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Sandbox VR, which operates location-based virtual reality experiences, is collaborating with Netflix to create a fully immersive Squid Game virtual reality experience.
Launched in September 2021, Squid Game was an instant hit on Netflix as a gritty survival horror series where hundreds of game show contestants had to battle each other in games where the losers die. Millions of Squid Game fans have viewed over 1.65 billion hours of the show, making it Netflix’s most-watched show of all time. It truly creeped me out, and Squid Game seems perfect for social VR.
The Sandbox VR x Squid Game virtual reality experience is set to open late 2023.
The deal is a continuation of the love affair between games and Hollywood, which is a major theme of our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2023 event, which will take place May 22 to May 23 in Marina del Rey, California, in Los Angeles.
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“We call ourselves the new movies,” said Steve Zhao, CEO of Sandbox VR, in an interview with GamesBeat. “With systems becoming more powerful, the narrative of games has really evolved.”
Now fans will be able to go from watching the show to living it in VR. I enjoyed the Sandbox VR Star Trek Discovery experience at the Sandbox VR location in San Francisco in pre-pandemic days. But the company had to shut down during the pandemic and go through a painful rebirth. As people started going out again, Sandbox VR thrived. And in November 2021, the company raised $37 million to open lots more locations.
Sandbox VR wants to create the future of entertainment by building the world’s most immersive experiences using bleeding-edge virtual reality technology. Their patented motion-tracking technology, which captures the movements of a player’s entire body, combines with a high-quality haptic system to provide players with unprecedented realism and complete immersion that’s not possible with home VR or other location-based VR platforms.
Sandbox VR’s platform combines advanced technology with highly-intuitive functionality. Guests’ own bodies act as their game controllers; all they have to do is step into the virtual world and participate in the action unfolding all around them.
The company currently boasts six proprietary experiences based on both exclusive licensing of well-loved Hollywood properties as well as their own unforgettable intellectual property. All Sandbox VR experiences are developed by an in-house gaming studio led by game industry veterans and are specifically designed for groups to play as social experiences. Teams of up to six friends freely roam and explore virtual worlds together, while relying on each other to succeed.
“Our mission is to bring people closer together through world-class immersive experiences,” said Zhao. “What could be a more perfect fit than Squid Game, the most widely shared and discussed television series of the past years. It’s an amazing opportunity to partner with Netflix to provide these fans the chance to transport themselves into the world of the show.”
In the Sandbox VR experience, players are transported to iconic Squid Game locations, where they become contestants in a variety of pulse-pounding challenges inspired by the Netflix series and compete against each other to be the last one standing. After each game session, players will receive personalized highlight videos capturing their in-game reactions and recapping how their very own Squid Game story
So far, the teams creating the TV show and the VR team aren’t collaborating. Rather, Netflix is more like the collaborator itself. If there are questions, the mediators pass them along and get answers.
“They give us some creative liberty,” Zhao said.
Sandbox VR is now operating in over 30 global locations and expanding rapidly. With a dozen locations launched in the last twelve months, each 5,000 square feet with at least four decks in which guests experience the virtual worlds, Sandbox VR said it is the fastest-growing location-based VR startup in the world.
Investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, Gobi Partners, and Craft. Individual investors include Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Kevin Durant and Will Smith.
How it came together
Zhao said the company was lucky to meet with the Netflix team during the pandemic, and they loved what the Sandbox VR experiences could deliver. Netflix had its own “experiential group” that was creating things like The Stranger Things interactive experience.
“We worked directly with them,” Zhao said.
The Netflix team saw that Sandbox VR was growing quickly in the post-pandemic stage.
“We were just iterating on the portfolio like what intellectual property would make most sense as a full body social VR experience. We came to conclusion that it was Squid Game and that’s how we landed
it,” Zhao said.
Bouncing back from the pandemic
Overall, Sandbox VR has more than 400 people now across its locations. That’s far better than in the midst of the pandemic, when the company had to scale down to a skeleton crew.
Now the crowds have come back and Sandbox VR is expanding to new cities. There are multiple projects going on besides the Squid Game experience as well. Sandbox VR does a blend of branded and original experiences.
Netflix gave Sandbox VR a chance to make the game as an exclusive location-based experience. The whole deal happened pretty quickly, Zhao.
“We’re lucky with Squid Game, as it has action, high intensity, and searching,” Zhao said. “We can really use it in Sandbox VR, which works well with high-intensity experiences.”
The team is taking its time because it doesn’t want to rush the experience into the market, Zhao said. After all, there are a lot of folks trying to copy Squid Game experiences, and they’re not all good. Zhao isn’t describing the game yet, but you can bet it will have a social layer, he said.
“That’s the strength of Sandbox VR,” he said.
In tests so far, players are screaming their lungs out, Zhao said. I take that as a good sign.
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