In this second of a two-part feature in his latest Virtual Arena column, industry specialist Kevin Williams marks the six-year anniversary of HTC’s Vive platform in Commercial Entertainment. Concluding this look, we chart the influence of the Vive in the current LBE marketplace and the future developments for the road ahead.
The HTC Vive headset had become the de facto VR platform for those looking to enter the LBE VR scene. The original designs of the early part of this phase of development leant themselves more towards one-off creations, aping the pop-up design roots of many of the start-up developers. But the amusement and attraction trade would turn their considerable experience towards making systems that would fit the needs of the entertainment facility operators and prove robust to survive in this unique market.
Growing the Market
A very popular deployment of pay-to-play VR has been LAI Games’ Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride. The concept of riders experiencing a motion-seat VR experience was not new but was based on the marriage of a 4D virtual experience developed in 2015 by videogame publisher Ubisoft, incorporating their lovable Rabbids IP. The combination led to a successful platform, launched in 2017 that has seen over 500 units fielded internationally. The concept has seen many emulators and has proven to be one of the most prolific VR amusement systems in the market, with many more people having their first VR experience on the ride system.
Many amusement manufacturers have looked to deploy VR in a fieldable amusement suitable package, and we have seen shooting, and driving games deployed with VR hardware. On most occasions the headset of choice has been the HTC Vive, gaining a reputation as a reliable go-to platform for this kind of deployment. Companies like IGS having launched a combination of racing game, motion-driver-cockpit and VR effects experience, with the release of OVERTAKE VR. The machine marking a major point in the LBE VR scene, where amusement operators started to see VR experiences as a reliable revenue generator.
One of the leading developers in the VR attraction scene is HOLOGATE – the company is famous for its ‘HOLOGATE Arena’ that has proven to be one of the most successful fielded platforms in the sector, with over 400 units operational internationally. The company launched its first system in 2017 and utilized the HTC Vive – comprising a tethered enclosure for four players. The company has established a large library of content, supporting its platform with an infrastructure to support operators, and ensure player enjoyment. Adding VR escape gaming and competitive titles to the roster. Constantly building to grow their installed base with new releases, such as announcing Slugterra, now on its systems worldwide.
Designing near mini-attraction platforms utilizing VR have driven many operators and developers, also marrying these new systems to well-known IP broadening the appeal. This can be seen by another large installation of VR attractions, developed for the Urban Entertainment facility chain, Dave & Buster’s. Working with VRstudios, along with several manufacturers, they created a multi-player motion simulator system. First released as the Jurassic World VR Expedition, the system used a motion base, HTC Vive and controllers to play in the virtual recreation of the movie. The company would go on to install over 100 simulators across their chain of facilities with other experiences based on movie IP such as Men in Black, Terminator, and Star Trek Discovery.
The theme park sector has still been infatuated with the opportunity that immersive technology represents, though the limitations of the current VR hardware still present a difficult challenge to overcome. The deployment of more convenient head-mounted displays (HMD) has seen the development of new technology based on the Vive. Critically acclaimed The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride, developed by Framestore, an attraction launched at Lionsgate Entertainment World in 2019, comprises a unique modular design of the HTC Vive headset for usage on large throughput attractions. The simple head strap and separate display unit ease cleaning and operation. Uniquely configured headsets only for LBE application, illustrating the influence of the sector.
When discussing the influence of HTC’s VR efforts in commercial entertainment it is important not to just look at the HTC Vive. The company has also seen its Vive Focus deployed as a VR entertainment system. Companies such as Modal VR installed their PING videogame experience at venues back in 2018. And more recently developer Pillow’s Willow VR Studio and its highly active Exodus Burned has also utilized a Vive Focus headset approach. These standalone VR game platforms utilized the capabilities of the Focus and pointed towards an opportunity for free-roaming VR experiences that used lower performance VR hardware, so cutting the tether or removing the backpack PC. This development opening the door to the next generation of VR entertainment innovation.
Most recently the VR amusement platform has been refined to offer a self-service kiosk approach, with the deployment of tethered automatically retractable headsets. Leading the development of this approach has been VRsenal, who have launched their VR kiosks system, originally with Beat Saber Arcade. Underpinning the influence of strong IP, and VRsenal have worked with ILMxLAB and Nomadic to launch Lightsaber Dojo: A Star Wars VR Experience. Eagerly anticipated, offering the thrills of a fast pace game based on a popular brand.
The creation of more free-roaming VR experiences has captivated the latest investment into immersive entertainment. With the reopening of facilities and new investment has seen advanced developments building on the lessons learned. The opening of the heavily-publicised AREA15 location in Las Vegas has revealed one of their secret projects, with the launch of OZ Immersive – a multiple player platform developed by BackLight studios. The system based on the experience that the company has gathered in developing other Arena Scale attractions (such as ToyLand) and their line-up of VR escape games. The release of this first system is part of a rollout across other venues.
While not everyone in the entertainment scene has the available space to install a hyper-reality experience on-site, there is a definite draw to have one of these platforms in the entertainment mix. With that in mind, Immersive Tech has revealed its plans to roll out its ‘UNCONTAINED’ VR platform. Housed in a shipping container, this allows a facility to install a VR experience within a matter of hours. The game platform being launched at the end of the year has already generated much excitement, utilizing a mix of Escape Room entertainment and immersive reality excitement. The company developing containers that house two play space for up to three players each, using wireless HTC Vive Pros.
Building the Next-Generation
Some observers would feel HTC stumble in trying to grow in the casual VR scene with its Cosmos series, launched back in 2019. A platform that was poorly defined, and badly constructed for what the then market expected, the system would even fall flat for consideration for commercial deployment. This impetus would see HTC redouble their investment into the space and focus on the core business elements that established the HTC Vive as such a pivotal system.
In redefining its future direction, HTC would reveal this year at ViveCon a new strategy in the space. Launching the HTC Vive Pro 2 that built on many of the successful elements of the original Vive hardware but offered greatly enhanced visual performance and an ability to include the latest immersive features such as facial tracking, wireless adapters and much more. A recognizable continuation of the Vive Pro series.
At the same time the company announced the launch of Vive Business, a dedicated division focused on the support of Enterprise users, with SDK support and the creation of an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) partnership program. During ViveCon HTC held several panel sessions covering the key areas of commercial support, including a session on LBE and Arts that saw an appearance by HOLOGATE, describing how they see the LBE VR landscape going forward.
One of the ISV partners that did not get coverage in the Western response to ViveCon, was the Chinese LBE VR facility developer Immersive World. With some 14-stores in the territory, the operation offers a free-roaming style entertainment experience and has worked alongside HTC, looking at an ISV to incorporate the new headset technology, and grow their facility business. This is an example of the LBE business that HTC continues to nurture and proves a profitable revenue stream.
In conclusion, HTC has proven itself against many of its naysayers. Where many felt that only consumer VR sales would establish the market, the adoption of supporting the growth of immersive entertainment in the Out-of-Home landscape has grown a vital market share. And introduced much innovation.
We look forward to seeing how the HTC Vive Pro 2 will fit into the updating and reinvestment in the commercial entertainment landscape. But also, we hope that the new Vive Focus 3 will take its place with the other standalone VR headsets looking at this market as a profitable vertical. Out-of-Home entertainment preparing for a new renaissance as the audiences return.
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