For the past four years, Virtuix has sponsored and presented at Foundations Entertainment University, the out-of-home entertainment industry’s premier seminar that teaches attendees the ins and outs of launching and operating an entertainment venue.
Several operators who’ve attended Foundations have added Omni Arena to their attractions offering. Jerry Merola, cofounder and Executive Director of Foundations, decided to analyze Omni Arena’s performance at these venues using six criteria. The result is the fascinating article below, offering an independent assessment of Omni Arena by an industry expert and by actual Omni Arena customers. We hope you find it insightful!
Putting Omni Arena to the Ultimate Test
By Jerry Merola, Executive Director, Foundations Entertainment University
When it comes to virtual reality, I think we can all agree that today’s consumer has strong expectations about what qualifies as a “next-level” attraction in family and adult-formatted entertainment venues these days. “Next level” was much easier to accomplish ten years ago, as the consumer had limited access to higher levels of technology in their homes, instead relying upon out-of-home experiences to deliver something truly special. Back then, operators of family entertainment centers, bowling venues, roller skating facilities, and indoor sports venues simply could not justify the expense associated with IMAX-style theater offerings, higher-end dark rides, and free-roam virtual offerings, all of which were commonly reserved for the amusement and theme park segments for many years. Innovation and creativity have changed the landscape in that regard, with our industry launching a notable number of VR-focused amusement games and standalone attractions, each capable of fitting squarely into the FEC operating platform. Most importantly, these much-needed attractions have helped to reinvigorate how the consumer views their out-of-home entertainment experience, and are helping to boost per capita spending and repeat visitation by guests.
During the past year, Foundations Entertainment University (FEU) has had the opportunity to track the performance of one of its Platinum Sponsors – Virtuix – with the goal of understanding how its Omni Arena virtual platform has performed in entertainment facilities that are owned and operated by FEU’s own graduates. That’s right, what better way to test a product than from within the entertainment facilities that have spawned from the seminar program itself. To that end, we selected three such graduates – Epicenter Adventure in Puyallup, Washington, Xtreme Play in Danbury, Connecticut, and Palace Social in Houston, Texas. Each has been operating an Omni Arena for 12 months or more, serving the family, adult, and corporate markets in each of their respective operating territories.
It’s the Criteria That Counts
When it comes to evaluating attractions, I often like to examine six general criteria. While there are certainly more, my Top-6 tend to consistently permit examination on a level playing field, with the goal of offering an impartial evaluation that most readers can utilize in determining what might be best for their particular scenario. As a general rule, not all attractions will perform well in all types and sizes of venues, so it’s important to consider a facility’s core mission and values when making such choices. Matching attractions and consumer target markets can go a long way toward improving a facility’s economic sustainability.
My Top-6 criteria include the following elements:
- Visual Appearance and Theme
- Ease of Use By Patrons
- Level of Competitiveness Offered As A Means To Enhance Repeat Play
- Overall Uniqueness Of The Experience
- Availability and Responsiveness of Manufacturer’s Technical Support Team
- Investment Return Ratio
Visual Appearance and Theme
When it comes to visuals, Omni Arena scores big. The self-contained arena structure is really an attraction in itself, essentially delivering a custom theme to whatever area of an entertainment facility it is placed. According to Dr. Jim Bonheur, proprietor of Xtreme Play, most guests are intrigued by the glow of the unit, the active leaderboard scores, and the high-motion activity of the players within. Kari Hines, owner of Epicenter Adventure, now uses her Omni Arena as the facility’s central showpiece, as it adds dimensionally to the techie appearance of her venue overall. Billy Forney, owner of Palace Social, commented that, by design, the Omni Arena stands out as the most dominant game offering within Palace’s amusement game center. He plans to add even more green hues and lighting to the cabinet itself for an ultra-custom look.
Ease of Use by Patrons
Perhaps the most unusual element about the Omni Arena – and the item I was most intrigued by when it was first released at the IAAPA show in 2018 – was the partially enclosed “on deck” area, where the next session of players is prepped for gameplay. The natural advantage of this format is the ability for on-deck players to view those players currently in action and generate a clear understanding of how gameplay occurs. I personally found this to be extremely helpful, as we’ve all faced a learning curve at one time or another when experiencing new attractions. By prepping the next session of players, the single staff attendant can significantly boost hourly throughput within the unit, thereby reducing wait times during peak operating periods. As Dr. Jim Bonheur noted, the on-deck zone adds to the Omni Arena experience, as the partially-enclosed prep area allows players to become immersed in the game much sooner than if they were standing in a typical attraction cue line. It’s such an innovative idea and a great way to introduce new users to the game.
