HTC is building out its recently announced Viveport Arcade program, with an eye toward turning public virtual reality gaming into a $100 million industry over the next two years. At the 2016 VR Developers Conference in San Francisco, HTC announced that horror shooter The Brookhaven Experiment and climbing experience Everest VR will both be available as Arcade titles on the Viveport app. This means they can be commercially licensed for public Vive installations at movie theaters, internet cafes, or full VR arcades like Viveland, a flagship location that HTC opened in Taiwan last week. While HTC has focused on China so far, it intends to put Vives in locations worldwide. Viveport president Rikard Steiber says that installations should be rolling out in the US and Europe by the end of the year.
While virtual reality headsets are still expensive and inconvenient, lots of companies have been working on ways to make them public attractions instead of private entertainment systems. HTC announced a major partnership deal Chinese internet cafes late last year, and Vive Arcade is a more formal way to create a steady flow of games and experiences. “One of the big problems we have is a marketing problem for virtual reality,” says Steiber, and this is a way to get the Vive out there before VR is ready for mainstream home adoption.
Developers can opt in to the program when listing their projects on the Viveport app store, and arcade owners can buy “points” — essentially minutes of play — for each title, with the money split evenly between HTC and developers. So far, around 120 experiences are available. Steiber says pricing isn’t final, but Viveland costs range from under $5 for short experience The Walk to around $13 for half an hour in a closed booth.
VR headsets pose a number of unique challenges that traditional arcade cabinets don’t. While VR health scares are often overblown, hygiene remains a concern, and HTC recommends disposable paper covers that prevent oil and dirt from collecting on headsets’ face masks. In the short term, locations might also need attendants to troubleshoot problems and help people into the headsets.
HTC will be competing with a variety of other companies offering their own flavor of VR location-based entertainment. A few virtual reality arcades have opened across the US, and IMAX has promised to open a series of experience centers powered by Starbreeze and Acer’s StarVR system. Utah startup The Void launched an elaborate Ghostbusters-themed “hyperreality” experience in Times Square, with plans for more to follow. Bandai Namco developed its own Vive-powered experiences for a “VR Zone” in Tokyo. Theme park Six Flags has even added Gear VR headsets to literal roller coasters. But in theory, Viveport Arcade is potentially more plug-and-play than other options, based on commercially available hardware and existing games. Considering how complicated VR can be at the best of times, that’s no small thing.