VR1 – Lessons Learned in Opening a VR Arcade

VR1 is the first Virtual Reality Arcade in Idaho. Our goal is to open the world's first full scale Virtual Reality Arcade- a massive multi-level building with whole floors of interactive experiences and thousands of visitors every week all trying to access the single best, most immersive adventure of their life! So how do we get there and what have we learned so far?

The customer experience “Easy VR”

Our first objective is to ensure people have what we call an “easy VR” experience. We want them to feel comfortable with the equipment and walk away from their experience thinking, “that was so fun and easy!” However, there’s quite a bit of behind the scenes work that goes into getting the customer there. When I first got the HTC VIVE I was blown away with what I saw, but there were multiple problems that made the process of setting up and running the device irritating. It was in no way a plug and play system. You needed to be what most people call a “Gamer” to set up and learn how to troubleshoot problems you will surely have. But you do not have to be a gamer to come to VR1. We don’t want our customers to have to worry about any of the technical aspects. So we have worked hard to streamline the process of getting in and out of their experiences.

Early Stages - Creating a Multiplayer VR Set-up

When I started VR1 in the garage, we ran into numerous problems in supporting a group of people. The cord was in the way, the player was blocking the monitor from people watching, the area was too small for groups of people to sit around and watch comfortably while the player was active, and lastly, when you have two or more players there was tracking issues. To fix the cord challenges we leveraged everything from fishing poles to pulley systems and weights. I found a dog leash company that made a leash with just the right amount of pull for the cord. Next I needed a station that could support a TV, Computer, and the new cord system. While providing an experience for the people watching and protecting the players from each other. It also needed to be light and portable so I could take it with me. Not finding anything currently in market, I bought a MIG welder and learned how to weld. I designed a beautiful prototype that was not only good looking but functional.

VR1 procedures

There is a lot of different work that remains to be done. No matter what software I download, I still need staff. The staff makes sure every station gets cleaned and runs properly. They also upsell customers and reach out to people who have not been in. Making sure everyone has not only a good VR experience but a great time in VR1. We are getting recognized for our approachable environment, already becoming a social hangout for a wide range of ages.

Licensing

Game content is expensive and probably one of the least anticipated expenses when starting up a facility. The masterminds down at BlackBox know this to be true, hiring their own team of developers and engineers to get the job done. SteamVR is great for the house; but can be very intimidating for a new user. Steam doesn't want you using their software commercially, so I needed to find a way to access VR content that was good for both the developers and my customers. I solved this by using a content launcher to control what people can use and then by contacting each of the developers to make private deals.

Content Launcher

I needed to manage the public through the whole experience or else they could find a way onto the internet downloading a virus or breaking some equipment. I was immediately calling developers and finding ways to use Unity to load up games. I began to look for another option after needing a faster solution. I came across a small company in Oklahoma that was just in the early stages of what is now one of the most used management softwares for arcades in the USA. Using SpringBoardVR to shut down access to the steam VR Dashboard was my savior. Although it costs $30 a station every month it is well worth the cost.

Starting the Business

Before I could even open my doors, I had to do the really tough part - set up a legitimate business. I put together a business plan and got investment funds. Next was to draw up plans for the space and get them approved by an architect and the city. Once that was done, I had to manage tenant improvements in the space and make sure all the pieces came together. Being a small startup, I did most of the work myself, building the front desk, painting walls and installing toilets. I was under construction for almost 3 months and it turned out great. People walk in and tell me it looks as good as an Apple Store so the hard work paid off.

We’ve made it a long way in about 10 months. From the early beginnings of showing friends and family, to having the first fully functioning VR facility in the Treasure Valley and the state of Idaho. We are showing hundreds and soon thousands of people virtual reality in Idaho. We are learning and documenting every day. Nothing can teach you more about running a VR Facility than actually doing it. Trust me though, there will always be things that go wrong. Just today we had an issue on a station preventing someone from playing a game and we had to fix it on the spot. So there will always be little things, it's just a matter of training the staff in the right ways to respond effectively.

Future

Modern technology is improving fast and we are starting to see less and less people socializing, and even worse, not staying active. So creating an environment for people of all ages to be social and active while keeping it fun is a tough, but rewarding endeavor. VR1 will soon be educating and entertaining the young minds of this valley on a massive level and providing them a place to meet at to spark new ideas, play with new tech all while creating new partnerships and friendships. Let’s all come together and become one at VR1.

If you have any questions about this industry please send me an email!

[email protected]

208-941-5958 VR1 Arcade

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