Where’d VR Go, Again?

According to what you’re inclined to include, Virtual Reality (VR) has been the next “Big Thing” every decade or so for the last century or two (History of VR, VR Society).

No matter what you include, VR has certainly been making periodic appearances on the techie’s “It” charts for the last half-century or so. When this iteration of Cosma debuted in 2016, VR was a media darling. As noted in a recent post about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), its visibility has diminished, yet again. If VR gets mentioned in mainstream media at all, wide-spread geek humor references aside, it is often just contextualized relative to its kissin’ cousin Augmented Reality (AR). For the record, they aren’t the same thing. Yes, they are on the same continuum, but the are NOT the same thing.

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. — Mark Twain

That doesn’t mean that VR is dead. It is no longer at the “peak of expectations” in its most recent run at the Hype-Cycle, but it isn’t dead and gone either. A debate as to whether it is in a “trough,” on its way out of one, or “some place else” along the curve is not one that will be taken up here. What is clear is that it is somewhere “past the peak” so to speak.

In fact, you may have seen evidence of its continued existence with your own eyes while walking through a mall where Microsoft sets up demos right inside their stores. There are also still web sites where you can find a place to try HTC’s Vive, Facebook’s Oculus and Sony’s Playstation’s VR headsets. Here’s an article about how to find VR demos.
Where to Try Windows VR Headsets, Vive, PSVR, Rift, Gear VR, and Daydream for Free (Ben Lang, Road to VR)

It’s fun to know that you can go and try out VR demos for free at a local mall without investing any of your own time and money. However, that isn’t exactly what the business world would chalk up to a “raging success” for the VR industry, is it? It brings an unfortunate reality about today’s VR technology into stark relief. The current batch of stuff is exceedingly complicated, flaky, clunky, ugly and space consuming. That’s why many people in the VR industry have moved on to promoting a different model known as Location-Based VR (VRARA).

Some of the most well publicized examples of this are created by an outfit based in Utah called The VOID. They setup VR experiences in tourist prone locations like New York and Orlando. Here’ an early video from Wired about the “magic” of The VOID’s experiences.

Since the video was made, The VOID has successfully launched and promoted a Ghostbusters experience in New York (Been There, Done That). They also worked with Industrial Light and Magic’s Lab (ILMxLAB) to create and launch Star Wars Secrets of the Empire at Downtown Disney at Disneyland Resort and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort in December. Here’s a video about the experience and an article that provides a less than stellar, but fairly realistic review of The VOID’s latest production.

Star Wars: Secrets Of The Empire Is An Incredible, Clunky VR Adventure From The Void (Jamie Feltham, Upload VR)

It would be easy to stop there and write-off the current generation of VR as just some trite demos you will see going on in malls, gaming peripherals for kids or the kind of chintzy “4D” experiences you are likely to encounter in tourist traps. However, that’s not the whole story. This isn’t really the full spectrum covered by the term Location-Based VR (VRARA), and VR is already far more ubiquitous than you might expect in “certain” markets.

For example, there’s a whole genre of venues known as “VR Arcades” emerging in store fronts and malls. Instead of thinking “Disney,” think “Dave & Busters.” Here is a video from Mashable that gives a short overview of the concept — the video is about a location in New York, but there are many other similar places in New York and elsewhere.

There are a slew of articles in the media about VR Arcades, and here is just a sample.
The Future Of Virtual Reality Isn’t Your Living Room – It’s The Mall (Charlie Fink, Forbes)
Can Virtual Reality Bring Back the Arcade? (Tonya Riley, Slate)
Can Virtual Reality Bring Back the Arcade? (Kris Kolo, VR AR Association)
VR Developers Are Increasingly Prioritizing VR Arcades for Content Distribution (Road to VR)

Yes, of course, Dave & Buster’s has already invested in the VR Arcade concept.
Dave & Buster’s Hosts Wireless VR System from VRcade (Scott Hayden, Road to VR)

Don’t get too comfy with the idea of (let’s be honest, “mostly”) kids going to the local mall and getting lost in the latest VR Arcade experiences, because there’s another player in the VR arena, and it’s a biggie!

Just like store fronts and malls, cinemplex theaters have also been overly short on paying customers lately. They are looking for ways to fill their seats and coffers, so companies like IMAX and AMC are getting into the VR biz in hopes of attracting new audiences and generating new revenues. They have already opened “VR Centers” in some of the biggest markets around the world. Here’s a video about IMAX VR.

This isn’t just a flash in the pan. A few months ago AMC sunk some serious dough into the idea of working with IMAX and some major Hollywood Studios in order to bring VR experiences related to the latest blockbuster to a theater near you.
Dreamscape Immersive Secures $20M AMC-Led Series B For Movie Theater VR (David Jagneaux, Upload VR)
VR Coming to your local AMC theater as AMC Invests in VR Experiences (VR Circle)
World’s Largest Cinema Chain, AMC, Leads $30M Investment to Bring VR to Movie Theaters (Ben Lang, Road to VR)
Imax brings virtual reality to movie theaters (Brianne Garrett, CNET)

So, VR’s alive and kickin’ after all. But wait! There’s another dimension to Location-Based VR, and if you live near someplace that thought it “might” be of interest to Amazon as a second HQ, then chances are good that there’s a whole ‘nother “VR thing” going on somewhere near you.

The important thing about this particular “VR thing” is that it operates on the same principles as “The VOID”, but on a much larger scale. Think “warehouse” and “laser tag.” Here’s a couple of videos and a news story about a Boston based operation called MindTrek VR operating in the Boston ‘burbs of Marlborough and Woburn.

Coming to Greater Boston: It’s Like Virtual Reality Meets Laser Tag (Dylan Martin, Bostinno)

MindTrek VR uses tech from Zero Latency, and they’re setting up sites all over the globe. Here’s are a couple of noisy, violent videos about what they do.

It is worth noting that many of the “location-based VR” experiences tend to be games, and they often include violent scenarios. There are certainly some some lovely VR experiences that are not violent games, but they are not the majority of what is being played.

So there you have it. There’s currently a world-wide movement towards “Location Based VR” or “Out of Home VR” experiences going on. Here’s a nice 3-part series of articles by Kevin Williams for VR Focus that has a global/international bent if you want to learn more about what’s going on all over the world.
The Virtual Arena: The Growing VR Out-of-Home Entertainment Dimension (Kevin Williams, VR Focus) (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Where does that leave us? The best news is that there is also another, quieter dimension to come from the most recent VR craze. There’s a number of initiatives to come up with formats and production tools so that anyone can make their own VR experiences, and then they can publish them on the Web to work with any VR headset on the market (WebVR, A-Frame). These initiatives aren’t “quite ready” for prime time yet, but they are still out there kickin’ too!

Finally, there are those good old 360° Videos to emerge from all of this. They are easy to make and post on sites like YouTube. There are already hundreds of them featured in both the Posts and Pages on Cosma, and there will be many hundreds more within the year.

There’s also a new genre of “interactive” 360 tour that have emerged in the last year or so.
Create virtual tours and add interactivity to your 360 photos with these tools (360 Rumors)

Watch for some experiments with those to appear here in the near future as well 😉

Find out more about Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR) and X Reality (XR)