What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Anybody who has spent time there is more than aware that the city is essentially an adult Disneyland that offers its visitors a variety of location-based entertainment options, the vast majority of which clamour for attention among the neon lights and the ubiquitous casinos.
And while gambling is probably the main reason for the average person to search various locations on The Strip, there is a growing consensus that the digital world is poised to offer people an alternative option.
Viva Las Vegas
To date, Las Vegas has been known for the physical pleasures that people seek out, but there are signs that it may be more than willing to incorporate virtual experiences. In the last 18 months, Sin City has dipped its toe into the waters of virtual reality, thanks in part to the increased visibility of VR at the various tech-based conventions that hit town every year.
Arguably among the showstoppers at recent CES conferences, virtual reality is beginning to make its presence felt among the entertainment options available in Vegas.
Led by high-profile companies such as Zero Latency and The Void, there is a genuine belief that Vegas is a prime spot for location-based VR experiences. Greenlight Insights predicts that global revenue from LBVRE will be around $8.9 billion by 2022 and show a compound annual growth rate of 69 percent over the next five years.
When you factor in the expected increase in consumer awareness, then you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that the Vegas money-brokers will be paying close attention to VR.
Location-based VR Needs To Be More Visible
The caveat is that current immersive experiences in Las Vegas are rarely front and center.
Several resorts offer their patrons a free VR experience in their nightclub-attached VIP rooms or defined eSports locations, but Vegas has a plethora of sensory attractions that don’t require a headset. This scenario is unsurprising when you consider that Vegas is (by all accounts) run by faceless suits that seem comfortable with the traditional entertainment options that made the city (in)famous.
It is fair to say that the self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world is not for the faint-hearted. Las Vegas is a tough place, both to visit and, increasingly, to do business. To the naked eye, the city is in a constant state of renewal. In recent years, construction has seemed to be never-ending, with the intention of turning Vegas into a tourist destination that is more than just the legal gambling opportunities that Vegas is arguably synonymous for.
With that in mind, location-based VR is not the first thing that people think of when they decide to visit Las Vegas.
“I think VR can enhance Las Vegas, but I don’t think it could compete,” said Cathy Tull, chief marketing officer for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in a post-CES interview with Las Vegas Weekly. “Zip-lining on Fremont Street is very different than experiencing it on a VR app. Dining at a restaurant or going to show is going to be a very different sensory experience when you’re actively participating. VR can bridge the gap of knowledge, but it can’t take the place of the product.”
It's Time To Expect The Unexpected
Tull’s comments reflect a grudging acceptance by the VR industry that companies are going to have to work hard make location-based VR a Vegas success story.
Take VR Adventures, for example.
Opened in 2016, VR Adventures has six “adventures” for people to try, ranging from zombie survival to soaring over the cityscape like Superman. Located on the promenade at the Caesars-owned Linq Hotel, the LBE uses HTC Vive hardware to deliver what the company calls a cutting-edge immersive experience that “redefines magical!” … sadly, publicly-posted reviews of the LBE paint the experience in a different light.
On the plus side, a quick Google Search flags up the fact that VR Adventures is operating in a fairly sparse location-based VR market in Vegas, albeit one that could change in the very near future. And high-quality experiences with demonstrated replay-ability are the likely winners.
In August 2017, Australia-based out-of-home VR entertainment company Zero Latency opened a free-roam arena inside the MGM Grand’s Level Up gaming lounge.
The multiplayer experience has been well-received by the general public and reportedly attracts a significant amount of foot traffic as opposed to the pre-sales that dominate its other global locations. It is worth noting that Zero Latency has a defined record of success in the LBE sector, with the Vegas location offering players a 30-minute game-like experience in a 2,000 square-feet arena.
“We like to do things first, with whatever the customer wants,” said Lovell Walker, executive director of interactive gaming development for MGM Resorts, in an interview with the aforementioned Las Vegas Weekly. “We know Silicon Valley is the one manufacturing a lot of the goods, but we want to create a brand where we are building entertainment. When we think of what MGM Resorts represents, VR is at the top of the line in that discussion, along with our shows and gaming and other [amenities].”
Across the street from MGM Grand, the MGM-owned New York, New York Hotel and Casino will be adding VR to its Big Apple roller coaster from February 7 onwards, the Los Angeles Times reported. The augmented ride has been designed by Germany’s VR Coasters and will, the news source said, synchronize the visuals to reduce motion sickness.
The VR experience will last less than four minutes, cost $20, and has been advertised as the longest VR-equipped roller coaster in the world at around 4,700 feet. Riders will be taken on an adventure that starts in a secret research facility in the Nevada desert where the government is studying alien life forms that (naturally) escape, cause destruction and then get defeated … a storyline that has obviously not been inspired by the nearby Area 51.
Enter The Void
The Void’s upcoming experience center at The Venetian is another example of how virtual reality could be incorporated into the Vegas lifestyle.
Sited in the Grand Canal Shoppes, The Void Experience Center is tucked in-between high-end boutiques that look out onto the dining area that represents St. Mark’s Square. Slated to open in the next few months, the only clues that a curious onlooker would have that a hyper reality experience is being created are the words “Step Beyond Reality” that adorn a boarded-up shopfront.
Back in December 2017, Engadget reported that The Void’s “modest expansion” would bring its Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire IP to a wider audience, but time will tell if the operator’s decision to open an experience center at The Venetian fulfills that prediction.
One concern is that foot traffic in that particular location could be limited, partly due to the high-end reputation of the resort itself—rooms start at $600 per night over a weekend, for instance. In addition, that part of the resort is not only dominated by shops and restaurants but also serves as an exit point for anybody who wants to get back to The Strip.
Add into the mix the fact that The Venetian’s current entertainment policy is geared towards more “classic” bands such as Chicago and Styx—although the latter’s Mr. Roboto does have a sci-fi theme—and it is hard to escape the feeling that this is an experiential move by both parties as opposed to a defined Vegas-centric VR business model.
What Happens In Vegas ...
In simple terms, VR has to compete with not only the casinos but also the shows, themed bars, musical residencies, nightclubs, top-class restaurants, high-profile touring acts and a plethora of other entertainment options that allow Vegas to operate on a 24/7 basis. Throw into the mix that the vast majority of visitors are likely to be partying hard from the moment they drop their bags at whatever hotel they choose to stay in and the table stakes for location-based VR couldn’t be higher.
Las Vegas has a well-earned reputation for bringing the best entertainment to its slice of Nevada desert. If location-based VR is to succeed in Sin City, then the oft-cited mantra of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” must ring true.