With more and more virtual reality arcades springing up throughout the country, Chris Webster caught up with Silicon Valley VR developer Jacob Pennock and asked him – just how much untapped potential lies in the new VR leisure market?
CW: Do you think we’ve now reached a point, in terms of the quality of technology and its accessibility, where pay-to-play virtual reality experiences (like VR arcades) are a viable long-term proposition?
JP: Yeah, the tech is there. The big differentiator between the low and high end technologies is not so much in display quality, but in the bundled motion tracking and input devices. On the high end, players are fully tracked with minimal latency and can walk around in a room scale space. To me at least, that difference in tracking is the difference between the experience feeling like a cool toy as a opposed to something that really makes you feel present and immersed in the VR space and wanting to come back for more. And that’s an area where I think pay-to-play VR arcades could have a nice niche over the next couple years: giving users the chance to experience the latest and greatest VR without needing to spend an arm and a leg.
CW: As it stands at the moment, do you think the cost and space requirements of sophisticated VR experiences lend themselves better to dedicated arcades as opposed to private home ownership?
I think there is room for both and they will both need to eventually provide different sorts of experiences. Right now since the highest end VR platforms are still prohibitively expensive and do have large space requirements as well as having other annoyances for home users like needing to mount sensors on their walls, these platforms of course do lend themselves better to dedicated arcade spaces.
CW: How do you think arcades could differentiate the experiences they offer with the VR people have access to at home?
One way they can do this is to really leverage the fact that they have dedicated physical play spaces.If they partner with some of the content creators and develop the layout of the physical space: furniture, props et cetera, in tandem with the creation of the virtual space there is a wide array of highly immersive experiences they could create that would be difficult or impossible to recreate in a home setting. They can also leverage the social gather aspects of an arcade settings. Especially with today’s rise in interests of e-sports. Specialised events and tournaments could be a major draw over gaming in the home. I’ve seen a lot of interest in this from some of the meetings I’ve taken with internet cafe owners in Asian markets. Here again the arcades will want to partner heavily with content creators and make sure the ability for people outside of the headsets to spectate what is going on inside VR is built directly into the games.
About the interviewee
JACOB RECENTLY LEFT A VR/AR RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT POSITION INSIDE OF FACEBOOK’S BUILDING 8 RESEARCH GROUP TO JOIN INDIE STUDIO SUNKEN PLACES AS PRINCIPAL DEVELOPER ON THEIR UPCOMING VR TITLE CLASSROOM AQUATIC (HTTP://CLASSROOMAQUATIC.COM). IN THE PAST HE WAS STUDIO HEAD AT LIVID INTERACTIVE AND SENIOR CREATIVE DEVELOPER AT HELIOS INTERACTIVE.