Virtual reality as an entertainment venue: how fast will it catch on?


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Editor’s note: This story has a sidebar headlined Virtual reality is not just for gamers any more

Buzz about changed forms of reality has never been higher, be that virtual, augmented or hyper-reality.

What started decades ago as an idea with high hopes but no real substance is now looking as though it could be a billion-dollar jackpot for innovators working to capitalize on the potential of virtual reality.

Curtis Hickman, creative officer and co-founder of The Void, and his partners are some of those involved with providing a virtual reality experience as entertainment. With grand openings in New York and Dubai over the past few months, excitement remains strong about their virtual reality startup at their newest location in Lindon, Utah, which opened on April 7.

Hickman said they are taking virtual reality one step further into what they have deemed “hyper-reality.”

“What you see in the headset is very comparable to other VR technologies out there. What differentiates The Void is the ‘everything else,'” Hickman said. “It’s the sensory effects like the wind or the moisture, the walls or the chairs, or all the things that you interact with.”

The Void uses a physical set that matches up with the virtual experience. Doors are where doors should be and chairs where chairs are in the virtual world, along with wind, heat and shifting floors.

The experience is also a multi-player one, which is still quite uncommon within the virtual reality realm.

UVU English student Marshall Smith got to participate in a special pre-screening of The Void’s ghostbuster experience at the Lindon location before it opened to the public.

“I thought it was a really amazing experience overall. Having the actual physical set and being able to play with other people within the game is really what made it cool,” Smith said. “But looking at the graphics compared to some I’ve seen with the HTC Vive, it’s not quite up to par.”

The Ghostbusters experience received a lot of hype when it first opened in New York at Madame Tussauds in July 2016, but some are still skeptical about whether virtual reality as entertainment will be anything more than a fad.

Peter Johnson, an entrepreneur and a senior at BYU, jumped into working in the virtual reality world early on because he said he saw a lot of potential. Johnson dedicated the past two-plus years of his life trying to develop virtual reality entertainment, until he said he realized it wasn’t worth it.

“I used to be so heavily involved in VR, but now having been out of it for about six or eight months, I have no desire to put on a headset again,” Johnson said. “It’s super epic your first time, even your first ten experiences, and then it just gets kinda old.”

Johnson and his partners got a lot of push back from entertainers when trying to develop virtual reality entertainment. Big-name Vegas performers they spoke with didn’t seem interested in getting involved in the virtual reality world yet, he said.

Johnson said a lot of people don’t seem to like the cost and isolating features of virtual reality entertainment. The equipment is bulky and somewhat uncomfortable, he said.

“People were really hoping that VR was going to be like the new smartphone and that it was going to be this transforming type of thing — like how big of an impact the TV was — and sadly, I just don’t think it’s going to be like that,” Johnson said.

Others argue the exact opposite about virtual reality’s future. Scott Johnson, a self-proclaimed nerd, started podcasting 13 years ago. He has six different podcasts, most of which relate to gaming and technology reviews. About half a million listeners tune in to his podcasts every week.

Johnson said he believes virtual reality will soon become commonplace and an integrated part of human experience.

“I think in the next 10 to 15 years we’re going to see the same thing happen to VR that’s happened with mobile phones,” Johnson said. “We’re going to see it get more powerful. We’re going to see headsets get lighter, and we’re going to see that kind of portability you need for this kind of stuff.”

IMAX announced in February its plans to open six virtual reality centers this year. One opened in January in Los Angeles with tickets starting at $7.

Dreamscape Immersive also announced plans to open virtual reality experiences this fall, working with names like 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Steven Spielberg.

Surveys conducted by KZero consulting firm seem to show virtual reality may indeed hold a bright future.

Bar graph depicting the number of active virtual reality users worldwide from 2012 to a projected 2014 based on stats from KZero. (Morgan Allred)

The number of active virtual reality users worldwide this year has been forecasted to jump by 47 million users — nearly double what it was in 2016 — to reach 90 million active users, according to the surveys. Virtual reality software revenue has also been forecasted at more than $2.5 billion in 2017, and nearly $5 billion in 2018.

“One day, VR or things that are like VR as we know them today will be a part of our everyday lives like the way our phones are,” Johnson said.


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