VR has been dubbed the future of theme parks. Creating a truly immersive experience for visitors; the thrill of the twists and turns of a roller coaster synchronised with a virtual view of an imaginary world.
By Simon Towner, Creative Director, Omnico
This is why many operators have upgraded their existing coasters with VR programming. Merlin Entertainment and Six Flags lead the way, eg ‘Galactica’ at Alton Towers, Derren Brown’s ‘Ghost Train’ at Thorpe Park and nine rides across Six Flags’ US-based theme parks. However, while these have created a fresh new feel to an existing ride, are operators really making the most of this technology?
It’s been estimated that virtual reality and augmented reality will be worth US$30bn (£22.7bn) and US$90.8bn (£68.9bn) respectively by 2020. In 2016 alone, the global VR market has been predicted to be valued at US$970m (£735m).
‘The Void’, an immersive virtual reality theme park based in Utah, must be the most talked about of these experiences. It transports users to another world they can see, feel and interact with. It uses VR headsets powered by a supercomputer backpack to allow for untethered walking around these imaginary worlds. Moving podiums, fog machines and heat lamps give the VR world a physically convincing atmosphere. It’s sold as not just virtual reality, but ‘hyper reality’.
What’s particularly innovative about the company behind ‘The Void’ however, is its business plan to create entertainment centres around the world; small-scale versions of what it’s built in Utah.
The first of these was a tie-up with Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Times Square, New York, with the latest Ghostbusters film. Visitors were able to move through a virtual exploration of the films props, costumes, locations and vehicles. Visitors were also able to take part in a ghost hunt of their own, saving New York City from a paranormal villain.
The founders behind ‘The Void’ have developed an intriguing strategy that extends beyond the boundaries of a park. For many in the industry one of the key challenges they’re tackling is capacity and the need to prevent long queues and disappointment. So while new VR rides are driving bigger crowds and an increase in profits, they’re also compounding the capacity issue.
By diversifying across multiple locations ‘The Void’ is increasing its reach, allowing visitors to experience the concept before visiting the real thing.
Landmark Entertainment, whose rides and entertainment attractions can be found in Universal Studios Hollywood, Paramount Parks and a number of Las Vegas hotels, has captured this entirely. One of its first VR projects, called L.I.V.E Centers, is to build experiences in shopping malls in China. Consumers will be able to visit virtual zoos, aquariums and museums through VR goggles, all from the shopping centre itself.
What theme park operators should take from this approach is a way to solve their capacity issue. By setting up VR experiences in shopping malls, consumers could experience the VR rides and then book a timeslot on the real thing, or even their entire holiday from that pop-up VR experience. It will enable theme parks to reach more people, enticing them to the park by experiencing a snippet of their rides. And it is a mutual partnership, for the shopping mall landlords will see higher footfall and their spaces becoming a family destination centre, driving their revenue.
Theme parks have already invested in technology to enable pre-booking and pre-ordering on their mobile apps and park kiosks. But this takes the experience to the next level by capturing bookings, scheduling timeslots and ordering ahead; all from a new VR destination.
In the future, as the cost of VR headsets lowers enabling consumers to enjoy experiences at home, theme parks will be able to advertise in-VR showcasing a glimpse of ‘The Void’ for example, offering incentives to experience the real thing in Utah.
VR shouldn’t be a park-only experience, nor should it be a standalone shopping mall extra. By marrying these approaches theme park operators will be able to increase visitors, but help control the capacity through-out the year. While shopping mall operators can create something new from their estates rather than simply a ‘house of brands’.
Images: The Void and Landmark Entertainment