Following the success of its debut site in Bristol, VR Star has launched a second venue in a Cardiff shopping centre, with 60 sites planned for the UK in total. With confidence running high in virtual reality’s out-of-home viability, is it time for more FECs to get on board?
VR Star, the retail brand of virtual reality manufacturer Immotion, has opened a new site in Cardiff’s Capitol Shopping Centre following the success of its flagship Bristol venue.
Launching on 5 May, the latest experience comes after a £500,000 investment in Immotion from London-listed Sure Ventures PLC,and will be followed by further openings in Swindon, Manchester and Leeds – with a total of 60VR Stars planned for the UK in total.
Speaking to The Guardian, Immotion’s executive chairman Martin Higginson explained that VR Star offers something beyond the ability of home entertainment,with each site using motion sensors, high-quality sound, wind machines,and tilting floors to fully immerse players.
“To get the full experience, VR needs what we call SiSoMo: sight,sound and motion,”said Higginson.“ If you want a truly immersive experience you need high-end components, and for that reason VR will be an out-of-home experience for some years. I’ve spent most of my life in digital media and it is the most exciting thing yet.”
With its flagship arena tucked cosily in Bristol’s Cabot Circus shopping centre,VR Star was first launched to test the waters in mid-December.By the beginning of March, it had admitted 4,000 customers, paying £30 an hour.
The units in VR Star currently run content from a Chinese developer, but Immotion intends to replace these with its own titles following last year’s acquisition of Studio Liddell, a Manchester-based animation producer.
“What you see and experience currently is like the early days of computer gaming,” says Higginson.“It’s going to improve rapidly. Those games are 2K [screen resolution] but very soon we will be running 4K with faster processing and better rendering. We will take you on Jurassic rides or helicopter you over the Serengeti and it will blow you away.”
The enthusiastic response toVR Star in Bristol,along with Immotion securing investments of £1.3m before Christmas and £500,000 from Sure Ventures PLC last month, show a building confidence inVR’s longevity as an out-of-home entertainment offer.
Following the announcement of April’s investment, Sure Ventures director Gareth Burchell explained that the “more than £4 billion invested in the VR sector over the last two years” shows the sector is a “booming global market”. He added that “Immotion offers significant growth opportunities… as customers increasingly look for new experiences and engage with the concept of being immersed in new virtual worlds”.
While VR Star may be one of the first exclusively-VR operators on the market, its sites are currently confined to shop- ping centres.Although its Bristol venue has proved successful, securing the right location is a challenge for new operators, who need the right space, footfall and infrastructure to install a VR system.
Jeremy Dalton,a VR consultant at PwC, believes this complexity in regards to setting up VR experiences offers an ideal opportunity for traditional family entertainment centres, which already have a ready-made space. “The set-up issues with VR pro- vides a perfect opportunity for third parties… and that’s gaming arcades,” he explained.“You just hand over your money and enjoy the ride.”