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The Virtual Arena: Developments in the LBE VR Arena – Part 1

Investment in Out-of-Home entertainment development continues, and in his latest Virtual Arena column, industry specialist Kevin Williams collects the latest investments, partnerships, and acquisition news, shaping the landscape of the location-based immersive entertainment business.

The recent movements in investment being made into location-based entertainment (LBE) developers and operators cannot be ignored. Even if most Western venues are in lockdown currently, numerous institutions and investors are banking on the post-COVID #Springback hitting the social entertainment market as the pent-up need for fun hits the streets. Many investors positioning themselves to capture this expected windfall.

One such development was German developer SPREE Interactive, VRFocus recently reporting the successful securing of a multimillion-euro investment from strategic investors. Along with announcing that they had launched a V2 of their ‘SPREE Arena’ using the Valve Lighthouse tracking platform for easier operation and pricing. All this and a far-reaching partnership with Pico Interactive to deploy their ‘Pico Neo 2’ headset (powered by the Qualcomm XR chipset), integrated on the ‘SPREE Arena’ platform.

It is this level of investment on the future of LBE that marks the recent slew of announcements emanating from an industry that only a few months ago, some parties were keen to write off. The investment and development community has seen the need to establish a strong position in the opportunity that the social entertainment business will offer the post-lockdown audience.

Regarding that social entertainment mix trying to be developed, competitive eSports and tournament play are crucial elements, and we are seeing the development of a new cross-over between in-home and out-of-home players. One of the aspects of the SPREE Interactive announcement was their partnership with game developer VR Nerds to release an exclusive version of their smash VR competitive blaster Tower Tag. As previously reported, Tower Tag has been deployed in LBE venues in Japan through a previous affiliation with amusement factory SEGA. Having also been launched as a consumer title, the new SPREE release of the videogame will offer a dedicated eSports element for competition, with a leaderboard shared between the home and venue players.

Other LBE developers have looked at the need for a dedicated cross-over between the home players, and the future facility tournament competitions. VRstudios has revealed its new VRstudio Sports line, with the release of their VR basketball experience Hoops Madness. The eight-player game has been specially developed to offer an intense competition element, that is supported by a dedicated eSports competition component and leaderboard. But the company has also expanded the competition element by supporting an innovative business model that links the consumer to the venue. Consumer VR players hone their skills to try-out at the facility tournaments.

The investment in using standalone headsets as an alternative to the tethered and backpack PC’s continued, with news of a new partnership from Asia entering the Western LBE scene. Vietnamese based Holomia announced the launch of an update to the game MissionX – VR Laser Tag. A frenetic multiplayer VR arena platform offering 3 game modes, such as capture the flag and deathmatch, across a series of unique maps. The system can accommodate up to 10 players, with the developer running 8 headsets in a game at one time as part of their tournament competition.

The developers have the game running on the Oculus Quest 2, with the developer currently using SideQuest to provide a download, offering commercial use license for VR arcades. The use of SideQuest hoping to negate the need to abide by the Oculus for Business restrictions on commercial entertainment usage, of this kind. But in a move to break into the Western market the company is working to release their platform in partnership with SynthesisVR – developers of a VR facility management and content distribution platform.

Speaking of VR arcade content delivery and support, and one of the largest of these operations had an announcement of their own. SpringboardVR, the leading VR venue management and distribution platform currently, serving some 500 venues with over 400 pieces of VR content; revealed that they had been acquired by Vertigo Games, famous for their multi-platform VR development and publishing with VR titles such as Arizona Sunshine.

Vertigo Games was recently acquired themselves by Koch Media GmbH Austria (a subsidiary of Embracer Group AB), and this latest move was part of the operation consolidating its position in the commercial VR entertainment landscape. Recently we reported on the work that the Vertigo Arcade LBE division of the company had achieved with their new game ‘Ghost Patrol’. In acquiring SpringboardVR, they now represent the leading providers of venue content. As well as managing the revenue operation and royalty transaction of these facilities and games.

It was announced that following the acquisition of SpringboardVR, emerging from this move is a brand new operation called ArborXR – developed as content providers to deploy enterprise VR at scale. This follows on from our report from the London education conference, BETT, in 2020 where we reported on development by the team on VR educational content in partnership with HP on their platform.

The investment into commercial (enterprise) development as eagerly attacked by many new start-ups. Where the home entertainment scene seems to be constantly incubating this immersive technology, the need for a more inclusive business model sees growing investment.

We expect to cover in the next part if this report, another series of major acquisitions and partnerships in the coming days. 

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