The Virtual Reality scene isn’t looking good at the moment. After a disheartening discontinuation (a pause, really) of StarVR One, VR receives another blow this week that will shake up the beloved VR arcade space. Namely, IMAX, the most prolific provider of the VR arcades in the world, has opted to seize production and leave off the VR train. IMAX VR arcade centers are shutting for good.
It just didn’t catch on the way we wanted. VR arcades, these relatively cheap Virtual Reality escapades were a huge hit, and then they weren’t. The platform that was to provide an affordable VR experience, and, in effect, popularize it, did not really meet expectations. And it is not for the want of trying. IMAX famously opened seven VR centers to see whether VR is their next big thing. Four of them were closed recently, and IMAX is now pulling the plug on the remaining three.
The company statement suggests the same, that VR arcades were only a testing ground. ‘After a trial period with VR centers in multiplexes, we have decided to conclude the IMAX VR center pilot program and close the remaining three locations in Q1 2019’. The locations in question are the flagship one in Los Angeles, and one each in Bangkok and Toronto. With the centers opened up, IMAX held the torch as the biggest VR arcades provider worldwide. Closing them, it either leaves a VR void for someone to fill, or the sour taste of an experiment failed.
‘With the launch of the IMAX VR center pilot program our intention was to test a variety of different concepts and locations to determine which approaches work well’. Or if they work at all, someone would add. Approachable and affordable, arcade centers are a perfect tool to ease Virtual Reality into lives of ordinary folk, its final destination. Entertaining as they are, and IMAX are guilty of some spectacular productions, they continue to sow the ground, but the yield is all but uncertain. Hence they ran their course, the IMAX VR arcade centers, leaving a void in their wake.
Meanwhile, business is booming on the AR side of the equation. More and more companies are leaving one for the other, or at least take the more holistic approach. Research is overwhelmingly claiming that more money is pouring into it, with estimated market growing to nearly $210 billion in the next 4 years. VR on the other hand, loses its most potent tool for spreading the word.
Or we may be reading too much into this. Maybe it is simply a financial trouble that is plaguing IMAX, similar to what happened to StarVR. In fact, StarVR was the company supplying IMAX VR arcade centers. The two cases might even be connected, certainly a conjecture worth conjecturing. Nevertheless, this may even prove to be a good thing. Arcades out of the picture, VR headsets would have to get cheaper if there is any hope of reaching the masses soon.