Attended VR, the 4-minute mile, and the 2-hour marathon
One of the biggest challenges operators have with virtual reality is the staffing requirement. Most VR systems require at least one attendant. Attendants provide several key functions.
- They help players, most of whom are not familiar with virtual reality (yet), put on the headset and use the equipment.
- They help convert spectators to players by explaining what the experience might be like for new players.
- They manage hygiene, wiping down and cleaning headsets between players.
Most solution developers have adopted the mindset this is how VR must be. VR just requires more labor than other attractions. Since 2016 I have been writing that for an operator to make money with VR they need to have at least a 4:1 ratio of players to attendants. Zero Latency introduced an 8-player game that can be run with two employees. Hologate introduced a 4-player system that can operate with one attendant. They’ve both been very successful. 4:1 has been the golden ration of location-based VR.
Products that did not adhere to this ratio have been unsuccessful in the market. I cannot think of a single one that has scaled beyond a handful of locations.
Two years ago, LAI introduced a 2-player simulator ride called Virtual Rabbids – The Big Ride. LAI has been making arcade games for more than 50-years. The product is beautiful; it has what operators call “Curb Appeal”. This term comes from the real estate business. Realtors talk about houses that look beautiful from the street as having curb appeal.
Curb appeal in an arcade game means it attracts players because of its industrial design. Too many VR games lack curb appeal. I walk around trade shows and everything VR seems black. Go walk any FEC floor and you’ll see many colors and flashing lights. You’ll hear a cacophony of sound too. All designed to attract a player in what is a chaotic visual environment.
Virtual Rabbids has the best curb appeal of any VR game to date. You can tell it was designed by a company that knows arcade games. That’s one reason it’s been so successful. Kids flock to it.
LAI believed that VR could be unattended. And why not? They’ve been making unattended arcade games for half a century. They designed their VR experience so kids could just sit down, put on the headset and ride. Operators were skeptical initially. Most placed the piece next to a redemption center so an employee was never more than a few feet away. Now with over 500 units sold, I see Virtual Rabbids on its own everywhere, with nary an attendant in sight. And it’s earning big time.
LAI made a bet that kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They also knew that people concerned about hygiene could clean their own headset if provided sanitizing wipes. And they understood that a game with curb appeal would sell itself.
There’s another game on the market taking unattended VR to the next level. VRsenal has been working on unattended VR since 2016. They started with a 4-player arcade product at IAAPA in Orlando called Holocube. It never took off because it was too difficult to operate. VRsenal went back to the drawing board for a few years to solve the challenges they encountered with their first product. During this time the deployed unattended VR lounges at cutting edge entertainment locations like Punch Bowl Social, learning about operator and consumer needs to run a profitable VR attraction.
Last year at IAAPA VRsenal unveiled the results of their multi-year project: a single-player fully-automated prototype cabinet featuring Beat Saber. Instead of sticking with the 4:1 player to attendant ratio, they set about to create an unattended VR arcade game. They didn’t buy into the narrative that VR needed an attendant. Like LAI, they believed something more was possible.
Early adopters of the VRsenal cabinet struggled through some growing pains. Word from the street is that VRsenal has stood by their product, sending out technicians to upgrade units multiple times until they solidified the platform this summer.
Main Event has been an early supporter of VRsenal’s product. After testing, they rolled out Beat Saber at all 40+ Main Event locations across the country. According to Steve Klohn, their CIO, it’s been their top game across the chain. They even ran a national media promotion over Labor Day weekend in September, calling it Saber Day Weekend. They offered thousands in prizes and promoted it across traditional and social media channels.
VRsenal designed a beautiful cabinet, with neon lighting and a massive 75” 4K LCD screen that shows the game play from the players perspective. Because the player is silhouetted against the screen, it has the effect of a mixed reality system, making it look like the player is inside the virtual environment. This effect works especially well with Beat Saber and causes people to gather around and watch.
Beat Saber is the most popular VR game to date. It’s become a global phenomenon, even being played on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and his guest Brie Larson, who played Captain Marvel, garnering over 2 million views on YouTube alone. Beat Saber has been called a mashup of Dance Dance Revolution and Star Wars. Players use light sabers to cut blocks streaming at them to the beat of popular music. It’s the top rated VR game ever, scoring 100 from VR Focus, the Daily Star Newspaper and Game of the Year from The Verge.
Over the last year, VRsenal has sold over 100 of their unattended cabinets featuring Beat Saber in the US, Europe and the Middle East. I’ve spoken to operators of over 50 of their units, and every one of them has testified to its performance. VRsenal and LAI have proven that its possible to design a location-based VR experience that does not require an attendant. That should be a game changer for the industry.
In 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile. Until then, people thought it was impossible. They even had an ambulance standing by as they though he might die trying. Since breaking a record that stood for eternity, over 1400 athletes have now recorded a sub-4:00 mile, with the fastest being 3:43.
This year, Eliud Kipchoge broke the 2-hour marathon barrier. Like Bannister, he first did it with other runners pacing him. Soon he will do it on his own. And then others will follow. Once our mindset shifts about what is possible, things impossible become common. That’s what will happen with VR. Soon the VR attendant will be a thing of the past.
Operators email me all the time asking what VR they should buy for their entertainment center. Picking the right VR solution can be complex. I project there will be close to 100 VR solutions at IAAPA Orlando later this month. I’ve even written a free buyers guide to help you decide what type of attraction would be perfect for your location.
The first question I ask an operator now is if they have Virtual Rabbids or Beat Saber. If they say no, then I tell them to start there to get their feet wet, and then we can have a consultation.
I’ve worked out a special deal with VRsenal: any operator that buys their Beat Saber game BEFORE the IAAPA show in Orlando gets a free one-hour private consultation with me to help form the rest of their VR strategy. VRsenal has agreed to pick up the tab. Since the first thing I will tell anyone is to buy their game, it seemed like a win-win. The only other way to get this level of personal advice is via my 3-month, $5K “Get Serious About VR” operator mentoring program.
I’ll be hosting a webinar with Ben Davenport, VRsenal’s founder on Thursday November 7th. If you are considering VR for your FEC or arcade, register here. Ben will be answering questions from the audience live. If you decide the take the jump before IAAPA, just reply to this email with Beat Saber in the subject and I will hook you up.