The Virtual Arena: Become a VR Arcade Boss

Rather than going to the arcade, industry specialist Kevin Williams, in his latest Virtual Arena column charts the rise in popularity of VR amusement games on consumer platforms, and how an actual amusement manufacturing company looks to launch their own virtual recreation of the amusement experience, which you can manage yourself.

The arcade experience is a popular zeitgeist, especially for an audience that has restricted mobility to local venues. Home arcade game ownership has been supported by a profusion of miniature arcade cabs. For those that do not have the space or deep pockets to build their own arcade, there is the ability to achieve this experience in VR.

We saw a mainstream attempt at feeding the continuing hunger for amusement gaming back in 2015 on the then Samsung GearVR, powered by Oculus. The platform would see the launch of ‘Oculus Arcade’, which would be ported onto other Oculus hardware like the Go – players able to assemble a collection of 22 recreations of classic video-arcade games. Virtual cabs they could play on such as Pac-Man and Defender, supported by licensed products from manufacturers SEGA, Namco and Midway. Though in the end the game would be abandoned due to unclear contractual reasons.

We have also seen perfusion of VR creations of amusement games like shooting the hoops, and arcade builders and management games, such as the releases New Retro Arcade: Neon, and VR Toolbox DLC ‘80’s Arcade’. At the same time, we see other attempts at arcade management games. Social VR offerings like Rec Room have included their own interpretations of the arcade hall-style experience, able to shoot some hoops with friends in VR. But many, if not all, of these interpretations of amusement fun, have been shallow experiences.

It was time for real amusement developers to apply their skills in this medium.

For the first time, an amusement manufacturer has ventured into the world of virtual amusement entertainment. LAI Games is a well-known video amusement, prize, and redemption machine manufacturer. Prior to becoming a subsidiary under Helix Leisure Pty Ltd, LAI Games was part of the Timezone Group and sister company to the popular ‘Timezone’ amusement facility chain.  So, the company knows a thing or two about amusement and its operation.

LAI has grown an extensive R&D resource that has been responsible for much of the innovation being applied to the new generation of amusement pieces that break the mould and aim to offer a new level of engagement for the modern amusement audience. Highly themed, with strong illumination and an even stronger gaming ethos. Titles like the company’s new release HYPERshoot – a re-imaging of the basketball hoops game, with immersive lighting, and audio cues, along with much more competitive gameplay. The need for modern amusement to be both compelling and enthralling is evident in these releases. The unique style of eye-catching presentation and compelling gameplay has fathered a sequel title in the same vein with HYPERpitch, a baseball-style pitching game.

The company is no stranger to the explosion in VR, having developed in partnership with Ubisoft, and D-BOX on Virtual Rabbid’s: The Big Ride – one of the leading sellers in the VR amusement machine genre, with well over 700 units sold across the world. But in the time of the Global Health Crisis, and LAI had an extensive R&D resource in Singapore looking to broaden their coverage under lockdown. It was in these conditions that the R&D operation decided that if the player cannot come to the arcade, then they will ship the arcade to the player. And so was born the new consumer VR game app called Arcade Legend.

The unique element of Arcade Legend is it is much more than loving recreations of real amusement gaming pieces but is also a management game – with the story gifting the ownership of a dilapidated and rundown amusement hall that they get to renovate and populate with machines, laying out the space, and attempting to attract players. The success of this represented by the number of NPC’s playing the machines. The game also allows multi-player allowing players to invite their friends to their creation.

VR offers the recreation of LAI’s games into this space. The company creating enhanced versions of their titles Let’s Bounce, Stacker, Speed of Light and the eye-catching HYPERshoot. The immersive representation adding a new level to the gameplay, allowing an audience to get to grips with these highly addictive amusements. The player able to manipulate the colour configurations and the price to play for all their machines.

But the game itself is much more than virtual simulations of the popular amusement hardware, the player must manage their arcade, building up a varied selection of games, attractions, and facilities to draw an audience, and price accordingly. LAI’s team is first looking at a list of their own videogames for the player to select from.

But it’s also in the early stages of discussions to have the inclusion of other real-world amusement hardware from other manufacturers offering depth to the game experience. Details teased suggest it has already secured a deal with another manufacturer, to include “…one of the most popular games in the history of our industry”, with Arcade Legend. Along with additional titles to follow.

The company has started the process of an early roll-out of the videogame. First releasing a teaser experience outlining the features of the experience and collecting player feedback towards a full release later in the year. Players can try the experience for themselves at the upcoming Steam Next Fest from June 16-22.

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