Today’s consumers don’t just want to be entertained. They want to feel some investment and involvement in how they’re entertained.
For proof, one only needs to look at the state of traditional entertainment options such as movie theaters. In 2017, researchers worried cinemas were on the brink of extinction after attendance dipped to lows last seen in the 1990s. While theaters bounced back in 2018, early 2019 saw attendance figures decline once again.
To help entice moviegoers, theater owners are transforming their spaces into full-scale experiences. Many theaters have added dining options, cocktails, and cushy seats in hopes of engaging more visitors, a move that has the potential to succeed. It’s a smart move considering Millennials are spending more of their time and money on premium out-of-home social experiences than ever before.
In a world where good isn’t enough and great is the baseline, you need to have something extraordinary to attract consumers. This is where virtual reality entertainment fits into the future, but not just any form of virtual reality will do — location-based virtual reality is the true game-changer.
While virtual reality has been around for years with in-home technology and public-facing options such as virtual reality arcades, the emergence of location-based virtual reality entertainment is a different breed altogether. It’s an immersive and collaborative technology that encourages people to go to a specific location to participate in virtual reality. In that space, users can interact with each other and the environment around them — unlike home-based virtual reality.
Location-based virtual reality connects and builds community with its users. Similar to the holodeck from “Star Trek,” location-based virtual reality allows attendees to interact, game, and bond. As customers interact with these games either alone or with different groups, each game’s content possibilities expand; this encourages attendees to participate more than once and experience the different aspects of each game.
What’s more, location-based virtual reality outfits users with sensory and tracking technology that fully immerses players in the games. Where home-based virtual reality can drop you into a setting to a certain point, location-based VR gives players the space to move, engage, and affect games. As virtual reality in the entertainment industry continues to develop, creators will be inspired to provide new and exclusive content. Soon, there will be “holoplexes” — similar to multiplex theaters — and other revenue-generating options as companies lean into the trend.
Location-based virtual reality is nothing less than the ultimate and final medium of expression for entertainment. Every medium that came before it — from the written word to the moving picture — attempted to communicate an experience. Rather than simply communicating an adventure, virtual reality offers an experience that engrosses consumers and invites them to participate.
Let’s All Go to the Future of Virtual Reality
In October 2019, AMC revealed plans to launch a streaming service. The move is designed to boost revenue for AMC, the world’s largest theater chain, which saw its attendance drop 3.6% in the first half of the year.
But as AMC and similar theater chains try to grab a piece of the in-home market, virtual reality wants to venture beyond the couches and living rooms that once defined it. The future of virtual reality is one where both in-home and out-of-home systems will be stimulating entertainment and educational options.
One major concern for in-home virtual reality is that poorly designed technology can lead to bad player experiences or even cause motion sickness. Using a virtual reality headset is an all-encompassing undertaking, so the eyes become entirely focused on the digital experience and disconnect users from reality. Developers have the unique challenge of creating content that feels immersive without allowing participants to move naturally within the space. As a result, users traditionally are confined to moving via a traditional gamepad; meanwhile, developers must design an artificial way of moving through the space (e.g., teleportation).
Out-of-home virtual reality systems, on the other hand, insert guests into a variety of adventures. Similar to movies, attendees can purchase a ticket for a particular experience; unlike movies, these experiences are free-roaming and social for ultimate impact.
Because virtual reality isn’t bound by any laws of reality, content creators have the freedom to explore. At the South by Southwest VR Cinema Competition, for instance, filmmakers experimented with moving chairs, puzzle rooms, and sculptures. Though these experiences aren’t available to in-home users, they do confirm there’s a growing demand for experiences of all kinds among content consumers.
What’s more, consumers want to share these experiences with their networks. Even when consumers would rather be passive participants, they can still partake in the social element. As digital natives attend experiences — whether it’s a music festival, a museum or a virtual reality entertainment center — they expect to be able to document everything via photographs, videos, and other means.
Smart businesses will lean into this desire and create accessible opportunities with ready-made mementos to commemorate experiences. Virtual reality headsets might impair the ability to create social media opportunities for some, but Sandbox VR provides users with mixed-reality recordings that serve as shareable keepsakes for guests who want to commemorate their experiences and share them with the world.
Social, free-roaming virtual reality leads to a tremendous opportunity for bold entrepreneurs who want to get in on the ground floor of a growing industry. Like movie theaters in the early 1900s, the world is an open map for those looking to build virtual reality entertainment centers.
The New Mall Entertainment
As one of the world’s largest malls, the New South China Mall brings everything from shopping and food to entertainment, education, sports, and exercise all under one roof. Retail, however, is a distant priority thanks to the ubiquity of e-commerce. This Chinese retail center reflects a future of shopping malls in which attendees receive more of a theme park experience than the traditional shopping images we’ve grown to expect.
