From 4 to 135 – Hologate’s Year of Growth
Free-Roam VR Company’s Business Grows 3,000% Since IAAPA Debut; Business Spells Success for the Emerging Market in FECs
by Casey Minter
Looking at the VR industry, it’s sometimes hard to determine the line between the success stories and the failures. The technology can certainly amaze and great advancements can be made, but translating that into a solid business plan and profits is an evasive skill.
Hologate, a Munich, Germany-based company, which burst onto the market last year with the aid of their exclusive North American distributor Creative Works, seems to have harnessed that skill, resulting in some impressive growth figures since their popular debut at the last IAAPA.
At the time they brought it to the show, the company had four locations. This month, company topper Leif Petersen told RePlay Hologate is up and running in 135 locations (with more than 200 total units sold), making them the largest LBE VR provider in the world by his count.
While the vast majority of these installations happened in FECs, the 270-sq.-ft., one-to-four player system has found success in a variety of other locations as well. Petersen believes the simplicity of the platform, combined with its novelty and available games, has been the driving factor behind his company’s growth.
“It shows that this is working. We took the hassle out of operating and installing VR,” Petersen said. “Everything is operated through a single touchscreen, making operations super intuitive. Usually when we bring new people in to train them to onboard customers, it only takes about five minutes.”
Petersen got an early start in VR and gaming in general. He was a teenager in the ’90s when the last obsession with VR flared and fondly remembers the wonderment of donning a Virtuality headset and entering the raw, pixelated, low-latency world of VR at the time. The exponential improvement of graphics, computing and hardware since then is indescribable to someone who hasn’t played their share of (now) ancient games, but even then, Petersen was able to imagine the potential.
“The headsets were especially terrible back then compared to today, but it was still an awesome glimpse at the future of what was possible,” he said.
Petersen carried that fascination with the tech throughout his professional career, starting his work in visual effects doing animations for clients worldwide. Through this, he kept an eye on VR and four years ago he began to see the trend reemerging, this time backed with impressive technological advances.
As the trend developed, he decided it was time to pursue that childhood fascination in earnest, founding Hologate and Hologate Studios, the game development side of the company. After prepping a show-ready version of their setup and games, he took it to IAAPA in 2017 and found success.
Now, the company is continuing to transform, announcing in October an incoming influx of games and peripherals. Hologate is teaming with third-party developers now to expand its arsenal of VR games, with updates set to be rolling out to system operators throughout next year.
Additionally, the company introduced its haptic vest at IAAPA’s Euro Attractions Show in September. The wireless vest furthers players’ immersion by providing 40 vibration points across the body, which can simulate everything from the recoil of a fired shotgun to an enemy’s laser blasting you to a rabid zombie chomping on your shoulder from behind.
“The vest gets some impressive feedback. It’s quite cool and can be a bit shocking the first time you get hit,” Petersen said.
He could only hint at the IP and recognizable games to be announced at this year’s IAAPA show, but he was able to tell RePlay about the first in what could be many innovative titles yet to come.
The game, Das Boot, reinvents the classic WWII film and lets the player take the helm of a submarine battling an enemy destroyer. Up to four players work together to pilot the sub, each given specific tasks such as spotting the enemy, firing torpedoes, altering course and more. Petersen says teamwork is key to winning, and expects the IAAPA crowd to enjoy getting a chance to play a VR game that has more depth than run-and-gun.
“It’s a legendary movie and fun to work with! We’ve turned it into kind of an escape game, where players have moments of team building and talking to each other is key,” Petersen said. “It speaks to what I think is great about the medium in general: the vast number of different things you can do with it. One game may be more experience and story driven, another might be an addictive shooter, or a game like this. I think that it can combine the best of gaming and storytelling.”
It’s not all blood and battle though. Hologate is intensely focused on developing games that broaden their system’s demographic appeal. A family-oriented maze game is already published, and Petersen says they’re looking at rhythm games as a great way to bring in women, older crowds and non-gamers. Despite concentrations in some demographic groups, Petersen says the system is appealing to all sorts of people and locations, and was excited to announce that they would pass the one million player mark before this month’s IAAPA show.
“We see a demographic change depending on the games we offer,” Petersen said. “We started with shooters and had about 70 percent male players, but as we added more family content its become a mixed bag.”
Petersen says that most potential operators that contact Hologate already have an established location, but says the system can be standalone, especially in a mall space. An emerging market they’ve recently found success in is trampoline parks, with Petersen saying that he thinks people are ready to be active in that space. A Hologate attraction allows the jumpers to keep their blood pumping while taking a break from the trampolines. He greatly credits Creative Works for working alongside his burgeoning company, and giving them a foot in the door with locations around the U.S.
“Creative Works has been great to us. They have a long history in the field and I feel lucky to be involved with them,” Petersen said. “They helped with our U.S. growth a lot and we’re looking forward to future products we will bring to market with them.”
There’s a lot of ahead of the company, and the tech behind the craze keeps evolving. Petersen says things like higher-end headsets with wider fields of view, higher resolution and eye tracking (which can be used in a game to emulate the way our eyes focus, creating depth of field) will just further the earnings potential of Hologate. Trade shows, he says, are always a lot of fun, because they get to continue to see people discover the medium for the first time, and he sees that wonderment he felt as a kid grow in others.
“We’re getting a lot of praise from all sorts of people, but a highlight has to have been playing Hologate with Nolan Bushnell,” Petersen said. “He congratulated us all on what we’d done. I played Pong when I was little, and to hear that, it was great stuff.”
The question of how the coming year will treat VR is high on many peoples’ minds, but for Hologate, Petersen can only see a continuing upward trajectory. The company is working on having a potential eight-player system by combining two Hologate setups, and he believes multiplayer is key to the medium’s success. He believes it’s the social experience that drives players back to Hologate to suit up again, alongside their friends and family in hopes of teleporting to a new world for a time.
“We want to create more thrill and excitement every time someone plays, so when people are seeing us we’re still the new thing. A huge majority of people still haven’t tried VR in its new iteration, so there’s a lot of room for growth,” Petersen concluded. “I don’t see that stopping. If we create a great experience in VR, people truly get to live it. It’s not just watching a film, its really emotional. I think it hits on much deeper emotions than any other medium can, so I think the reactions will always be much stronger.”
Be sure to check out Hologate at this month’s IAAPA Expo where Creative Works will have it set up (their booth numbers are 4274 and 4471), and learn more about at www.hologate.com.