Sandbox VR has raised an additional $11 million in funding from notable Silicon Valley and Hollywood icons, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake.
The new investment brings their reported total to $83 million in 2019, including a $68 million round from earlier this year. The investment takes place amid a slowdown in VR funding, and it suggests that Sandbox has something special in its location-based VR technology.
Sandbox VR aims to create the something akin to Star Trek’s Holodeck, a room that can become any virtual environment and feel like it’s real, according to founder Steve Zhao.
“We’re incredibly honored to be able to work with some of the most talented and influential artists, athletes, and actors in the world,” said Zhao in a statement. “Their support is a vote of confidence that our platform will one day become the new medium for the future of sports, music, and storytelling.”
Sandbox VR creates a social multiplayer VR experience through a combination of full-body motion capture and VR technologies. Siqi Chen, president and chief product officer, said in an interview with GamesBeat that Sandbox VR is an experience much like going with your friends to a movie or an escape room.
“I went to Hong Kong on a fundraising trip, and I tried what Steve and his team of six people built,” Chen said. “It blew my mind. I’m a Star Trek geek. And what I experienced there was 0.1 version of the Holodeck. That’s what I wanted to work on.”
Led by David Sacks of Craft Ventures and the Andreessen Horowitz Cultural Leadership Fund, additional investors include Dreamers Fund, Honda Keisuke, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Kevin Durant, Rich Kleiman of Thirty Five Ventures, Michael Ovitz, Orlando Bloom, and Will Smith.
“They didn’t just take a normal VR setup and put that in an arcade,” Chen said. “They combined a VR headset with a backpack PC and motion capture. And you’re basically wearing motion-capture trackers on four points on your body, plus your head, and you have a full virtual body. It tracks the walls. And on top of that, they build a 30-minute long, triple-A experience with six people. So you go to this place with your friends to this experience and you and your friends are in the game.”
In the experience, you can run, walk, jump, and mix with the crowd. You can play in a social experience that costs about $35 to $40 per person. That’s a lot cheaper than investing $1,000 or more in a VR headset and PC, Chen said. A Star Trek: Discovery Away Mission experience, created with CBS Interactive, is coming soon.
The company has been attracting interest from influencers since its inception. By becoming a new pillar of the entertainment industry, Sandbox VR was ripe for additional attention and interest from tastemakers from the sports and entertainment industries.
“We believe that VR is finally ready to take off as a mass-market phenomenon in malls, where it can be optimized for a social experience,” said Sacks, in a statement. “We chose the Sandbox team because of their background in game design; their VR experiences have a level of interactivity — with both the VR world and other players — that we couldn’t find elsewhere. We believe that Sandbox VR is poised to become the first VR experience for millions of consumers around the world.”
The company is in the process of a rollout across the U.S. with a location recently opened in Los Angeles. It is coming soon to New York, Austin, San Diego, and Chicago with a total of 16 total locations planned by the end of 2020. The company has invested in retail locations, integrated technology together to create a unique experience, and built a game studio.
Many of the VR investments are starting to taper off, but the cream of the crop is still getting money. Chen said, “Our market outside of the home has a working business model. We’re booked solid every single night, every weekend. It’s a working business. We also provide something that is a lot more interesting than an escape room.”
The company has about 100 employees.