There are now over 3000 offline VR arcades across China, where visitors pay sums of money to try out VR games. VR arcades can play an important role in growing more VR content companies locally. In China, FAMIKU, one of the biggest VR arcades in Shanghai, is being used as a testbed for overseas VR games and a source of feedback for homegrown ones.
How about its neighbor South Korea? Despite the huge amount of funding from the Korean government into the VR industry and booming local VR startups, the VR arcade business in Korea is still in its infant stage, largely due to government regulations.
The Korean Government is set to invest 405 billion won ($363 million USD) over the next five years to promote the virtual reality industry, seen as a future growth engine. However, there is no authoritative regulation or institution to support VR arcades.
Let’s say you want to open a VR arcade in Seoul. You need to secure a license to operate VR arcade, but since there is no such term, you need to follow the terms of similar business, which is internet cafe (so called PC room), widespread in Korea. Under the rule, you need to set a 130 cm partition between every PCs in the internet cafe, but if the same applies for VR arcades, users will be bumping into walls in the physical world as they try to cruise through the virtual one.
Yet the biggest problem is monetization. Since there is no clear regulation for VR arcades, it is not legal to seek profit from individual VR users.
In this July, the first VR cafe in Seoul, VR Plus opened its doors to the public. Located in Gangnam, one of the busiest areas in Seoul, the VR cafe sells coffee and provides VR experiences for free.
Upon entrance, you need to order a cup of coffee as admission. Then the user can enter the glass-walled VR arcade room housing two Oculus, two HTC Vive, five Samsung Gear and one LG 360VR devices. The company partners with PNI system to provide roller coaster and racing game attractions.
To cover the equipment costs, the VR cafe sells game figurines, drones, and hover boards.Their newly opened store in Busan, the second biggest city in Korea, has SONY PS4 experience zone and sells SONY PlayStation headset to consumers.
“We are now talking to Oculus and HTC so that we can also sell these headsets in store,” CEO of VR Plus Myungjung Huang told TechNode.
According to Mr. Huang, about half the visitors are between 20-30 year old, and about a third from 40 to 50. Then the rest 20% is children under 13 years old, accomp.
“Once, a school teacher brought a group of children to our VR cafe. The teacher gave a school homework for kids to experience VR,” Mr. Huang smiles. “We want to introduce VR to children in many different cities. We also want to provide educational content for them. It’s important for children to experience these things.”
Currently, HTC Vive is the most popular headset in the VR cafe, since it allows users to actually move their arms using two controllers and sensors. Mr. Huang aims to build a VR theme park later on and proliferate, opening 25 stores in different locations in Korea.