Do most average consumers understand virtual reality? No. Will they want to try it without that understanding? No. Can a VR arcade get a lot of customers by advertising VR on its own? No.
Despite all of this, a VR arcade can gain traction. Let’s learn how.
1. VR isn’t selling itself
A VR arcade seems like a dream business for geeks. A lot of young adults in different countries remember how they ate pizzas, drank Coke, and played video games in arcades, internet cafes, computer clubs, and so on. Now they can make it in virtual reality! The Matrix, Lawnmower Man, Tron, and now Ready Player One prepared them for this. Cyberpunk fantasy has come true.
The truth is that cyberpunk doesn’t have mass popularity — check Blade Runner 2049’s box office. Beyond that, too few are early adopters ready for VR.
But we know how to make it work. Since 2014 our company, Avatarico, has developed VR games for location-based entertainment, and we keep close contact with more than 70 clients running gaming centers across the globe. And I know for sure that marketing these arcades using the concept of VR alone is a failure.
If you are into new technologies, you might be into VR. If you buy every gimmick on the market, then you probably want to try VR. But if you don’t, then the technology in and of itself is not an interest for you. There is a cinema, family entertainment center, escape room, a lot of things to have fun with. VR doesn’t sell itself. If you want to appeal to the mass audience, you need something else.
How to get traction?
We have found that VR isn’t selling itself — certain experiences or games just aren’t appealing to some customers. But we want our VR arcade to be an entertainment center. We want families and corporate parties. We want to scale. We need traction. We need something that attracts people. If it’s not VR, then what it is?
Let’s see how other entertainment venues approach this problem. Movie theaters don’t promote the screen or the projector. That’s ridiculous. They promote movies. Still, based on our survey, a typical headline of a VR arcade’s ad is something like “The first VR arcade in the city!” A VR arcade should promote the experiences and games instead.
But does it sound inherently interesting to play “Job Simulator”? Or shoot a bow? Not really.
What games do people actually play?
OK, there isn’t as much choice in a new medium as there are with phone or console games, but what do the customers actually play at VR arcades?
Seventy-to-ninety percent of VR arcade customers are first-timers. They don’t know what game they should choose, so game operators give them recommendations.
Based on our surveys, they usually recommend something simple like Elven Assassin, Richie’s Plank Experience, or Job Simulator. These are easy to get into, and they’re fun. They are intuitive: You just take a bow and shoot immediately, grab random things around you, or take a few steps on a plank.
2) The game should refer to a popular theme
If you don’t have a license to mention big titles, then appeal to a more general theme. You don’t need to mention The Lord of the Rings to use elves in your game — so here’s Wenkly Studio’s Elven Assassin! You can feel like you’re Legolas in this game.
When you’re playing Beat Games’ Beat Saber, you can imagine you’re a Jedi — but there are no references to Star Wars in. You just slice cubes with two sticks made of light, and there is “saber” in the title. Smart.
The same is true for our game, Magical Flight Academy. You’re flying on a broomstick through rings and fight a fantastic beast with a magical wand. If you don’t think of Harry Potter right now, then we’ve probably failed.
When I worked as a creative director at Lostroom, we created escape rooms. And we tested contextual advertising a lot. In those days I learned that a “wizard school” ad had a conversion rate of 5 percent, “Alice in Wonderland” had 4 percent, “Call of Cthulhu” had 3 percent, and ‘‘buried alive” had only 2 percent. They were all great experiences, but the more popular the theme, the more people who’ll be interested.
3. The experience must speak for itself
The gameplay should be self-explanatory. You must be able to use it in your ads’ headlines as a call-to-action. Shooting a bow is fun, but it could be puzzling to tie it with elves in the same sentence without using a Legolas-like image to get into peoples’ imaginations. “Go slice the cubes” doesn’t sound like a good headline either. And you can’t speak about “lightsaber” because it will deliver problems with Disney to both you and Beat Saber’s developer.
4. You must appeal to the broadest audience
The medium of VR is narrowing enough. You must broaden your pipeline as much as you can. Promote the experiences everyone gets, likes and wants. That’s why VR roller coasters were some of the first experiences to massively pop up after the first headsets were released.
Think of what women who may not consider themselves “gamers” will love to do. Think of a grandma with her grandson playing together. Think of kids, adults, and elders. Finding experiences satisfying all of them is a must.
As we speak to VR arcade owners, it’s often mentioned that there are not so many games for kids or for girls.
When I worked at Lostroom, there were hen parties in our Alice in Wonderland escape room, and crowds of kids craving to play in the wizards school room. Because visiting a fairy tale or using a magic wand are desirable activities for a broad audience.
5. You need the experience that makes you say ‘wow’
Think of things you can’t do in real life. Think of things the human always desire. A game concept should be familiar; a short description must make a sparkle in your head immediately. But the association should be juicy.
And when a player will try it for the first time, they should smile, yell, and laugh. Otherwise, what’s VR for? And we all want the customers to learn how cool it is. So make a dream pack of games for your arcade.
- Don’t center VR as a technology in your advertising. If you’ll learn to promote the experiences instead of technology, you’ll benefit.
- Refer to a popular setting. If the customer sees the ad and says “Hey! It’s like in Harry Potter, but with dragons!” you’re cool.
- Describe the experience. It should be self-explanatory. If you read the headline of the ad and you want to do it right now, then you’re good.
- Make sure you are going to hit the big audience. There are wanted experiences in cyberpunk setting for sure, but having Blade Runner in mind won’t take you as far as wizards on broomsticks.
- Make the customer say “wow!” Let them fly for the first time in his life. Let them talk about it for a week after.
Anton Zaitsev, CEO at Avatarico, AR/VR developer. The company developed 6 VR games for location-based entertainment locations across the globe, the most recent title is Magic Flight Academy which was designed for first-timers coming to VR arcades.