For nearly three decades, internet cafés have filled an important niche across the globe. Also known as cybercafés, these establishments have provided online access to travelers, and to persons who do not have internet services at home. Thanks to the astronomical growth of virtual reality technology, a new business model is emerging that promises to transform the industry. Welcome to internet café 2.0 — the VR café.
Traditional internet cafés have served both their owners and customers well, and expansion in developing nations remains strong. However, virtual reality offers a shot in the arm for cafés even in nonindustrialized countries. By shifting the focus from merely providing internet access to offering pay-as-you-go VR experiences, you can turn the commonplace internet café into an exciting revenue machine.
We have put together a list of seven ways you can grow your internet cafés business. Some involve renting out your facility to organizations that need to provide VR content to persons in your area. Other ideas allow you to sell VR experiences directly to your customers. We also explain the primary advantages and disadvantages of each.
Let’s get started.
1. VR games
Advantage: Nearly guaranteed revenue
Obviously, VR gaming is at the top of our list. With a market revenue projection of $45 billion by 2025, this is one VR service you cannot afford to ignore. Even if you offer other VR-related experiences to your customers, establishing your facility as a VR game room will ensure a steady stream of gamers throughout the day, along with a corresponding stream of gaming revenue.
Even now, many gamers can’t afford a decent VR headset, let alone the powerhouse of a PC needed to drive it. Providing a neighborhood, or even regional, VR arcade will attract those with an appetite for VR but who don’t have a home system — which is a pretty large crowd.
Café owners have the opportunity to bridge popular anime and video game companies with customers in new and profitable ways. Animate Ltd., Animate Cafe Shops of Japan has even become a bucket-list destination for tourists. Huge interest led Animate to use a lottery-based reservation system. which just proves that success comes with a price.
As with all VR services that you might want to offer your customers, VR gaming requires more physical space than traditional Internet cafés. VR is not only a visually immersive experience, it is a physical experience as well. You must provide adequate room for each customer to grope, wave, grab, and swing as they enjoy their game play to the fullest. Providing enough room for each player to move about safely must be a prime consideration.
In addition to the additional space, you will need to purchase suitable headsets, headphones, controllers, wands, and other gear needed for the games. While there is no cheap way to equip your facility, many operators start small and soon find that they can afford to add new stations as business grows.
Finally — and don’t let this discourage you — all of that game revenue isn’t yours to keep. And we are not talking about income tax. The creators of VR games have something to say about using their products for commercial purposes. Some offer licensing agreements, while others do not. Do your research, but expect more liberal licensing requirements as the VR game room market continues to grow. A better solution is to have VR games custom developed for you by a VR development company, in which case you keep all of the profits for yourself.
2. VR escape rooms
Don’t confuse VR escape rooms with the regular VR gaming we just discussed. Rather than providing each customer with a gaming computer, VR gear, and room to play, a VR escape room immerses the player in a confined space from which they must “escape.” By solving riddles, problems of logic, or finding hidden clues, players can free themselves from the confines of the escape room, thus winning the game.
VR escape rooms provide not only an immersive experience, but a highly interactive as well. Even non-gamers return again and again to try and improve their speed, or to find more clues. The best part? VR game rooms are group activities, so you are more likely to book four or five people at a time.
In addition to the cost of building a custom escape room, you will need special game software to operate an escape room. Although more and more games are available, you also have the option to have one custom designed. There are a handful of outsource development companies that offer top-notch custom VR development, including software for VR game rooms.
3. VR-based training
Advantage: Corporate clients
The value of VR in training is being realized by companies large and small. As an a VR café operator, you can tap into this developing market by renting out your facility for VR training. While companies increasingly realize the need to incorporate VR into their employee training programs, not many organizations have the hardware needed to conduct such training in-house.
As third-party developers create VR training software for various industries, the need for VR training facilities will only grow. Since the client will bring their own training software, all you need to provide is the hardware and a minimal level of support.
Adding “VR training facility” to your café’s list of services can attract corporate clients, and all the VR trainees you can handle.
Disadvantage: Hardware requirements
The primary disadvantage of offering your café to companies for VR training is that you must have enough computers and headsets to accommodate a large group. The cost of setup, however, could be quickly recovered as word spreads that you offer this much-needed and unique service.
4. VR-based education
Renting your café out for VR-based education is done exactly the same way as for training, except that you are targeting schools who need to educate students, rather than targeting corporations that need to train employees.
Despite the fact that many schools in the U.S. and Europe have at least some VR gear for use in educating students, plenty still do not. Now, don’t expect a classroom of students to invade your facility every day, but many schools will welcome the opportunity to use your facility a few times a year. Having a local venue where schools can introducing children to VR technology, or to provide educational VR content, can be a great asset to nearby schools. With a little creative marketing, you can probably corner the market as a provider of VR services to your school district.
Disadvantages: Hardware requirements
As with some of the other ideas, here, you need a lot of VR hardware to host even a small school class. Even so, this untapped market can prove profitable returns, if you can make the experience fun and educational for the students.
5. VR workshops
Advantage: Corporate clients
If you have a passion for all things VR, you might consider offering VR workshops to local businesses who want to explore VR technology. By conducting informative hands-on instruction in virtual reality technology, you provide a valuable service, and add to your revenue stream. Your target clients are both small and medium-size organizations that are considering incorporating VR technology into their product line or operations.
Your knowledge of VR technology must go beyond that of the average VR consumer, if you are going to conduct workshops. While an advanced degree in programming is not necessary, you must able to demonstrate how to use VR hardware and software. You will also be expected to provide innovative ideas on how your clients can integrate VR technology into their business models.
6. VR Events
Advantage: Corporate support
If your café is located near a large metropolitan area, chances are good that there are companies in the area needing a venue for VR events. These companies will have their own VR content, and their own audience, they just need a place to bring the two together. As the marketing potential of virtual reality becomes more apparent, more and more companies will seek ways to wow their customers through VR presentations.
In addition to corporate events, another type of event you can host is the private party. Birthdays, fundraisers, and company promotions all provide opportunities for you to attract a crowd. All you need to do is to advertise your VR café as a hotspot for these events. As long as you obtain licensing rights to the content, you can host multiplayer game tournaments, 3D concerts, or tours of the galaxy.
While corporate clients will bring their own VR content for their event, you will likely need to provide the software for private events. Even though the list of available VR content is growing, we are still a few startups away from having a smorgasbord of VR material available for public consumption.
Advantage: Low cost
Sometimes, the best solutions are the simplest. Regardless of the type of content you provide, or the customers you attract, you can generate a surprisingly strong revenue stream by providing a few amenities for you guests.
Food and beverages, document printing, and document scanning are all things your customers need, and are willing to pay for.
As with many types of businesses, you can increase sales by offering package deals for families, companies, or 12-month individual plans.
Disadvantage: Increased staffing and supplies
You will need extra staff to provide customers with snacks and drinks, and to assist them with printing or scanning. You also need to plan well in order to maintain an adequate stock of refreshments and printing supplies.
The VR café is probably going to disrupt nobody, but that does not mean it can’t be a highly lucrative business. As virtual reality becomes more mainstream, consumers will seek ways to explore what VR is all about. If you can provide them with a cost-effective way to immerse themselves into VR games, videos, and educational content, you can get your share of the $37.5 billion VR market.
Dmytro Ternovyi is an IT-business publicist, industry insider and a content manager in AppReal-VR.