Location-based entertainment venue operators who don’t offer multiplayer virtual reality are missing the chance to provide their patrons with a social experience that industry analysts believe are essential to the increased adoption of immersive entertainment.

Already a billion dollar industry, virtual reality location-based entertainment is expected to reach $12 billion by the end of 2023, according to the latest projections from Greenlight Insights. Over the next 12 months, the global number of LBE venues is predicated to double, with many venue operators benefiting from a noticeable upturn in consumer awareness.

Multiplayer Hits A Sweet Spot For LBE VR

Recent discussions over how virtual reality needs to find its sweet spot have focused less on the in-home market and more on the experiences that can be enjoyed in location-based VR centers. And it is noticeable that an increase in overall consumer awareness has coincided with an acknowledgment that VR in general needs to be both more social and reduce a perception among the general public that the tech is isolating.

In fact, the consensus is that location-based VR is more likely to be a catalyst for mass adoption than the in-home market. In addition, there is a defined move by content creators and IP owners towards providing immersive entertainment options that promote co-operation and social interaction in a virtual setting, with the aim of the experience being to allow players to complete the challenges presented as a team.

Companies like Zero Latency and The Void have already set a high bar in terms of the immersive experiences they offer their guests. However, the LBE sector as a whole is attracting VR-focused entities who provide turnkey solutions and experiences for locations that include VR Arcades, venue operators, family entertainment centers, casinos, mall owners and cinemas.

In fact, some companies that are already active in the LBE sector have recognized that multiplayer options can give consumers both an introduction to virtual reality and social gameplay that enhances the experience itself. And although multiplayer experiences have not been front-and-center in the LBVRE sector to date, more products are coming online.

More Players Encourages Social Interaction

In advance of April's DEAL 2018 amusement and theme park trade-show in Dubai, for example, AiSolve announced that its existing WePlayVR platform would be available to operators as a multiplayer option.

“Having installed our arenas at attractions globally, we spoke to our clients around the world, who have already enjoyed huge success with our original WePlayVR 3x3m unit and our opening two games, Mayan Adventure and Alien Invasion,” said AiSolve’s CEO Devi Kolli, in a blog post. “But as a single-player game, there will, of course, always be limitations as to how many players can pass through every hour.”

The launch of the new WePlayVR four-meter-squared multiplayer version will not only increase the number of people that can pass through its games in an hour but also encourage competition among the players, Kolli said. The new arena will be able to host up to eight players—four inside the arena and four in motion seats around the perimeter of the rig—while a leaderboard will keep track of how the players are doing.

LA-based HOLOGATE is another company that offers venue operators a free roam platform that is designed for multiplayer use.

When installed, the rig has a physical footprint of around five meters squared and can accommodate up to four players at any one time. According to company sources, the cost of a HOLOGATE platform—which also includes backend support for venue operators—is around $95,000, with the expectation being that an operator can budget for a throughput of one group every eight minutes for a 10-minute co-operative experience.

Size Can Matter In Location-Based VR

At the other end of the footprint scale, LBVRE startup Hyperverse can provide a LBE venue with up to around 3,650 square meters of play area and a turnkey co-op experience that lasts around 20 minutes.

The key to location-based VR is the experience itself, the company states, citing that engaging virtual reality content should not just be ported from conventional commercial platforms. Taking that into account, Hyperverse’s stated aim is to provide social experiences that create a personal connection for each player.

Irrespective of arena size, a focus on social connection aligned with competition is certainly becoming more prevalent in the LBVRE industry.

In March, Washington-based VRStudios announced the launch of VRcade PowerPlay, a 18-meter by 12-meter configurable battlefield that can accommodate up to eight players at any one time.

According to VRStudios’ VP of Creative Development Channel Summers, the aim was to deliver an “action-packed game” that combined the feeling of a retro game with a warehouse-scale arena physical experience. As a result, venue operators can now install a turnkey solution that could be considered to be a “sport of the future,” Summers said.

Holodeck VR is another company that wants to increase both the number of people in the experience and the competitive nature of the play area itself. The German startup reportedly has a platform that can accommodate up to 100 people at once in 40,000 square meters of space. And while the tech is also available in much smaller sizes, an immersive free roam arena of those dimensions is certainly of interest to both venue operators and content developers.

Multiplayer Options Should Not Diminish The Immersive Experience

Not all location-based entertainment centers are cut from the same cloth.

What works in one venue may be unsuitable in another, even more so if that location has been designed to provide individual experiences rather than multiplayer options. As we know, an immersive experience often has a defined footprint that allows the player a degree of freedom within the confines of the play area itself and crowding a space with more players may detract from the experience.

The need for location-based VR to offer shared experiences to its guests is one reason why multiplayer options could become more popular. Competition aside, the fact that numerous people can be in the same immersive experience at the same time is extremely attractive.

And while the LBVRE industry is arguably still looking for its sweet spot, being able to play with your friends in a virtual world may go a long way in helping VR become a mass-market medium.