For $20, users can hang out in an alien zoo, in the ocean or on an “Indiana Jones”-style adventure
Since the first Dreamscape Immersive storefront opened at a Los Angeles-area mall a month ago, showtimes have sold out. Dreamscape prefers to call them “departure times.”
The Westfield Century City mall location is Dreamscape’s first attempt at a theatrical-like virtual reality experience, and the company plans to expand in the first half of 2019. Its lobby — Dreamscape calls it a “boarding zone” — occupies a space with no special advertising beyond social media and word of mouth.
Dreamscape hopes the buzz will only grow as investors like Steven Spielberg and other filmmakers get more involved in creating new departures.
“We’re not a technology company. A lot of VR companies are technologists or gamers first, but we’re literally storytellers first,” Dreamscape Immersive CEO Bruce Vaughn told TheWrap.
“Steven Spielberg is actually a very big gamer and he’s obviously an amazing filmmaker. … It’s one of the reasons he loves our company. He just gets it and understands what we’re doing.”
Other investors include composer Hans Zimmer and Fox, Time Warner and MGM, along with AMC, Westfield malls and Imax. All hope fans will strap into virtual-reality stories that are like fully immersive films.
When Dreamscape employees announce it’s time for departure, six guests at a time — who have paid $20 each — sit down and put on backpacks, headsets and monitors that allow them to enter the virtual world. One adventure brings them into an “Indiana Jones”-style temple where they must steal a pearl before everything crumbles.
The two other adventures take visitors to a wildlife refuge in space, or on a deep-sea mission to reunite a family of whales. Vaughn said Dreamscape is in production on five more for 2019.
“Our content offerings this year — in 2019 — will actually be very recognizable big franchise stuff,” Vaughn said.
So far, the net promoter score — a metric used to gauge the loyalty of a company’s customer relationships or customer satisfaction — is at 91 percent.
Experiences now last anywhere from roughly eight to 10 minutes, but Vaughn says they will like be longer someday.
“With every Dreamscape experience we say what are the five moments that are going to be the ‘holy s— that was amazing’ moments? I think those are as important as the premise — the why am I here? Why do I care? Why would I care to come back?” Vaughn said. “It’s like what a magician does really when they do a few tricks that you’ve almost figured out, and then they hit you with that one that makes you go, ‘I have no freaking idea what just happened.’ It’s that suspension of disbelief and that willingness to actually want to go for the ride now because you feel like ‘I’m in good hands here.'”
He also hopes Dreamscape will bring filmmakers and others in to produce content and tell stories. There’s been interest, he said, but there’s such a learning curve that for now, Dreamscape is creating stories on its own.
“On the creator side, whether it be music or film, they get excited because this is one of the only mediums that I can think of where your audience is willingly turning over all of their senses to you,” Vaughn said. “They’re giving you their eyes and their ears and feel. They come in and say, ‘put me in an avatar, turn me into a character’ and the technology enables that to be done in the most complete way of any medium that I have experienced.”
Dreamscape hopes to expand VR at a time one of its investors, Imax, has suffered VR setbacks: Imax said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in December that it would close its remaining VR locations and write off roughly $6.9 million. Imax had spent millions to open arcade-style locations in New York, L.A., Bangkok and Toronto.
An eMarketer report said that according to VR Intelligence and SuperData Research, nearly half of VR industry professionals believe that augmented reality — along the lines of the interactive game Pokémon Go — will achieve mainstream success before VR.
EMarketer estimated that there would be 51.2 million AR users in the US by the end of 2018, compared with just 36.7 million VR users.
But Dreamscape is optimistic. It has committed to opening as many as six additional locations with AMC, though only four have been announced: Dallas-Fort Worth, Paramus, New Jersey, Columbus, Ohio and Long Island, New York.
In addition to partnering with Dreamscape to house some of its locations, AMC led the company’s second round of investments.
Vaughn and Dreamscape co-founder Walter Parks, who has produced more than 50 films including the “Men in Black” franchise and “Minority Report,” are also looking outside of the U.S. Vaughn said they’re looking to expand in Europe and the Middle East, though there are no specifics yet.
“The immediate this year is going to be at least those four destinations with AMC, plus others that were looking at, and then Middle East. We haven’t closed those deals yet per se, but we have a lot of deep interest from those parts of the world, and then in Asia,” he said.