We first encountered The Void at their Ghostbusters installation at Madame Tussauds New York in early 2017 and got pretty excited. This is a company at the forefront of Virtual Reality for attractions, committed to being the leaders in totally immersive VR experiences.
Up until that visit, I think it’s fair to say the industry’s attempts at VR have been rather lacklustre. Looking back to early attempts such as DisneyQuest in Orlando, the offer was typically way too low-resolution and late-to-the game versus what people were playing at home.
The Ghostbusters walk-through was a stand-out experience for us at LDP, since it was the first time an attractions-based VR experience had genuinely engaged us and, crucially, one where the long-term value was palpable.
Tough Competition From The Sofa
Speaking as an avid home gamer (including at-home VR), I can relate to the high expectations visitors have of interactive technology when visiting an attraction. Parks are, more than ever, competing with incredibly high-quality home gaming, whether PC gaming, consoles or home VR head mounted displays (HMD).
So why is The Void’s offer a game-changer? Two things: the virtual world – with great graphics creating an utterly believable environment and a hugely exciting premise and quest. Secondly, the use of physical props and environmental effects throughout the walk-through adds an element that takes it to another level. This is certainly The Void’s intention – they call it ‘hyper-reality’ and describe visitors feeling like they have encountered real adventures and true experiences as they interact with physical elements that are simply unachievable in the home environment. So, as you follow your way around and feel an actual chair where you can ‘see one’ in the HMD – it convinces the mind that everything else that is going on (however fantastical) is also real.
The Heightened Thrill Of A Shared Experience
One of my long-standing concerns about individual HMD VR at attractions was that it was missing something crucial – that is, the shared experience with your friends and family. The camaraderie of the terrifying coaster ride, getting soaked and spooked together…could this be achieved via individual headsets?
This is precisely what we experienced in New York; you are taking part in a quest with the people you attend the attraction with. Yael and I did Ghostbusters together, became the avatars and revelled in the extraordinary shared experience. As theme park veterans, that doesn’t happen at lot! More recently, the whole LDP team visited the pop-up Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire installation (Lucasfilm, ILMxLAB and The VOID) in Westfield London. It worked brilliantly for a group, convincing all of us we were in the movie and taking part in a vital quest. This is what visitor attractions have to aim for – something fun and unexpected that transports you, temporarily, from the everyday.
A Question Of Capacity
From an economics standpoint, the unique attributes of this type of product also bring a specific challenge. This is a batched walk-through experience, which means it has a precise and limited capacity. It’s a ‘high value experience’ – lasting around 15 minutes but delivering serious bang for your buck – for peers, think the London Eye or an iFLY experience rather than a long duration park visit. In terms of entertainment value (price per hour of entertainment received) comparables would be action and adventure sports, viewing attractions and other impactful short-stay attractions. The concept is extremely well suited to be an anchor in retail or mixed-use schemes or could potentially be an up-charge in larger attractions.
When we got to work with The Void and Disney looking at the potential performance of the new Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire walk-through in January 2017, we were really pleased with its location within the Disney Springs entertainment complex in Orlando. This should prove to be a great partnership. We believe that lower capacity, high quality visitor attractions within retail dining and entertainment (RDE) schemes like this have a really exciting future. Furthermore, so many of our discussions at the moment centre around the retail mall experience – again, tempting the consumer away from a comfortable sofa from which to shop. We see huge potential for The Void within malls – encouraging a longer stay, more food and beverage spend and a heightened experience for the visiting family.
Ultimately, it’s the sympathetic application of a much-loved IP into a great story that will drive visitors to The Void’s installations. As a child of the 70s, I grew up loving Star Wars and now enjoy it with my kids. To see that IP merge so successfully with our industry feels like a very good thing to be part of.