Following the unveiling of the price and availability of the Oculus Rift, coupled with a VR-heavy CES show, virtual reality has been dominating the tech headlines so far this year.
With Oculus keeping tight lipped about its plans to work with the channel and currently only selling the Rift via its own website, and many gamers being surprised at the headset’s £499 price tag, a number of retailers were left wondering how they can make money out of VR.
In order for consumers to properly make use of a VR headset they need to make sure they’ve got a pretty high-spec machine. While this provides a good opportunity for retailers and system builders to shift some powerful gaming PCs, it doesn’t necessarily help those that are maybe more focussed on accessories and peripherals.
It also means that there will no doubt be consumers out there who aren’t prepared to pay out for a new machine or upgraded components until they’ve had a chance to properly test out a headset.
Earlier this week, video game development studio Starbreeze unveiled that it will be launching its own arcade featuring games that make use of its StarVR headset.
“We continue to iterate the fact that VR really needs to be experienced in person to fully be able to appreciate the phenomenon. We will invite developers to join us and give them the opportunity to put their content in our StarCade,” said Starbreeze’s CTO Emmanuel Marquez.
This got PCR thinking. Could VR arcades be the next big thing? And are they a way for retailers to make money out of virtual reality headsets?
As tech blogger and VR enthusiast Martin Shervington puts it: “With the release of the new Oculus headset, we will see the need for some serious computing power, and with a hefty price tag attached, the idea of ‘renting some time’ in a VR arcade may well be the first experience people have of the metaverse.”
We got in touch with some retailers to see what they thought about ther idea…
“I think there is a case for an arcade revival. The main problem I see is the rent and rates of commercial property is very high. You would need a high volume of people to make it viable,” said Mikael Berglund from 76BITS.
"The price point per person would have to be compelling for them to try it, meaning the margins might be too small to make it a viable and profitable business. This is of course bit of guesswork as I have not worked out the financials involved.”
However, Berglund does think there’s a case for VR experiences in other environments. “Standalone VR arcade machines leased to pubs or shopping malls could be more viable,” he said.
Kamal Hitari, managing director of Hitari, agrees that leased out machines may be the way forward: “Retailers could set up a deal so for every purchase on a particular day, customers get a voucher to use a headset for 20-30 minutes. They could also be installed in coffee shops.”
Anthony Lay from AML suggested an ‘experience solution’ might be a good idea for retailers: "I think that the only way for retailers to sell the equipment is an experience solution. This means the entire solution, Motion Sensors and quality audio etc. I can’t really see it being able to become a rentable solution."
Anthony Teasdale from Gbiz IT Computers believes there is a case for VR arcades but isn’t sure if it’s a long-term investment.
“For me it does seem logical. Back in the days of the arcade the hardware used was too expensive for the general user to have at home. Arcade consoles were rented out rather than sold and available game consoles were not as powerful, with arcade game ports been cut down. This could be translated to today with VR headsets costing a lot, then adding in a system to run them – typically needing top-end cards like multiple GTX 980Tis or Fury Xs – and it puts it out of the reach of the general public,” commented Teasdale.
“A modern arcade will offer new business opportunities and local retailers could supply the computers and support. It will, however, be something of a short-term thing, as inevitability the cost will come down and more people will be able to afford VR at home.”
Jonathan Raymond from Dino PC revealed that his firm is currently investigating quite a bit into VR and is interested in getting hands-on with the new StarVR headset.
“This announcement from Starbreeze shows how much of an emphasis there is on VR at the moment. It’s only a matter for time before VR becomes more affordable and is used by the masses,” he told PCR.
“We currently have a demo VR system set up in our London showroom for the general public to come down and have a go for free. VR is something that really needs to be experience first-hand and isn’t something one can just read about.”
While writing this piece the term ‘VRcade’ popped into my head. Feeling quite smug with myself I thought: “I could try and push that out there as a clever little saying, or even see if a domain name is free…”
Two seconds on Google and it looks like someone beat me to it. VRcade.com is an American company that claims to be the world’s first full-motion virtual reality arcade.
So with the Americans already on board with this idea, I’m excited to see if it does travel across the pond anytime soon.