Insight 20th February 2019

Virtual freedom

Free-roam destination VR is set to be big

In 2018, the VR industry grew by 30%*. It’s projected to continue growing significantly over the next few years – and one of the most interesting areas is free-roam ‘destination VR’. Here James Burrows dives into why free-roam VR is looking like it’s going to be the next big thing, and how it could shape the immersive technology industry going forward.


What is free-roam VR?

Free-roam VR is when people can move freely around a virtual space without being tethered to a computer or hampered by wires, allowing them to move around a space much as they would in the real world. The idea is that they can experience as close to a realistic experience as possible, including interacting with physical objects and other people within that space. Free-roam VR underpins ‘destination VR’ – where users can go and enjoy a virtual experience in a dedicated venue.


Why is it a big deal?

1. It’s attractive to consumers

The VR industry, while continuing to grow, has not been the overwhelmingly huge hit with consumers that many predicted – not least because cost of entry was just too high for many ordinary people. Destination VR, however, makes VR more affordable and much more accessible. People are able to pay for a ticket and enjoy a 30 minute experience that, with free-roam VR, is even more immersive than an average VR experience – simply due to the physical space which users have to move around in. Some even make use of environmental elements, such as heat or wind. On top of that, unlike insular individual VR experiences, free-roam experiences tend to be multiplayer – which can make it a lot more fun.


2. It’s driving technological (and creative) progress

So far, destination VR setups have nearly all involved backpack PCs, which are hooked up to the headset you wear. Some offer props as well, such as a gun, that you use throughout the experience – for example The Void’s Star Wars experience. However backpack PCs are heavy, uncomfortable and have a relatively short battery life – which is why we’re starting to see providers look for alternative solutions, that offer the same freedom of experience without the need for cumbersome backpacks. Pure Imagination’s Alien Descent experience and XIST VR’s free-roam platform are some examples.


But it’s not just technological advances we’re seeing. Creating content for a fully immersive, interactive and multiplayer VR experience is offering new creative opportunities – in terms of game design and narrative development. With a seamless blend between virtual and physical, the endless opportunities are endless.


3. Investors are betting big

Because of all these reasons, destination free-roam VR is proving a big hit with investors. For example Dark Slope studios recently secured $1.5m in funding, while Sandbox VR raised $68m for location-based VR experiences. The Void’s Star Wars experience was also hugely successful and they’re continuing to licence content for users to experience in VR. With investors betting on these types of experiences, it’s likely we’ll see a lot more of these types of experiences coming soon.


What should we look out for in future?

The technology will continue to get better – soon people will be able to experience free-roam destination VR without having to wear big heavy backpacks while still enjoying the highest grade quality of graphics. The number of venues is likely to increase, becoming more widespread and more affordable. And the types of content will broaden – we’re likely to see more original content and more capabilities for interaction within that. It’s an exciting for both the immersive tech and the gaming industry.




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*Source: Venturebeat