Li Ka-shing wants shoppers to touch and feel their way through his mall in virtual reality
Hong Kong’s wealthiest businessman Li Ka-shing has installed the city’s first tactile virtual reality game in his Hung Hom shopping mall, using technology and enhanced experiences to compete with e-commerce and lure shoppers back to arcades.
Nomadic VR, a California-based developer of virtual reality games that can be touched and felt, will make the game available at Li’s Wonderful Worlds of Whampoa mall for free from June 29 to July 9. Available for single players, users can touch and feel their way through an obstacle course, in the safety of a 600-square-foot booth at the mall. Li’s private investments fund Horizons Ventures is the lead funder of Nomadic.
“Retailers are looking for a new, innovative and fun way to attract consumers back into brick-and-mortar locations,” said Nomadic’s head of growth Kalon Gutierrez. “We believe that out-of-home location-based VR experience is one of the answers.”
The game, which expects to attract 5,000 players over the course of 11 days, is a salve against the bruising attack on Hong Kong’s brick-and-mortar retail industry wrought by the onslaught of online shopping platforms such as Taobao and Tmall, both owned by the South China Morning Post’s owner Alibaba Group Holdings. The city’s 2016 sales plummeted 8 per cent to a 17-year-low of HK$436.6 billion (US$56 billion).
Nomadic specialises in designing VR games for shopping malls, arcades or cinemas as a public VR experience, out of the cramped confines of apartment living rooms. In a typical game, players go through a physical room, where every displayed object can also be touched and felt. The company completed a US$6 million round of funding last month, led by Horizons Ventures, and joined by Presence Capital, Maveron, Vulcan Capital and Verus International.
“This kind of experience will help drive an immense volume of foot traffic to retail locations due to its uniqueness,” said Horizons’ Jonathan Tam. “Unlike many existing VR games out there, where they are mostly stationary, this free-roaming style of VR with tactile feedback fully immerses the player into a whole different world.”
Out-of-home VR games may also be a better option than home-based games, especially in Hong Kong, where apartment space comes at a premium.
“If you are in your living room, you’ve got your table, your couch, your dog,” said Gutierrez. “You can only do so much. You can’t exactly walk across your table because it’s not in your (virtual) world.”
Nomadic had previously showcased its project at CinemaCon in Las Vegas but its Hong Kong debut is the first time which it is made available to the general public.
The company said while it has many products in the pipeline, it will start having official product launches early next year.
Out-of-home VR implementations are now proving to have more potential also because they could re-purpose many of the emptying retail spaces and “allow people to come together to socialise,” he said.
Jonathan Yung Tak Yan, 13, who has already taken a stab at Nomadic’s game at Whampoa, said he liked the game.
“Being able to touch and feel virtual reality definitely improves the experience,” he said, “I was a bit scared when I first stepped into that room because it’s quite lifelike.”
Currently Nomadic’s game only allows a single-player mode. Sonia Chan Sum Yin, 13, said she hopes later she can join this experience with her friends and said she would not be interested in such technology if she has to go through the story alone.