VR Takes the Stage at Expo

Bob Cooney on VR at Amusement Expo – February 2018

Cooney Makes a Case for Why VR Belongs There & Urges Examination

For the last twenty-five years, I’ve been observing the virtual reality market emerge, contract and emerge again. In 2015, I went to IAAPA to research an article for this publication in which I intended to proclaim that the third time trying to integrate VR into amusements was not going to be a charm. What I learned changed my perspective.

The nost recent IAAPA show featured more than a dozen virtual reality attractions that actually seemed like they could work. And once again at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, VR is on center stage, sharing the limelight this year with the first wave of robots. Since the singularity is now inevitable (computers are learning to write their own programming, so can SkyNet be far behind?), let’s focus on something where the future is a little less certain in most people’s eyes.

Location-based Virtual Reality is predicted by Greenlight Insights, the research firm dedicated to tracking the VR/AR (augmented reality) industry, to grow to from $600 million in 2017 to more than $8 billion in 2022. While you fumble with your slide rules figuring out the compound annual growth rate (hint: it’s higher than bowling), there are too many people in our amusement industry who are either dismissive or skeptical that VR is going to impact them.

In the last few years, virtual reality conferences have popped up all around the country. Silicon Valley VR in San Francisco, VRLA (guess where), VRNY (guess again), and the VR Arcade conference in San Jose are some of the biggest. And other than their focus on VR, do you know what all these conferences have in common? Nobody from the amusement industry is going! I’ve seen literally a handful of people from this business keeping tabs on what’s going on in VR.

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The new ARKit in the Apple iPhone is opening up the possibility for inexpensive augmented reality experiences.

In 1999, I gave a presentation at Fun Expo where I encouraged the amusement industry to get on board with consumer games. At Global VR, we were the first company to take a AAA home game and “port” it to a successful arcade game with EA Sports PGA Tour Golf. Now it seems our arcades are full of games that came from the home market. Even mobile games have become huge earners when put in a flashy cabinet. Yet after that speech, Marcus Webb wrote an article for Vending Times entitled “Bob Cooney is a Heretic.” I invite you to read it (goo.gl/CSHDMk) as it’s a good primer for what I am going to write next.

I’m a futurist. I don’t have that title on my card, but you can look at my resumé and see where I’ve been: first successful laser tag company in 1990; first successful VR game in 1998; first broadband jukebox company in 2002; and first successful handheld restaurant tablet in 2014. I can spot large tech trends and generally predict how they will likely impact our industry.

So why am I here writing and speaking about VR in 2018 and working with some of the leading companies in the space, when just two years ago I had one foot in my VW Bus and another on a banana peel heading to surf the tropical waters of Central America? Because I know that VR is going to disrupt location-based entertainment in ways we can’t see yet.

And the silence from our industry is deafening.

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Yeah, there was some VR at IAAPA, but you had to hunt down the good stuff, and the lone educational session was 15 minutes shared with escape rooms and bowling. There’s no industry representation at the VR shows, and little acknowledgment from the established amusement industry.

This is why I worked for the last year with the AAMA, AMOA and WT Glasgow to bring the virtual reality market to us. The emerging VR arcade market was developing in its own garden with no cross-pollination into the traditional arcade market. While change can be frightening, diversity of thought has been proven to produce the best results when it comes to innovation. And our industry needs to keep innovating if we don’t want to replay the tech-driven industry implosion of the last arcade cycle!

A few people have jumped on the early adoption train. Some are paying the price of being too early, when the understanding around demographic appeal, pricing, and game length was still emerging. Others are enjoying the benefits of being early adopters, racking up massive media coverage and converting that free advertising into online ticket sales. Whether the early guys will be winners or losers – a result that will be determined by their ability to react to an early and evolving market –– the fact is they are learning. If you haven’t started investing some of your time and money into VR, they’re ahead of you.

Graphics card maker NVIDIA has been promoting their Holodeck, which is basically just a large HTV Vive room scale space for collaborating. The VW Bus was just there for show.

VR is not for everybody, or every location. In many instances, products are not ready for prime time. Some poorly designed VR games make players sick. Some don’t consider the labor cost required to run a profitable attraction. And for many products, the ROI equation is questionable. But, there are already some great VR products in the marketplace that are earning for locations and it only takes a couple of successful innovations before you see more companies replicating and then improving upon them. You are going to see a lot of that this year.

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These “augmented reality” “Blade” smart glasses from Vusix are really just a heads-up display for those who would rather get their Instagram notifications directly in their field of view, Cooney says.

So at Amusement Expo in Las Vegas, you will see the best of the best in VR in the Virtual Reality Pavilion. We are inviting not only solutions providers, but component and technology providers as well, in the hopes that our manufacturers will be inspired to create more immersive products. We are dedicating an entire day to VR education, because you can’t evaluate what you don’t understand. We will be exposing rumor and innuendo and replacing it with facts and data from experienced operators who have run VR attractions. And we are inviting VR arcade owners and operators, who will be blown away by the opportunities to add traditional amusement equipment to their arcades, helping our industry grow.

Many of you are reading this, confident that redemption arcades will continue to thrive. In RePlay Magazine next month, I am going to give you some insights about Millennials that might lead you to rethink that position. In the meantime, wax up your surfboard, because the VR wave is going to be fun for those of us riding it. Join us.