2019 Year in Review – Part 1
2019 saw much improvement in the location-based virtual reality landscape. Looking back, we can see some of the trends that will help up predict what’s coming in 2020 and beyond. Here are my top 20 location-based VR stories and trends for 2019 (not in any particular order):
- Quest – The biggest news in VR overall this year was the release of Oculus Quest. For the first time, VR seemed accessible to the masses. Quest is an affordable, all-in-one VR system that’s easy to set up and use: no cameras, no cables, no hassle. I set mine up in about 15 minutes and now can just put in on and be playing instantly. The simplicity and low cost of Quest attracted many solution developers to build location-based VR games, intending to take advantage of the platform. Unfortunately, Oculus has been cagey with their support of the LBVR market. As of this writing, we are still hoping for clarity around their release of features that will enable Quest to be a cheap platform for multi-player free roam VR.
- VR Bobble – 2019 saw the award of the first VR Bobble awards, my attempt to recognize innovation and quality in the LBVR market. Awards went to Hologate, Zero Latency, LAI Games for Virtual Rabbids – The Big Ride, VRsenal for Beat Saber, and Ballast for DIVR. More to come in 2020. Who do you think deserves a VR Bobble?
- Rise of OmniArena – A clear number two has risen to challenge Hologate’s leadership position in the crowded 4-player VR attraction segment. Virtuix’s OmniArena has been crushing it everywhere it’s been installed. Earnings seem about double anything else in that segment, due to the high repeat play, and high-ticket prices enabled by the 360-degree consumer experience designed into the system. Virtuix has been supporting the system with a $100K e-sports tournament that’s hands-off for the operators. Despite some people’s (mine included) concerns around motion sickness with treadmills systems, OmniArena seems to have unlocked the right combination of experience, gameplay, tournaments, design, and price point.
- The Emergence of VR Parks – What started in China is spreading around the globe. Entrepreneurs are pulling together dozens of different VR experiences and putting them under one roof in a new FEC model for the future. From VR Park in Dubai, which was a bust, to Two Bit Circus in LA and VR World NYC, on which the jury is still out, to the smaller “pocket” VR parks like ArenaSpace in Moscow and the indistinguishably named VR Parks in Minsk, Budapest, and North Miami Beach, I expect to see more of these popping up in 2020.
- Toyland – One highlight of 2019 for me was the collaboration between Illucity and Backlight VR in Paris. Illucity is another VR Park, owned by Ymagis, the EU’s largest provider of digital technologies to the theater industry. Toyland combines excellent storytelling, creative art direction, and a mix of motion seats and free-roam shooting that is the best of what’s possible in VR. If you’re looking for a marquis attraction in the new year, you can’t do better than this.
- Beat Saber – the biggest VR game to date is such a massive hit that Facebook acquired the development team last month. Combining the enormous popularity of music rhythm games with the fantasy of light-sabers, it’s the first VR game that appeals to everyone of all ages and genders. VRsenal’s version, which is unattended and automated, has become the top-earning video game at nearly every location it’s been installed.
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- VR Bumper Cars – Spree Interactive (formerly HolodeckVR) and VR Coaster collaborated on a new use of virtual reality that will become the most popular VR product in amusement parks over the next few years. Bumper cars are a staple product, but are getting tired, and lack the immersion that new generations expect in their entertainment experiences. VR Bumper Cars turn a mundane 3-minute ride into a gamified, deeply immersive adventure.
- The VOID Content Getting Better – Multisensory VR pioneer The VOID continued its strategy of building experiences based upon blockbuster movie franchises. Building on their successful Star Wars and Ralph Breaks the Internet releases in 2019, Avengers: Damage Control and Jumanji: Reverse the Curse continued to see The VOID increase the quality, immersion, and gameplay of their content. There are still massive questions about the viability of their business model, but they continue to demonstrate the upside possibility of great content.
- Operators Tipping Point – This year saw more traditional amusement operators shift from “should I have a VR attraction?” to “which VR attractions should I buy?” Most operators with Hologate or VR Rabbids from LAI, doubled down buy purchasing the other, and now many are adding VRsenal’s Beat Saber as their third VR attraction. Expect this trend to continue as VR games out-earn traditional amusement attractions, with one leading national chain admitting that 10% of their arcade revenue comes from this trinity of Hologate, Rabbids, and Beat Saber.
- Endemic Manufacturers Jumping In – 2019 saw long-time coin-op amusement factories release or announce their intent to release VR products. Following NAMCO’s successful foray into VR with Mario Kart (though still in minimal release), Unis released their Ultra Moto VR at IAAPA, and Raw Thrills announced a King Kong themed product to be released in early 2020. Expect 2020 to be the year with the mainstream arcade manufacturers all jump into the VR fray, which will help give confidence to the mainstream operator market that VR is here to stay.
If you want more info on any of these products, trends or predictions, just email me with your question or interest and I’ll get back to you after Jan 6.
Next week we will round out this list with 10 more, including:
- Sandbox VR
- Gold and Mace
- Another World Trailer
- Kids VR
- Inside Out
- Mobile Headsets
- Bigger IS Better
- IAAPA Embracing VR
- Unattended VR
OK, that’s 11. Whatever.
Have a wonderful New Year holiday. It’s a great time for reflection on the past. One of my favorite authors, Don Miguel Ruiz, posted a guest article on his blog this week about closing out the past to make room for the future.
It’s important to recognize that things come to a close. For something to begin, something else must end. Living now, today, means we say a proper goodbye to yesterday, and that means more than making a wish or a resolution. It means taking conscious action. We have to be willing to leave things behind– ideas, associations, outdate beliefs. All kinds of things have to go, and ‘cleaning house’ takes practice.
It’s a great read to get you ready to set up 2020 to be your best year ever.
Awesome read, Bob. Looking forward to Part 2. Full disclosure, I’m biased: #3 The Rise of Omni Arena–could not agree more. OA provides a lot of tools for FEC operators (integrated/branded social media capturing the customer’s experience, self-provisioning check-ins, etc). Of course, the experience and having the ability to RUN in VR toward the danger–engaging the game–is a huge differentiator in VR. But the big reason why FECs should be looking at this entertainment platform: proven revenue. Money, money, money. That’s why businesses exist and Virtuix is delivering on this.
p.s. (where are my manors?!): HAPPY NEW YEAR, BOB! Wishing you a tremendous 2020.