From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, movie theaters showed black and white silent films, without dialogue, sound, or subtitles. The technology was basic, but it still attracted people out for the experience. There’s nothing like seeing a live performance, with people packed around you and sharing the same feelings and the same journey throughout the narrative.
Today’s VR is like these early grainy black and white films. Companies are battling with displays that don’t leave users nauseous, fighting software, hardware and platform wars, and all this is troubling to early adopters of the technology.
Was VR shipped too early to public consumers? Perhaps, but location based entertainment (LBE, or out of home entertainment) is saving face for the negative feedback VR has received by users who have a tough time with it at home.
“There are things in VR that we all do because we are technically competent and we know our way around a personal computer but most people outside of watching Netflix and making spreadsheets do not,” said VR/AR Consultant Charlie Fink at a presentation on LBE at the VRAR Global Summit.
So just like how film moved into the homes, but retained a strong hold on out of home experiences, virtual reality LBE is providing the same advantages as did the cinema. While viewers can access movies for a low rate and watch them in the privacy and comfort of their homes, we still flock to cinemas to experience the most recent releases in comfortable venues with amenities, and also, to see the latest and greatest in viewing technology.
I remember when Avatar came out and there was massive hype around the years put into its phenomenal advances made in 3D film. The cinema was sold out and each member of the audience donned a pair of cheap plastic 3D glasses to watch the show.
In the same way, LBE makes VR as the next way of viewing and experiencing a digital world, accessible. We can have the best experience available and share it with others, all for the price of a ticket.
There is staff to welcome us in, walk users through the process, to help if something goes wrong, and to inform participants of the technology and experiences available, just like watching movie trailers and receiving instructions to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Putting on a headset and backpack for free-roam VR with haptic (sensory) feedback can be a little trickier than sitting back and relaxing, but LBE accounts for this, and even makes it a part of the experience.
“So if you think about Ghostbusters, the first experience a lot of people did [in VR]- if you’re going to fight ghosts you need to put gear on. If you’re going to disguise yourself as a Storm Trooper, you’re going to need to put gear on. If you’re in the Jack Ryan experience, it makes sense that you would be suiting up for duty,” said Joanna Popper, Global Head of VR for LBE at HP, in an interview on LBE with The Boolean.
Just like the movies though, we still need new content, new characters, new stars and new stories to fall in love with. We can only go see the Ghostbusters, Storm Troopers and Jurassic Park so many times before it gets old. To be the next cinema, LBE needs to truly enhance the digital experience and offer something more and different than what the cinema currently offers. VR LBE must be interactive, immersive, multi-sensory, experiential, and so real that it is surreal. This is what makes an experience memorable and lasting.
Two Bit Circus, an arcade for VR games has mitigated VR LBE by having a multitude of multi-player, single player and collaborative experiences. It’s getting these groups of people in and getting them to come back with others that will change the landscape of VR. Then, like VHS players, DVD players, BlueRay and subscription services, the same enhancements need to be replicated at home.
The new standalone Oculus Quest shipping 2019 is the beginning of this journey, but at $399, it still comes with a hefty price tag. It’s the TV monitor and DVD player all in one, but it still lacks the collective experience of the cinema, music festivals or events that is irreplaceable.
In a Voices of VR Podcast Christopher Pitcher, CEO of Empact Labs, said that we need to allow people to do what they want, and that is to create, build and connect. “Live events are what allow us to connect, and this is the core of our interests,” he said. Events combined with content strategies are fun and engaging. Experiential marketing is the most effective, and VR offers an experiential platform like no other. It’s certainly better than watching commercials in a movie theater.
So if drawing audiences to VR LBE is the solution to growing an audience in VR, how do we retain these audiences? LBE solves so many of the problems of VR. It makes it accessible, offers the best content in collaborative and collective environments, and just like the movies, it brings people back by engaging them in the experience, characters and narratives we relate to, think about, and dream of. From there, it’s all about content, content and more content. I know I look forward to watching trailers for the next movies, but I can’t wait until VR is at the point where it has replaced the cinema and I can fully immerse in these next digital worlds.