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Raw Data devs see arcades playing critical role in VR biz

Survios has already launched its popular VR title in 30 territories

Survios' claim to fame in the nascent VR sector is that its action title Raw Data amassed sales of $1 million in its first month. While the developer has been reticent about sharing updated sales information, things have definitely been positive for the company as it's expanding its business in the arcade space as well, while offering to publish other developers' games in VR arcades.

Survios has been fortunate enough to recently close an additional $50 million in funding across two financing rounds and has reinvested some of that into the global arcade market. The developer created an arcade-optimized version of Raw Data, which features faster loading times, simplified menus, faster multiplayer matchmaking, and robust admin tools for arcade operators.

Survios' VP of Business Development, Ben Kim, believes that arcade support makes a lot of sense for VR developers, and could open up new revenue streams, but it has to be handled the right way.

"VR devs should definitely keep arcades in mind as a valuable opportunity for their content, but they need to understand that it's a completely separate market," he tells GamesIndustry.biz. "You can't just copy your existing strategies and expect the same results. Arcades attract different customers, require different marketing strategies, and necessitate different support requirements."

"To the rest of the world, VR is alluring, but confusing: there are tons of different headsets, controllers, tracking methods, hardware requirements, and there's the high cost of premium VR hardware"

As much as Survios has been successful in the home VR market, the studio is fully aware of the overwhelming challenges that most VR developers still face. Some have said that making any money at all is nearly impossible. This is where devoting some time to crafting an arcade version of your title may be helpful.

"We know that VR still has a ways to go before it officially becomes a mainstay in people's homes like a traditional console. To the rest of the world, VR is alluring, but confusing: there are tons of different headsets, controllers, tracking methods, hardware requirements, and there's the high cost of premium VR hardware. It's a steep barrier to entry requiring a lot of time, money, and energy for a niche entertainment system to which they're not 100% committed," Kim says.

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"We see VR arcades as serving two purposes. First, they provide a fun social venue where consumers can satisfy their curiosity without the big financial commitment. Second, they offer an opportunity for people to experience VR who otherwise would never have slipped on a headset."

Raw Data has been launched in arcades in 30 territories, and Survios is charging arcade operators a $75 monthly fee per unit. The company wants to help other developers bring their VR games to arcades but has not publicly stated what the publishing terms will be.

"As VR content creators, we have to balance out the need to make VR experiences for the masses with the desire to express ourselves through the medium. That extends to the developers we choose for our publishing initiative," Kim notes.

"We know there are a lot of VR developers out there who share this same philosophy, and we want to help them make their dreams a reality through strategic application of our business and development knowledge. That includes VR projects that would be best suited and unique to the arcade environment. Through publishing, we'll ensure their game receives the placement and publicity it deserves through our arcade partners."

Vive maker HTC obviously believes in the promise of VR in arcades as well. The firm's Viveport Arcade initiative sees it pushing into VR arcades with 120 titles so far, with an especially strong presence in China and Taiwan to start. Rikard Steiber, President of Viveport and SVP of Virtual Reality at HTC, said that VR arcades will represent a $100 million opportunity over the next two years.

"Historically, Asian markets have been trailblazers in location-based entertainment--including PC cafes and karaoke bars--so it wasn't surprising that VR arcades got an early foothold, enabling Survios and other developers to achieve success in those regions," adds Kim.

"However, we believe the current preference for roomscale, high-end VR experiences will have enthusiasts [playing in VR arcades] on every continent and in every tech-loving culture around the world."

With HTC's recent announcement of the ViveTracker peripheral, which enables the Vive to track any real-world object being held or worn (whether gloves, swords, tennis rackets, etc.), it's easy to see customized gear being created for the arcade VR scene. It would seem like a natural fit to offer that experience with toy guns or swords in a game such as Raw Data, but Survios isn't committing just yet.

"We would love for VR arcades to be as prolific and prevalent of a social gathering spot as the coin-operated arcades of our youths"

"Some arcades have expressed a high level of interest in quality peripherals that enhance the offline experience. We cannot comment on how we're planning to address this interest, but it's on our radar--as easy as it is to become enraptured with the potential of the technology, we always have to ensure that the user experience comes first, before and above everything else," says Kim.

Another aspect of the arcade scene that Survios is keen to capitalize on - and that you can't really get with VR in the home - is real-life spectating.

"One interesting, arcade-centric trend that has emerged, particularly in high-traffic locations, is the performance aspect of playing VR in front of a spectating group," Kim continues. "Some of the most frequent arcade patrons already own a premium VR headset at home, but enjoy challenging themselves through local leaderboards and competitive tournaments--or just showing off their well-honed skills!

"Active VR, especially room-scale, brings physicality to video gaming in a new way, and Raw Data is especially well-suited to that kind of impromptu group spectating (a la arcades circa 1988). Throughout a year of public demos, we've watched crowds gather to cheer on players decimating enemies with sweet gun tricks and sword skills or laugh at reactions to jump scares, and we can already see that appeal translating perfectly to the arcade environment."

Perhaps VR can moderately revive an arcade scene that's long since been dead in the West? While it's not likely that we'll ever see an arcade scene emerge like we lived through in the '80s, Kim does see signs of an encouraging trend.

"I lost many a Saturday afternoon (and countless quarters) trying to beat high scores in Street Fighter, NBA Jam, Area 51, etc. We would love for VR arcades to be as prolific and prevalent of a social gathering spot as the coin-operated arcades of our youths," he says.

"Nearly every arcade we've partnered with was formed at the grassroots level: ambitious entrepreneurs who are deeply passionate about sharing VR with the public and providing an exceptional player experience. Arcade owners are solely responsible for seeing the opportunity gap in the marketplace, acting on the instinct and defining a new category of location-based entertainment.

"The industry owes them a big favor for investing in and bringing high-end VR to the masses in an affordable way, and we are very excited about the potential of VR arcades becoming a mainstream entertainment destination."

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