ARTICLE BY COLIN MCMAHON
Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) has been a staple of arcades since its inception in 1998. Its footpad controller allows for a sense of immersion that is not possible in most household environments. Players groove along with the images on the screen, twirling and dancing like they were immersed in a full simulation. DDR has been an incredible success, used in schools, as a form of exercise, and even an official sporting event in Norway. Now imagine DDR with a wires linking the users feet to the arcade machine. Imagine the impact on its success. This is where many VR arcades are now.
VR arcades have had a mixed reception in their brief lifespan. They all open to great interest, proving that the public is at least curious about VR. Keeping up consumer traffic, however, has been difficult. More than one promising VR arcade has closed within six months of opening. There are many theories as to why this is. Upkeep costs, equipment costs, poor pricing model, a lack of quality VR experiences - all of these have been offered as explanations for VR arcade struggles.
The fact remains, however, that many VR arcades use existing high-end VR hardware, namely the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. While these devices are capable of offering engaging VR experiences, they are both tethered headsets. If a consumer wants to stand, they must be mindful of the cord. Many VR arcades go to incredible lengths to fix this, some linking elaborate rigs to the ceiling to keep the wire suspended. The problem is reduced but not fixed. Even a suspended rig will restrict the user's movements.
Fortunately, solutions are on the rise. The end goal is clear: eliminate the wire. This is being done in three ways. The first involves bringing the computer to the player. Backpack VR-capable PCs are being used in experiences like THE VOID. Backpacks like the MSI VR One are on the market now for roughly $2,000. These products have received strong reviews, however not all experiences will work well with this solution. It is difficult to see consumers performing DDR-style moves with a backpack PC against their shoulders.
The second solution is perhaps the most immediately obvious. Create a wireless option for currently tethered VR headsets. HTC and Oculus have both confirmed that they are working on wireless headsets, however neither has released a definite timetable. At present, wireless adapters are being worked on. Third party companies like TPCAST are currently working on the issue, expected to be released to consumers sometime in Q2 2017. While pursuing adapters makes sense for current VR arcade operates, it likely will not be a lasting technology. Once HTC and Oculus release official wireless versions, it will be difficult to justify spending over $1,000 for an old headset + adapter.
The third and likely ultimate solution is the All-In-One (AIO) headset, a VR HMD with the computer built right into the headset hardware. Reference designs for all-in-ones have been available for some time through Qualcomm and Intel and the first commercial products are expected by Q4 2017. AIOs will eliminate the vast majority of problems plaguing tethered VR experiences. Clients will be able to move freely, as AIOs come with outward-facing cameras to map the room and avoid obstacles. VR Arcade owners will also not have to worry about additional PC upkeep as AIOs circumnavigate that area all together.
Once untethered VR technology is readily available, the difference in VR arcades will be night and day. An incredible array of experiences will open up to VR game development. Experiences like DDR will be everywhere, only on an improved scale. Companies currently in the VR arcade space would be wise to follow THE VOID's example, with prospective operators should do everything in their power to familiarize themselves with the materializing untethered VR hardware landscape.
Once the cord is cut, VR arcades will finally be in position to see a new life of their own.