Thu, Apr 19, 2018 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Arcades seek to take VR gaming to mainstream


Gamers holding gun packs wear virtual reality headsets at Zero Latency Singapore on March 6.

Photo: AFP

Gamers wearing headsets and wielding rifles adorned with flashing lights battle a horde of zombies, letting out the occasional terrified shriek.

The virtual reality (VR) arcade in Singapore is part of a wave of such venues being opened as backers of the technology seek to shake off teething problems and break into the mainstream.

The buzz around VR gaming has seen Taiwan-based HTC, Sony and Facebook-owned Oculus VR battling to woo consumers with a range of headgear.

However, it has been slow to really take off, partly due to the hefty price of top-end headsets, beginning at about US$350, and the challenges in setting up complex VR systems at home.

However, VR arcades, which have been springing up around the world, particularly in Asia, are now giving people the chance to try it out more easily and for a fraction of the price.

“Given the complications of at-home, PC-based VR systems, pay-per-use, location-based entertainment venues can fill the gap,” said Bryan Ma, from International Data Corporation (IDC), a consumer technology market research firm, in a recent note on the industry.

Several VR gaming companies have made forays into Singapore, seeing the ultra-modern, affluent city-state that is home to hordes of expatriates as a good fit.

The zombie fight-out was taking place at a center where participants stalked a room with a black floor and walls.

“I did paintball before, it’s quite fun... but I think the whole scene is much more interesting here,” said Jack Backx, a 55-year-old from the Netherlands, who was playing with colleagues from the oil and gas industry on a work day out.

The location is run by VR gaming group Zero Latency, which started in Australia and has expanded to nine countries. It uses “free-roam” VR — where gamers move around in large spaces and are not tethered to computers with cables.

It is not all intense, shoot-’em-ups — VR group Virtual Room has an outlet in Singapore that transports gamers to scenarios in the prehistoric period, a medieval castle, ancient Egypt and even a lunar landing.

VR arcades have been springing up in other places. China was an early hotbed for VR gaming although the industry has struggled in recent times, while they can also be found in countries across the region including Taiwan, Japan and Australia.

Many key industry milestones in the past two years have been in Asia, but arcades have appeared elsewhere — London’s first one opened last year while there are also some in the US.

For the best-quality experience, it can be relatively expensive — a session in Singapore costs S$59.

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