I’ve hesitated to write this article because I don’t want to give energy to the panic already ensuing. The media hype around the Covid-19, or Novel Coronavirus, is already at epic proportions and is threatening to do far more damage than the virus itself. Not to be callous, but there are so many things that are more threatening to life and safety than this particular strain of bug. I’ve always believed in situations like this to follow the money. The scientific community is desperate for funding; might they be trying to scare up some more money for their programs? The media is always in a hunt for clickbait; is it possible they’re just trying to sell you more advertisements? Politicians are already using it for election-year positioning, and we know fear is a great driver of votes. Before you buy into the anxiety, consider who might be benefiting from it.
That being said, we are likely to see an impact to our businesses in the short term. With all the talk about “for God’s sake, whatever you do, DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!” out there, it’s inevitable that some people are going to grow increasingly paranoid about putting on a pair of VR goggles.
I want to address some things that can be done to get ahead of this if you’re in the LBVR market.
- Practice Hygiene Theater – I talk about this frequently, but this is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING if you’re running a VR attraction. Make a big deal about your cleaning regimens. If you have a free roam set up, put up a sign that says “Cleaning Station” where you keep your supplies and make sure that the cleaning happens in the public eye. If you’re running single player stations, make sure that the cleaning supplies are in clear view. Let the customers see your employees cleaning. And not just the masks, they should be cleaning controllers, bathroom doorknobs, computer monitors, and anything else that can be touched. Remember it’s theater, make a show of it.
- Be Doctor Mom – If someone comes in and they’re exhibiting any signs of illness, ask them to go home and get some rest. Offer them a freebie to come back when they feel better. This thing spreads mostly via sneezing, coughing, and spitting. Just be smart and aware.
- Offer Self Service Cleaning – make sure there are plenty of sanitization supplies in clear view and encourage your customers to take their sanitary safety into their own hands. Offer them a supply of wipes everywhere you have a VR headset.
- Stock Up Now – it might already be too late, but find a supply of sanitary supplies and stock up. There have already been runs on hand sanitizer, and my recommended cleaning solution, Sono, is already out of stock on Amazon. Don’t expect you will be able to order these later.
- Wipes – While I usually do not recommend bleach-based wipes, in this situation, get what you can. The Clorox Hydrogen Peroxide wipes are a bit gentler than the bleach wipes. The 7th Generation Wipes are the most gentle I have found. If you use something that says “keep away from eyes” on the warning label, you need a have a wipedown with something less harmful. You can also use a light solution of lavender essential oil to overcome the bleach smell. And it might act to calm people down a bit too.
- Ninja Masks – while I hate them because they tend to get in the way of my vision, now is the time to go all-in on ninja masks. Everybody wears them, no exceptions.
- Wash Your Hands – Ask your customers to wash their hands in the restroom before playing, or make sure they use hand sanitizer before grabbing controllers and headsets.
- Gloves – Get some latex gloves and offer to let your customers wear them while playing. This could go under more Hygiene Theater, and may be a bit over the top, but you want your customers to feel like you are protecting them.
- UV-C Wand – Ultraviolet light in the 100-280 nm C spectrum is germicidal. There are expensive systems on the market, like Cleanbox, that are specifically designed for VR headsets. If this isn’t an option for you, consider a handheld UV wand that you can use in addition to the other tactics on this list. The UV light puts on a great show too!
- Slow Down – Make sure your employees understand that hygiene must be a priority now. Give them permission to slow down and do a good job cleaning everything between use.
- If you’re running an unattended VR attraction like VRsenal or Virtual Rabbids, make sure that you have lots of supplies for people to use. Ninja masks, wipes, hand sanitizer, and even a UV-C wand on a cable can go a long way towards giving customers the comfort that they might need to don that headset and have a great time.
This, like all of the past scares, will pass. Most experts expect spring to slow down the spread as it does with the normal flu. I hope that your business remains as close to normal as possible. I look forward to seeing some of you in New Orleans next week for Amusement Expo, where I will gladly be shaking hands and offering hugs, despite what the experts advise.