Arcades used to reign supreme as king of entertainment in the ’70s and ’80s — until home consoles like the PlayStation in the mid ‘90s hit the consumer market. Suddenly, these portable gadgets replaced the arcade gaming experience.
And with each new iteration, the devices were able to outpace their predecessors. Soon enough, arcades were a thing of the past.
While retro gaming arcades still exist in places like Japan, their popularity is nowhere near their glory days. With more powerful modern gaming consoles coming out each year, are arcades really a thing of the past? Not quite.
What is Virtual Reality?
Enter virtual reality (VR), which has breathed new life into the arcade scene.
Virtual reality is the use of technology to create visual simulations, giving you the impression that you’re in a different world. One major component to facilitate this is the VR headset, which completely blocks out your surroundings.
Once you turn the headsets on, lenses refract LCD or OLED panels to fill your field of vision, completely immersing you in whatever is being displayed. VR headsets are usually paired with external sensors, which use six degrees of freedom motion tracking to precisely detect your movements along different axes.
This further pushes the immersion offered by the VR platform. And given its novelty, VR and its applications are now being explored in fields like healthcare, education, journalism, and entertainment.
The Rise of “VRcades”
Despite being relatively young, the VR gaming market is forecasted to reach $45.09 billion in revenue by 2025. As such, the sector has sparked entrepreneurial interest among many investors.
The hook is simple: to offer full immersion in video games that can’t be had with home consoles. Video games are brought to life thanks to VR, enabling players to fulfill their fantasies of being a hard-boiled zombie killer or high-octane racing car driver.
With its huge potential to rake in profits, VR is being brought to the masses via hundreds of locations or “VRcades” across the world — from the UK and Singapore, to Japan and the US.
For instance, V-room in Singapore is an affordable casual gaming hub where friends can gather to shoot zombies, solve puzzles, and even play virtual bartender. At $12 to $15 per person per hour, it’s a reasonable price for individuals who want to experience VR gaming without emptying their wallets.
Similar games are available on the other side of the globe as well. For example, ImmotionVR in Bristol, in the UK has family-friendly, educational options like Swimming with Humpbacks and The Legend of Lusca.
Much like retro arcades, it’s not difficult to see why location-based VR gaming is an attractive option for most consumers. For one, a decent VR setup can easily cost hundreds of dollars for a headset alone. The costs are so prohibitive that, of the 214 million gamers in the US, only 29% can afford a VR system at home.
Additionally, VR consoles require plenty of space to move around in — which not all gamers have at home. Storage might be a problem as well, as the headsets can be bulky and unwieldy. In fact, some gamers even complain of motion sickness and nausea after using them.
Thankfully, VR has been making strides towards more lightweight equipment in recent years thanks to metal core PCBs. These innovations allow processing hardware to deliver high-quality graphics and performance without taking up too much room — as is the trend with most devices today.
Challenges in the VR Gaming Industry
Still, it’s not all fun and games in the VRcade industry, which has its own share of problems to deal with. For one, the aforementioned “VR sickness” is a common complaint that pops up in player feedback. As a safety concern, this is something that game developers and hardware manufacturers are working hard to address.
Sanitation also poses a challenge. Unlike traditional arcades where joysticks can easily be wiped down, VRcades use more sensitive equipment, which need to be handled with care.
Furthermore, VRcades have taken a huge hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has neutered patronage and forced some VR startups to file for bankruptcy. Among the casualties are Spaces (which was recently acquired by Apple), and the US subsidiary of Sandbox VR.
Reports also suggest that media conglomerate Disney had to terminate the lease of The VOID’s Downtown Disney in California due to COVID-19 closures. These are all major losses for an industry that is still struggling to find its footing with a tepid consumer base.
As promising as VR is, it’s clear that there are still plenty of kinks to work out. And with the health crisis still plaguing the world, it remains to be seen if VR will indeed be the future of arcade gaming.