Insights, Trends, News on the Family Entertainment Center Industry
Virtual Reality and Hygiene Theater in a Post-COVID World
September 29, 2020
In 2015 I coined the term “Hygiene Theater” as a way of emphasizing the importance of showing customers that location-based VR attractions are being cleaned properly. Headset hygiene was a concern for about 20% of patrons based upon observational research at family entertainment centers. I encouraged early location-based VR operators to make a show of their cleaning rituals.
When COVID-19 broke out, the CDC said that the disease spread because people touched their faces. This led to panic in the VR community. Would public-use headsets ever be seen as safe again?
But the public shifted its attention from VR headsets to the entire entertainment center. Now Hygiene Theater is a best practice everywhere, from bowling balls to karting helmets to mini-golf balls. Operators are leading with the hygiene message. Some are even providing special uniforms for their hygiene staff. There’s now a presumption that the entire facility is clean and safe, or the patron does not cross the front door threshold.
So what impact is the new focus on overall hygiene having on VR? Facilities are opening again and the play data is showing the public is ready for VR. In fact, virtual reality might be what’s needed to get people back off the couch and into the arcade.
The Data Doesn’t Lie
Reports are starting to come in from family entertainment centers around the world. In the US there’s still inconsistency among what types of business can open in different states. But in the states where FECs are opening, the data is encouraging.
Virtuix, the makers of the popular OmniArena, recently reported that while their units are at almost 85% of pre-COVID revenue, there’s a wide disparity between types of locations. Karting and bowling centers are over-indexing, while movie theaters, which are being stung both by government shutdowns and a lack of content from studios are severly lagging.
VRsenal recently shared data with me showing that their Beat Saber VR games in locations that have been open for a year are reporting similar success. Revenue varies widely by state and location but overall averages across 13 states show plays at 80% of year-ago levels.
All of this supports our thesis that people have shifted their focus from VR headsets to storewide hygiene. As long as operators continue to lead with the message that their locations are safe and clean, virtual reality will continue to be a popular attraction with patrons.
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