Hyper-Reality Sees Major Investment
The VOID Gets $20 Million Injection & Other Developments in LBE VR
by Kevin Williams, International Immersive Technology Special Correspondent
The posterboy for the explosion in interest in arena-scale, free-roaming VR, The VOID LLC has seen major developments in its structure and a multimillion-dollar investment. The Utah-based company operates 11 facilities running its “Hyper Reality” VR platform, based on players using backpack PCs and VR headsets (running third party hardware), offering a special “re-directed-walking” algorithm to immerse the players in virtual environments.
The $20 million influx of capital came from the Lupa Systems holdings company, representing James Murdoch. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the former CEO of 21st Century Fox and was instrumental in the $71-billion acquisition of Fox by the Walt Disney Company. By the way, he’s also the son of billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The investment, which joins other high-profile supporters such as Qualcomm Ventures, Fidelity Management and the Walt Disney Company, results in Murdoch taking a position on The VOID’s board.
The restructuring and new capital came on the back of major changes at the top within the company. Last year, CEO Cliff Plumer was replaced by chairman Craig Watson. A bit before the announcement of the Lupa Systems/Murdoch investment, CFO Jeff Ruggels was said to be leaving the company in what was stated as a long-planned departure. This also comes on the back of several prominent executive departures that have taken place the previous months. The company has suffered some “speed-bumps,” including poor reaction to their own internally managed created content (Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment), along with expected site-generated revenue coming in under expectations. Clearly, those speedbumps haven’t dampened enthusiasm for their tech or approach.
The original business plans for The VOID was to roll out about 30 location-based entertainment centers based on their VR experience platform. Their initial offering was Ghostbusters: Dimensions in partnership with Merlin Entertainment and Sony Pictures. With investment from Disney, The VOID would partner with them, as well as their Lucasfilm ILMxLab studio, to develop content. The first was Star Wars: Secret of the Empire and then, most recently, Ralph Breaks VR based on the Wreck it Ralph movie property. A new VR experience based on the Marvel universe is coming. (It had been scheduled for the middle of this year).
The VOID’s experiences typically cost $35 for a 15-minute adventure through its virtual world. The platform is offered as a standalone retail unit, and also as a pop-up attraction as installed in Canadian locations as part of a collaboration with Cineplex’s five “VOID Experience Centers.” There is also a Chinese collaboration with Shanda Group, a Shanghai operation that plans to open several of The VOID venues in the territory, this following the attraction’s first Asian opening at the Resorts World Genting in China last year.
The company recently announced plans for a further three facilities to be opened at The Battery Atlanta, Atlanta, Ga.; Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minn.; and Tyson’s Corner, Washington, D.C., for the end of the year. However, with this latest restructuring, The VOID has paused ongoing plans for nine new locations across the U.S. and has partnered with Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, a shopping mall operator. This will result in the rolling out of a new pop-up version of The VOID ideally suited for installation in a mall environment. They expect to install some 25 of these new units. The restructured operations team will evaluate future trajectory based on feedback and business research.
Other VR Companies Get Capital Influx
The LBE VR scene has seen phenomenal investment from media and major investment houses. Leading competitors to The VOID, include Dreamscape Immersion (which has investors including AMC, IMAX and others), Nomadic VR and Spaces have had such financial injections.
Investment of this sort has not been restricted to Western corporations either. China-based Sandbox VR raised investment of some $68 million for their own LBE VR facility platform with investment from Alibaba, Triple Point Capital and others. Japan-based Tyffon, which was initially backed by Disney, has also recently raised some $7.8 million towards a Western roll-out of its own LBE VR facilities.
What’s important to note is that the commercial VR sector continues to see major interest from the investment community while consumer VR works hard to find momentum.
Kevin Williams is a leading authority in the digital out-of-home entertainment industry through his consultancy KWP Limited and specializes in interactive entertainment. He’s had an extensive career in the theme park, amusement and entertainment software industries, and was once a Walt Disney Imagineer. Kevin is well known for his news service, The Stinger Report, that he boasts “has become a-must-read for those working or investing in the international market.” He is a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market and is a frequent presenter of conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of what he says is the only book on this aspect of the market, The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier, and is working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at [email protected]