Every business needs a compelling against-the-odds story. When Virtual Reality is concerned, one such can be found across the pond, in Hong Kong to be precise. Sandbox VR, a location-based Virtual Reality experience provider founded in 2016, has secured $68 million round A investment for spreading its business across the states.
Virtual Reality has not really caught on the way we anticipated. Proof of this is LA, where IMAX closed the last of seven VR Arcade Centers. These were supposed to bring VR closer to the intended audience. Where IMAX failed though, another company is looking to succeed. Sandbox VR, this relatively fledgling Chinese VR provider went against the current trend of ignoring early-stage VR projects and snatched $68 million from big-name investors such as TriplePoint Capital, Stanford University, and Alibaba. The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of out-of-home Virtual Reality, it is essentially your shopping mall or any other similar location VR experience. The Chinese company in particular is present in six cities and offers various entertainment experiences including stage exploration, zombie or alien fights, etc. The company blog took time to reflect on the medium: ‘We believe this new medium is not about better movies or a more immersive game. It is something else entirely, and we as an industry will need to learn from the best of both mediums – movies and gaming’. The location-based VR medium is going against the current here. It is a software-oriented business in a hardware-dominated environment. And it works.
‘When we first opened in Hong Kong’, Sandbox VR founder Steve Zhao recalls, ’for the next 60 days we were sold out from morning until night’. A huge hit in China and elsewhere, Sandbox VR does things a little differently. A typical Sandbox experience includes a group of friends all clad in the latest VR techies, enjoying one of several multi-player experiences. The company, too, understands what it means to stand out and offers social media coverage to their customer – meaning you get footage of you playing the game inside VR. ‘Seeing it on Instagram’, Andrew Chen – an Andreessen Horowitz partner explains, ‘is going to be one of the killer secrets of this business’.
The sessions are in the vicinity of $40 per hour per player. For the price you get some of the most advanced gear the money can borrow. Speaking of money, the $68 million investment round will be put to good use. The Chinese company looks to expand Sandbox locations to LA, Austin, NY, and Chicago. The most likely location to check it out will be Westfield malls as the two companies have penned a few deals already.
‘There’s VR, which is in nuclear winter, there’s content, which is never hot, and there’s retail, which basically nobody invests in – and we’re a company that’s in all three of them at the same time’. As Zhao points out, Sandbox VR looks to be more than sum of its parts. Much like with The VOID and Zero latency, its expansion suggests a new wave of location-based Virtual Reality systems.