The Operator

Last week, I wrote about the four categories of operators I see in the location-based entertainment industry.  The Spectator is sitting on the beach, watching other operators ride the third wave of VR, paralyzed by fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  The Follower is surfing the most crowded beaches; buying what everyone else is buying, figuring that there’s strength in numbers, but missing out on the opportunity to differentiate their business in a time of almost unprecedented innovation in our industry.  The Trialist is running down the beach and diving into what he hopes is a great beach break, but just as likely the water is filled with urchins, stingrays, sharp coral and maybe even sharks. He’s buying what looks fresh and different, hoping to gain an advantage, but isn’t applying a strategy to his selection process. The Strategist knows the swell angle and period, wind direction, tides, and even the topography of the ocean floor. She applies all her knowledge of the industry: the tech, the location, her operation, and most importantly, the consumer, to select the perfect VR attraction for every situation.

This week, I will break down those four critical components of your business to offer some insight into how you can become a Strategist, and consistently win more customers in the increasingly competitive location-based entertainment market.

(if you are developing a VR attraction, or selling one now, understanding this will help you gain valuable insight into how your customers think and can help you position your product as the perfect solution for a particular market segment. If you want help with this, click here.


Let’s start with you, the operator. Often we get so caught up in the attraction, we lose sight of what’s driving us to consider it in the first place. If we don’t understand our own motivations, it’s unlikely we will be satisfied with the result. Here are three things to consider:

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Personal Experience – How much experience do you have with new technology.  How comfortable are you with cutting-edge products? What is your temperament for something that might not meet the operational standards you’ve come to expect from arcade games that just plug and play? Will you become frustrated with the complexity of a system that is made up of a combination of consumer-grade components, that might need replacing and upgrading more frequently than you’re used to? VR is still emerging technology, and many of the commercial systems are built upon components that were initially developed for a consumer market that hasn’t appeared yet. Your expectations might need to be adjusted.

Mindsets – Where are you on these continua:

Customer-centered vs. profit-centered? If you are more customer-centered, you might lean towards something that provides a fantastic experience, even if the business model isn’t rock solid. There are great attractions out there that will blow your customers’ minds, but you might not get the return on investment you are used to. You might consider these attractions loss-leaders or something that creates a halo effect on your brand. Conversely, there are more pedestrian attractions (though with a first time VR user, almost anything can be mind-blowing), where the path to profitability is clearer.

Competitive vs. Reactive – are you adding VR because your competition has it already, or are you looking to add VR because you want to gain the upper hand in the market? Sometimes being a first-mover can be played to advantage. For example, in the competitive birthday party market, being the only company to offer a unique VR experience could sway the decision process of a parent. I also know operators who refused to consider VR until the FEC down the street added it, and then panicked and just bought the first thing they found.

Pioneer or Pragmatist – Do you often throw caution to the wind and use trial and error to get results, or do you usually wait until something is proven effective before adopting it. If you were a surfer and I told you about a secret spot I’d heard about where you could surf epic waves all day with nobody else in the water, but you had to trek through hundreds of miles of desert to get there. Would you go with me for the chance to score of the surf session of a lifetime? Or would you wait until I got back and filled you in on my experience?  Many pioneer operators have tied their identity to being first. They like to tell their friends and peers what they’ve done,  being seen as influencers in the community.  Conversely, pragmatists often want to let others take the first risks, and when the products have been fleshed out and perfected they jump in.

Vision – Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.” Where do you see the road to VR ending for your business? What’s your idea of the future of your business? Does VR play a role, or is it a distraction? Do you believe that VR is the future of location-based entertainment? Do you envision a time when all the video games in your arcade feature VR headsets? Do you see this as the next paradigm shift, like when we converted from CRT monitors to flat-panel displays in the 1990s? Is this potentially the first step in a long journey of integrating VR into your business? Or is VR going to be like motion simulators, something to sprinkle in with your attraction mix, offering a peak experience among the more traditional arcade games?

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Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all true wisdom”.  Looking closely inward can help inform your evaluation process.  One way I like to do this is with Expectation Mapping.  An expectation map is a 360-degree thinking framework where you project yourself to the end of a project, and consider:

  • What will I want to say and do?
  • What will I want to think and feel?
  • What will I want to see?
  • What will I want to hear?

This approach can help you expose your deeper desires about the project, and give you guiding principles with which to make your decision.  I recently used an expectation map to design my office, and it gave me a crystal-clear methodology to select everything from furniture to art to technology, and how to arrange them to evoke the feelings I want.  If you would like tools and instructions to use for expectation mapping, click here and I will send you a free video tutorial I just created as a part of my new online course, Bob Cooney’s LBVR Bootcamp.

Next week we will explore the Attractions, and how to evaluate your organization’s capabilities to make sure they’re a perfect fit.