Arcades Introduce Virtual Reality Entertainment to Consumers

A visitor to New York City’s Westfield World Trade Center Mall will have the opportunity to view a variety of virtual reality films for free. The Mall, in partnership with Tribeca Enterprises, launched a free pop-up virtual reality arcade, offering eight viewing stations with several short immersive films. Virtual reality has failed to catch on in numerous iterations over the last 60 years, and some experts now say that the virtual reality arcade, gaining in popularity in different parts of the world, may save today’s VR from that same fate.

According to DNA Info, the Mall’s VR arcade will run for two weekends until November 20. Tribeca Enterprises, the company behind the Tribeca Film Festival, gathered movies that range from four to 13 minutes. Included are an animation “Invasion!” about space aliens; a supernatural drama “Invisible” set in New York; and a Cirque du Soleil production, “its first linear narrative, titled “KÀ The Battle Within.”

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“This virtual reality arcade has the power to rewrite the rules of cinematic storytelling,” said Westfield chief operating officer William Hecht. “We can’t wait to see the reactions on our guests’ faces … when watching this truly mind-blowing VR content.”

Polygon reports that although, “VR arcades have been around since the late ‘90s, it hasn’t been until recently that new virtual reality gaming centers have been gaining massive popularity around the world, first in China, then in other parts of Asia and soon widespread in Europe and North America.”

Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment Network Association founder Kevin Williams, points to Disney’s “VR platform incorporated into their DisneyQuest indoor theme park project,” which opened in 1997 and operated continuously for nearly 20 years. The initial enthusiasm for VR arcades is taking place in China where, says Williams, “other forms of immersive entertainment like 4D theaters and motion simulators are more established.”

Williams notes that, “while the commercial success of virtual reality in the home has ebbed and flowed over the decades, the technology has had a much more stable existence at entertainment complexes.” He sees three distinct forms of VR arcade entertainment: facilities that “offer places for players to use the latest consumer VR systems in dedicated facilities … specialist franchise sites, in China sometimes called VR Parks, running the latest VR game systems based on dedicated hardware,” and “VR Arena-Scale facilities, which offer VR laser-tag style experiences.”

HTC’s executive in charge of VR Rikard Steiber said the company is making it easier for people to open arcades as small businesses and “considering opening two more arcade test facilities of its own.” HTC has already opened the VR arcade Viveland in Taipei and plans to open others in Europe and the U.S.

“This is very big,” he said. “I think one day we will see these everywhere.” Steiber says the challenge in opening an arcade is a lack of great content. “We opened the VR arcade as a showcase to show people what a VR arcade could be,” he said. “Our hope is to inspire others.”