The colossal, inner-city VR center is back in business and ready to finally re-open.
In Midtown Manhattan, on East 34th Street, you simply cannot miss VR World. Its owners are not trying to be discreet—by design, the cyber-funky facade and neon-lit interior stand out against the gray and soft brown modern architecture of the notable neighborhood.
Having moved right to the address next door and remodeled everything from its image and brand to the multiple floors of the former bank it now lives in, VR World re-opened to the public in January this year, only to shut its doors just six weeks later after its owners successfully predicted the quarantine orders that would come to hit the streets of New York City.
Leo Tsimmer and Angelika Lee, founding members of the mixed reality space, weathered the bad news given the massive renovation they had counted on to entice new customers. Recently, VR World has been allowed to start up reservations and bookings again, or in other words, re-re-open.
The venue currently includes multiple floors of mixed reality content, including games, films, experimental works, and music experiences, plus a bar area and rotating selection of new media art installations. Don’t forget the gift shop, too.
“Technology can make people feel disconnected. We want to use virtual reality to bring people together in a meaningful way. It’s really powerful,” says Lee. She’s always felt profoundly connected to immersive technology from the start, seeing it as a tool for empathy, spirituality and storytelling.
The VR World founders know that the business of location-based entertainment (LBE) spaces, namely VR arcades, is a risky venture given that many consumers still don’t know or have any experience with modern VR technology. It’s also the reason why Lee and Tsimmer are adamant about maintaining their venue—they know it makes the immersive headsets more readily accessible and people love having experiences out in the world with friends.
“People ask, ‘Why would you want to [start an arcade]?’ Why can’t I just do [VR] at home?’” says Tsimmer. “I ask back, “When I try to drink at home it doesn’t feel as good as when I go out and drink at the bar.’ We’re leveraging technology to bring people together. They laugh, they share, they talk to each other while watching the same film in different headsets; people want to do things together, they want to share experiences. We show new entertainment through this new and amazing technology to bring people together to make them happy.”
Even in a global pandemic people still want to have fun…clean, safe, fun. In an effort to give the people what they want, VR World has been trying new ways to give guests a dignified and accessible arrangement regardless of recent complications. Despite the hardship and devastation the pandemic has caused to countless businesses and industries, Tsimmer still sees it as a silver-lining and a “nitro booster for XR.”
“VR World’s multilevel design with partitioned spaces is conducive to social distancing,” he shares. “With futuristic minimalist design and chemical lab-like epoxy flooring, the UV cleaning chamber and antibacterial cleaning supplies, [we are protected]. Things that we were already doing have become a new norm for many due to COVID-19, but for us it’s quite normal to how we are used to operating [to keep things clean].”
“We think of COVID as a catalyst for the industry,” he goes on. “It’s a catalyst that accelerated our digital strategy implementation. If you are in retail, entertainment or any other consumer-facing location based business with no model for digital operation, your days are numbered. What worked poorly in pre-COVID will not survive, and what worked well, will keep going.”
Itching to check out VR World? Shoot some zombies? Watch some VR-ready art films? Check out the venue’s Covid-19 policies before visiting. With their newly implemented time slot reservation system helps visitors book a time and date while signing a waiver before entering. Participants will receive an automatic reply with access to user-profile and QR code that serves as a ticket and payment method onsite.
Image Credit: VR World