from Super Captain, the franchise operation aiming at players between 5 to 12 years of age, even having a special children’s VR viewing platform Super Family –a cartoon mascot styled kiosk with a special viewing unit held to the face.
As seen with VR roller-coasters in the West the utilization of existing attractions, with an added VR element has gained much interest, and new investment in this approach was seen on the Chinese show floor. VR attractions on display included from Hirain their 720° Rider a multi-dimensional VR motion platform comprising three-seater spinning the riders corresponding to a unique VR ride film. Veteran Chinese ride manufacturer Golden Dragon had their Hero Dream, a robotic arm two-seat VR platform. But a new approach was revealed from C&Q Amusement, the company taking their Spin Zone bumper-car platform, retrofitted with specially tracked VR head-mount game experience. The first of its kind VR bumper-car experience using a unique multiple tracking arena-scale solution. C&Q working on a flat-ride variant of the VR platform, offering a retrofit solution to established attractions.
That’s all for this week, but come back next Friday at the same time for part two, as Kevin Williams covers the American, Japanese and Dubai amusement trades’ interest in VR based Out-of-Home technology.