The Virtual Arena: Returning Attractions – LBE VR Continues its Growth – Part 1.

The commercial VR entertainment sector is charted by industry specialist Kevin Williams, in his latest Virtual Arena column – this two-part feature starts with a look at London’s newest VR Arcade location, and the growing chain of DNA VR facilities that are leaving their mark across the capital.

Coming out of the global lockdown, and the drive towards growing the location-based entertainment (LBE) landscape continues anew. In this first part of our regular coverage, we tap into the new openings and investment seen in the commercial entertainment market starting close to home and the London growth in business.

London has become an influential city location for the emergence of social entertainment and immersive experience deployment. One of the first venues that we have visited as the business re-commences, following the extensive privations of lockdown, has been the new DNA VR venue at the iconic Battersea power station space on the Southside of the Thames.

DNA VR is an excellent starting point, as this was one of the first examples of a VR arcade brand to open in London and was one of the first locations visited in our Virtual Arena column back in 2017. Jump forward four years and DNA VR has come a long way from a basement in a North London parade of shops. With the opening of this new venue, DNA VR expands their operation to three venues, (Camden and Hammersmith the other sites).   

The venue model developed by the company follows the proven formula of three areas of VR entertainment. The first being access to a wide selection of the latest “VR Arcade” titles supplied for commercial entertainment deployment, the new Battersea site comprising 11 stations where tethered HTC Vive Pro headsets and controllers allow access to the latest games. The second aspect is “Premium Free-Roaming” – the ability for up to four players to done backpack PC’s and VR headsets and weapons and freely navigate VR environments wirelessly. And the final offering is that of “VR Escape Room” – six players to enter virtual re-creations of the physical escape room experience.

The DNA VR facility has been designed to attract the widest audience interest – from the novice to the prosumer interested in virtual entertainment. Along with two extra-large stations built to accommodate wheelchair access, the venue also comprises an upstairs environment dedicated for use in free-roaming and VR escape room gaming. The company has also licensed the Ubisoft Escape Game VR range of experiences, based around their consumer titles IP offering a unique immersive experience, (this will not be the only Ubisoft VR content we will be covering in this two-part report).

One of the most important aspects of deploying a successful LBE operation is the cultivating of a regular audience and offering an experience that is compelling to draw repeat visitation. The ability to have a strong line-up of compelling game experiences achieves much of this, and DNA VR had on tap titles such as Arizona Sunshine and Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time, along with many other of the most popular VR arcade releases – pricing ranging from £19 to £40 per-player and based on multiple or single-player experiences.

DNA VR is an example of the power and scope of location-based entertainment deployment to generate business. Not everyone has access to consumer VR, and not everyone has access to the quality and variety of experiences tailored for a commercial footing. The owners behind the brand have learned a considerable amount about the deployment and operation of VR for a pay-to-play audience, and the requirements of packaging the best-priced experience.

Those that were prepared to learn the valuable lessons and shape their experience to the requirements of the entertainment markets needs have prospered. But likewise, those that tried to force their interpretation without much knowledge have floundered and fallen by the wayside, as was seen with IMAX VR. And interest is growing again in the establishment of VR arcade business. Recently OTHERWORLD, a London based VR venue that has also been covered in our VRFocus column announced a new investment to roll out five new venues based on their VR pod branded operation.

This concludes the first part of our two-part coverage; the second part looks at brand new IP and experiences opening across the countrys capital.

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