Worlds of fun
Reno has a new virtual reality arcade
Reno’s 21st century economy is diversifying with electric cars, data centers and cannabis. We might as well throw virtual reality (VR) in the mix, too. In May, the city’s first VR arcade, Anything Virtual, opened up on Mae Anne Avenue, a few doors down from Peg’s Glorified Ham and Eggs. Proprietor Kim Chisholm is the proud owner of six HTC Vive VR gaming consoles, and she’ll let you play them for $30 per hour—$20 for a half hour.
For outsiders from the $7.2 billion global VR industry, three tech companies dominate the market: Oculus, HTC and Sony PlayStation. To use VR, you stand in front of a computer wearing a specialized VR headset over your eyes, remote controls in your hands, and DJ-quality headphones. With your face inside the headset, you’re suddenly privy to an expanding, pixel-based universe of high-end virtual entertainment, from interactive gaming to Hollywood-style films tailored for VR to put you in the middle of the action. It’s like being able to walk around inside of CGI environments as beautiful as James Cameron’s Avatar world. It’s also like having to defend yourself against aliens trying to zap you into digital oblivion.Entry levels
It’s not cheap to own a VR gaming setup at home, but not unrealistic. The personal computers capable of VR require a few technical specifications to play the data-heavy content. Plus you need to set up a space—maybe your living room—dedicated to wandering around blindly waving your arms and ducking behind invisible barriers. Essentially, you need a solid foundation of IT knowledge to be able to own one.
Fortunately, Greg Chisholm, Kim’s husband, has 14 years of IT and website server experience. But what he and Kim didn’t have is a background in virtual reality. They weren’t among the early VR adopters. They hadn’t been biding their time analyzing the mass VR market. Before starting the business, Kim hadn’t even tried VR.
“A friend mentioned a virtual reality arcade, that it would be cool and that Reno needed one, but he didn’t want to start it,” she said. “So after the meeting, I looked at my husband said, ’We could do that.’” She admitted to almost breaking the whole console while flinching in fear the first time a zombie popped up beside her.
Just over three months later, Anything Virtual has its own brick and mortar space that includes six VR gaming bays, each custom painted with eccentric pop art by local muralist Bryce Chisholm, who happens to be Greg’s cousin. The environment is just how an arcade should be, lit by swirling disco lights and pumping electronic music. There’s a rotating selection of 12 games licensed for VR arcades, and Kim and Greg are in the process of building a realistic driving simulator.Industry momentum
At Anything Virtual, friends can split the cost for time and watch each other’s gameplay on the monitors hung above the gaming bays. Kim said she’s hosted a couple of birthday parties. Her biggest obstacle is getting people to go out of their way to even understand what VR is and choose to spend money on it.
“A lot of people don’t know exactly what we are or what we do,” said Kim. “They haven’t either heard of the VR as an arcade, or they just heard our name but haven’t seen a billboard or any image with it, so they’re not sure what’s going on.” She explained that once people put the goggles on, it’s immediate “wows” and certain expletives. It’s funny the faces people make when they forget anyone is watching.
Ever since Facebook’s $3 billion acquisition of VR giant Oculus in 2014, VR is undoubtedly more visible in the mainstream.
“I think we’re in this upward curve in terms of how many people have experienced VR in a way where they can interact with it,” said Michelle Rebaleati, a multimedia production specialist at University of Nevada, Reno’s Dynamic Media Lab. “A lot of people have used Google cardboard or have seen it on their phone where they can move it around, but getting that full experience in the headset is literally out of this world.”
Rebaleati is the producer and editor behind a short virtual reality video called Inside The Mind Of Da Vinci. It follows the process of artist Mischell Riley as she sculpted a 10-foot model of Leonardo Da Vinci’s head for Burning Man. Whilew watching the video, viewers can move their heads around to observe scenes in the Reno Generator and the Black Rock Desert as if they’re standing within those places.
The UNR Dynamic Media Lab, where Rebaleati works, is in the process of building its own VR center that will house four VR stations to increase student exposure to VR as well as facilitate content creation. It turns out the UNR will host the second VR-dedicated space in Reno.Game time
“I’m trying to grow the market because it doesn’t really exist,” Greg said. VR arcades are increasingly popular in China, and they’ve popped up in cities around North America, but Greg and Kim have never been to one, other than their own. Instead, they follow other thriving arcades on social media, researching different business models on the web. They’ve harnessed cyberspace to learn how to build their own cyber space. How meta is that?
Greg and Kim are geeky enthusiasts. They’re also business-minded. Greg said they’ve done a lot of stuff to streamline the process for players so it’s as efficient as possible. Players can swiftly get in, sign the liability waiver, and get to gaming. The couple are constantly testing and rotating their selection of games based on customer reviews. They’re voluntarily following the Virtual Reality Standards Board guidelines for safety and sanitation. They’re refining their fee structures and membership models. And they have a few secret collaborations up their sleeves with organizations around town. But with the rapidly evolving VR industry and home VR gaming becoming cheaper and more accessible, Greg and Kim know they’re going to have to be dynamic to stay afloat.