When I talk to manufacturers, distributors, and operators, there’s a clear sense they’re afraid of opening up their location-based VR attractions due to risk of consumer blowback. It feels like a hangover from social media shaming that was happening early in the COVID-19 outbreak when some locations decided to stay open while others shut their doors voluntarily. So is there a risk of opening your location-based VR post-COVID?
Short answer – Definitely not, so get the new Star Wars VR Arcade Game from VRsenal.
Long answer: I’ve been gathering statistics on virtual reality usage since LBE has reopened. There’s a narrative in the operator community that fear of catching coronavirus will prevent consumers from putting a VR headset on their faces. There is zero evidence that this is the case among those returning to arcades and FECs. Furthermore, offering high-quality VR gives people a compelling reason to get off the couch and back into your location.
Location-based VR Post-COVID – The Data:
Springboard VR, the content and VR arcade management platform that powers the majority of standalone VR entertainment centers in the western world, reports that by September of 2020, 65% of their locations had reopened. Among that cohort, revenue was 96% of January 2020. September is a notoriously slow month with kids returning to school, and January one of the best with all that Christmas money burning a hole in their pockets.
VRsenal, makers of the top-earning Beat Saber VR arcade game, reports that in locations running their games for at least a year, averages across the 13 states in which they have data shows September 2020 running at 80% of the same period in 2019.
Virtuix, makers of the OmniArena, are also reporting their units operating at 85% of pre-COVID levels. Their data also shows that Karting and bowling centers are over-indexing, which if you read my How to Select the Right VR Attraction, (I will be updating this document for the post-covid world soon) you’d understand that those locations tend towards customers with a competitive mindset. Since the OmniArena is an Esports platform with Virtuix offering continuous tournaments and cash prizes, it appeals to locations with a competitive clientele.
“In a recent survey of 22 clients with Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride, the game was #1 in all but one of the locations, and #2 in the last one. The average percent of sales is a whopping 8%. This is a statement on guest VR acceptance, even during the pandemic.”
George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, who made this comment in the chat during our recent Star Wars VR event on the ShowUp platform.
Back in March when the COVID-19 outbreak became a threat to the industry, I predicted that customers’ focus on hygiene would shift from VR headsets to the entire location. Operators have been forced to expand their hygiene theater so it’s visible before the customer even shows up. From websites to social media videos, sanitation procedures have become as important as food quality and game selection.
Customers that are willing to walk in the front door are already confident that everything is being properly sanitized, or they just don’t care at all. For either type of customer, VR offers a highly differentiated entertainment experience that makes getting off the couch worth the effort.
For customers concerned about crowded entertainment centers, what worked against location-based VR before COVID now becomes its strength. Low capacity and high square footage requirements mean VR attractions are naturally socially distanced. Room-scale games even have walls separating the players. Hologate operators have been renting out the entire 4-player system by the hour for families and groups to play together, like karaoke rooms. Zero Latency always had software controls keeping players a safe distance apart. 8-players in a 2000 square foot space is beyond even the most egregious governmental restrictions.
Post-COVID Location-based VR Recommendations
With lower attendance and higher costs of operation due to cleaning requirements, operators should look for VR attractions that can operate at a high utilization rate, generate a high dollar per play, and/or high revenue per square foot.
High-end free roam systems like TrueVR, Zero Latency, Anvio, and others offer a high-end experience that operators can charge top dollar for a VIP experience in a safe space. Room-scale systems like those powered by Springboard VR, or the Atom from VR Studios, offer built-in separation that can be rented out by the hour to minimize turnover and the labor associated with cleaning.
For arcades, VRsenal has by far the highest revenue per square foot in the industry, twice that of its nearest competitor and 15X higher than most 4-player systems. Even post-COVID, it’s still being successfully run unattended, as people that care prefer to clean the headsets themselves to ensure it’s done correctly. The new Star Wars: Lightsaber Dojo (Download the Brochure) game being rolled out by Dave & Busters is an instant blockbuster. And in case you haven’t read it yet, here’s the feature I wrote for Replay Magazine.
Selecting the right location-based VR attraction post-COVID is even more complex and risky than it was last year. If you need help selecting the perfect VR product for your location or want information on any of these or other VR products, just drop me a line or reply to this email. I’ll be more than happy to help. Don’t make an expensive mistake, especially in this environment.