As such, location-based virtual reality centers can provide current and future customers the type of mall entertainment that appeals to their sense of agency. Consumers today grew up with video games as an engaging and collaborative form of entertainment. As a result, passive consumer content doesn’t satisfy them.
Agency and consequence are key to holding consumer attention, and both are squarely within the realm of game design. Both capabilities create believable worlds that guests can immerse themselves in and feel compelled to return to alone or alongside friends time and time again. These shared experiences resonate with customers long after an interaction — especially in virtual reality.
According to a Stanford University study, researchers found that more people decided to curb their paper use after watching a deforestation virtual reality film than did after watching a standard movie about the same topic. The Stanford example shows the ability VR has to plug into viewers’ emotions. Location-based virtual reality can provide unique, premium, social, and connected entertainment that appeals to and resonates with the masses.
In a world where word-of-mouth marketing and social media drives demand, nothing but the best will command the lion’s share of consumer attention. Malls will need unique and premium experiences that attract audiences. Digital experiences must evolve from guests watching to guests participating.
The Sandbox VR model is built with this concept in mind. We are creating a new retail entertainment platform that offers an unrivaled alternative for groups looking for entertainment beyond traditional options like movie theaters.
With virtual reality, digital experiences take place within the facility but live on via guests’ mobile devices for distribution on social media platforms. Sandbox VR establishes an online relationship with each guest, allowing us to amplify their return visits with digital rewards within the virtual world.
Additionally, the physical design of modern malls needs to support the notion that consumers will arrive in groups and look for opportunities to snap selfies and videos to share with their networks. Creative design can introduce natural “selfie centers” within each establishment. We’ve designed facilities and experiences to capture these moments of joy, exaltation, fear, and humor that stem from digital adventures because they are so essential to our experience.
We take things one step further by capturing these snippets for our customers and providing them with mixed-reality mementos they can share via mobile or their preferred social media channels. The cutting-edge experiences that virtual reality offers will transform entertainment as we know it. So how do you join in? To prepare for these new trends in entertainment, there are a few things you need to know and do.
Opening Up a Virtual Reality Center
Unlike movies and video arcades, this medium is one that can’t be replaced by a screen on your wall. When starting a virtual reality franchise, you need to consider long-term trends, affordability, demographics, and more. Here are a few franchise considerations you’ll need to keep in mind before starting a location-based virtual reality arcade:
1. Seek out knowledgeable landlords.
Look for mall locations with landlords who understand the shift from a pure shopping experience to a mixed-use mall. They should be ready to transition their real estate into a blend of public spaces by actively shifting the focus away from retail and toward entertainment, offices, and even living spaces.
2. Negotiate real estate in malls.
The U.S. has about three times as much retail space as every other country, so malls have the room to take on new opportunities like location-based virtual reality. In your negotiations, be sure to mention the importance of adding entertainment and experiences to attract new consumers.
3. Adopt multiple revenue opportunities.
Virtual reality popularity is set to rise so much that you’ll need to understand its two distinct revenue opportunities. While you should follow consumer entertainment companies that operate during peak hours for general consumers, you’ll also want to be available during off-peak hours for corporate events and parties.
4. Know your market demographics.
It is crucial to understand the market demographics (e.g., consumers, corporations, and guests) that your new franchise attracts. This is especially important in virtual reality — while the industry is consumer-focused, not many people have purchased home-based systems. The good news? This has made location-based virtual reality centers more appealing to people who haven’t experienced virtual reality on their own.
5. Create a premier customer experience.
When starting a location-based virtual reality franchise, it’s essential to provide a top-flight experience, both in the design and the customer service. The customer experience ultimately is the top driver of new and continued business, which means your employees’ attitudes and behaviors play a big role. It’s necessary to train team members on how to deliver excellent customer experience in every single transaction and touchpoint.
6. Consider longer-term trends and defensibility.
When you invest in a franchise, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. For example, what would keep this business from becoming commoditized? Why won’t this business go the way of video arcades?
The answer lies in space. Over the long run, people are living in denser and denser areas, and virtual reality is one of the few mediums that can’t just be experienced on a screen. The cost of real estate is likely not going to go down with time — and an outstanding virtual reality experience needs to give users the freedom to roam around an ample space.
Movie theaters aren’t going to disappear tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean that virtual reality can’t become another form of shareable entertainment. Beyond merely strapping on a headset, location-based virtual reality gives consumers the space to roam and interact with one another. It encourages bonding and beneficial social experiences for everyone involved.
Such location-based virtual reality centers will undoubtedly become a fixture of shopping malls around the world, transforming spaces that have struggled to adapt since the advent of e-commerce into destinations to do just about anything.
Thankfully, you don’t have to wait five or 10 years to see this vision become a reality. Become a franchise owner today, and open your virtual reality arcade in the near future.