From a gameplay perspective, Omni’s exclusive player pods safely contain each guest but permit a full 360 degrees of freedom at all times. It’s really the best of both worlds – run as fast as you want without violating the facility’s rules! Most importantly, everyone can play, which widens the audience quite considerably. There’s enough throughput in this unit to handle a corporate outing or birthday party, and the gameplay is designed to handle different skill sets and capability levels as well.
Let’s face it, competition sells. As consumers, it’s very difficult for us to compete with friends on almost any activity without the losing party demanding a rematch. That’s what makes things fun. But the Omni Arena ups the ante on a global scale, offering continuous tournaments for players as well as $100,000 in prize money sourced directly from Virtuix. I was quite surprised to learn that all three test facilities had some of their top performing guests on Omni’s leaderboard, some of whom had won cash payouts. At Palace Social, the eSports aspect of the Omni Arena has contributed to routine use by “the regulars.” Billy Forney notes that players love the intense graphics and the ability to share their gameplay video with others after the visit. Kari Hines of Epicenter mentioned, “our guests just can’t get this level of entertainment at home. You really can’t play it just once.”
Overall Uniqueness of the Experience
So what’s so special here? Well for starters, the Omni Arena is in its own category. While it certainly classifies as full-blown VR, it delivers a free roam experience in a compact footprint. From my perspective, that’s the key, as most entertainment centers are routinely challenged for space these days. What might normally be accomplished in a 5,000 square-foot free-roam arena can now occur in less than 500 square feet. In essence, any style of entertainment venue can handle this attraction without negatively impacting facility flow or effectiveness. Today, success is about revenue-per-square-foot, and to that end, Virtuix certainly delivers.
Technical Support – The Entertainment Operator’s Lifeline
As a whole, I believe our industry has greatly improved its response time to customer inquiries. While customer service and technical support will forever be a work-in-process, manufacturers with strong response times and diligent technical experts on standby are helping to maximize the performance of their games and attractions, which in turn leads to happy customers and repeat sales. As we’ve all come to learn, a lack of technical support means we have attractions and components that become inoperative, leading to diminished guest reviews.
Anything that is electro-mechanical will require service. Like any other high-technology game, the Omni Arena is no exception. Service and repairs are a natural part of the entertainment business, as the attractions within our facilities see thousands of plays each year. I worry less about the occurrence of faults and needed parts replacements and more about the accessibility of those same parts and the know-how to solve issues. Interestingly enough, all three venues reported a “super responsive” approach from the Virtuix team, with most solutions administered the same day. Kari Hines indicated she “would not hesitate to put an Omni in a second facility,” largely in part due to Virtuix’s commitment to the customer. As I learned long ago, if an attraction isn’t operational, it converts itself from an asset to a liability very quickly.
Investment Return Ratio
I’ve always looked at attractions in much the same way as one might view stocks and bonds. In essence, we’re investing in every attraction we purchase, and remain hopeful that those same attractions will produce strong returns capable of not only supporting the initial investment but generating a performance return as well. One of the easiest ways of measuring attraction investment return is to divide a unit’s annual revenue attainment by its initial investment cost. Those looking to fine-tune their returns will layer in the cost of replacement parts, service fees, and manufacturer subscriptions as well. While revenue attainment is often used as a sole criterion, perhaps a more suitable assessment would include an asset’s future sustainability and its ability to be upgraded or enhanced. Virtuix’s library of game titles satisfies the sustainability criteria, as facility operators can add titles as desired to spur additional gameplay. Billy Forney of Palace noted that the Omni Arena is routinely the top performer in his game center – Kari Hines at Epicenter Adventure places the Omni in the “Top 2.” Even Xtreme Play, which boasts an incredible assortment of rides, games, theaters, and immersive attractions, ranks the Omni Arena as a Top 5 performer. Given that our test facilities are largely serving their local markets, results such as these suggest a significant amount of repeat play by visiting patrons.
Omni Arena for the Win
Selecting attractions for a new or enhanced entertainment venue can be a daunting task. As facility operators, we’re balancing state-of-the-art experiences with reliability and ease of operation. I was happy to observe that the Omni Arena has been delivering on all cylinders for our Foundations graduates, and even more pleased to see that unit performance has been consistently improving month-over-month. Two of our three test sites have achieved a full investment payback in less than 12 months, with the third not far behind. That’s high praise for a product that has endured the challenges of a COVID-impacted test period, and a testament to the hard work and commitment from the team at Virtuix.
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The Virtuix Team