Dave & Buster's may be more associated with providing customers with a heady mix of arcade games and beers, but the company is about to take a long-awaited leap into VR entertainment. And this decision could provide traditional location-based entertainment complexes with a template to follow.

On June 6, the Dallas-based company announced a partnership with VRStudios that will give over 110 of its North American video arcade/restaurant complexes a dedicated multi-player virtual reality experience. According to a VRStudios press release, a nationwide deployment (which includes Canada) of its VRcade Attraction Management Platform (AMP) will take commercial multiplayer VR to a new level, with the Dave & Buster’s brand benefiting from a tried, tested and customizable multi-location management strategy.

The new virtual reality attraction—which will go live at all of Dave & Buster's locations on June 14—is a breakthrough for the LBE sector, VRStudios CEO Kevin Vitale said. The ride will incorporate HTC Vive headsets and motion simulators and is expected to provide guests with exclusive content from day one. The integration, for example, of premium content and headsets means that consumers are using technology that has been optimized for out-of-home use, a scenario that should—in theory—encourage replayability and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Up to four players will be able to use the VR ride at Dave & Buster's at any one time, with a run-time of around five minutes. In addition, the experiences have been designed to appeal to people with little to no VR experience, which will negate the steep learning curve that some LBE centers have fallen foul of in the past.

Location-based VR On A National Level

VRStudios has a proven track record in providing large-scale turnkey solutions for venue operators and has reportedly shipped more than 50 of its VRCade systems to 14 countries. With that in mind, AMP is an enterprise-class management platform that can be streamlined and simplified to match the daily operations of any LBE venue.

“We’ve been very thoughtful and particular about how we introduce VR attractions to our stores, and it was critical that we engage with a trusted partner and technology leader in commercial VR systems,” said Kevin Bachus, Dave & Buster’s SVP Entertainment & Games Strategy, in the VRStudios press release.  “We have a longstanding relationship with VRstudios. They are a pioneer of multiplayer VR attractions for location-based entertainment, and we’ve capitalized on that experience for both their enterprise technology and managing the large-scale integration of our unique attraction.”

Since its formation in 1982, Dave & Buster’s has garnered a well-earned reputation for offering its guests a complete location-based entertainment experience in a high-volume (on every level) environment.

Anyone who has visited one of their locations will know that the flashing lights and sounds of video games or skill-based challenges often compete with the noise of a busy sports bar and restaurant, with the majority of people utilizing the LBE center as a one-stop shop on a night out. As an added bonus, successful gameplay provides rewards in the form of vouchers that can be then exchanged for prizes.

To date, the company has been somewhat reticent to fully embrace the potential of LBVR on a mass level, although it did dabble with a VR-based system in a California location back in 2015. However, this strategic partnership with VRStudios (among others) is a clear indication that Dave & Buster’s sees value in adding VR to its current entertainment roster.

As part of the large-scale deployment, Dave & Buster’s will introduce over 500 HTC Vive HMDs across its U.S. and Canadian operations (locations can be found here).  The multi-player motion platform has also been built exclusively for Dave & Buster’s and is expected to be more like a theme park ride as opposed to the arcade-style titles that have become the norm in most LBE complexes. With that in mind, it is unsurprising that the first exclusive VR title for the LBE brand draws on familiar IP … Jurassic Park.

Popcorn Franchises Need Popcorn Rides

Variety reported that the Virtual Reality Company struck a licensing deal with Universal Pictures to develop “Jurassic World VR Expedition” as a location-based title exclusive to Dave & Buster’s. The introduction of this title at the chain is the culmination of over five years of work and has been timed to launch ahead of the latest installment in the Steven Spielberg-helmed franchise.

Regular visitors to Dave & Buster’s should be fairly familiar with the storyline of the game—capture escaped dinosaurs, don’t get eaten—as it has been a standard quest in numerous Jurassic-themed cabinet versions, but the immersive nature of the ride will be a step up from standard point-and-shoot titles. The company has not said whether or not the voucher reward system will be part of the package, but it would be nice to think that successful T-Rex capture would result in a prize.

In an interview with VentureBeat, Bachus said that the aim was to introduce a VR experience that would be easy to use and (relatively) cheap for people to play—the cost of the ride will be $5 for a five-minute adventure, for instance. And with over 45 million customers per year spending money at Dave & Buster's, there is little doubt that the collaboration with recognized VR hardware, software and content providers has been designed with a long-term view.

“We’re trying hard to make this a good experience for our guests,” said Bachus. “We don’t want them to wait for a popular attraction. We’ll have this Jurassic World game first and then add another one later.”

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Lead Image: "Dave & Busters," by Flickr User Mike Mozart, Creative Commons.