The cost of an IMAX VR experience is $10 to $15. The cost of a large bucket of popcorn is on average $8.15. Not a bad price for VR when you think about it that way.
I had gone to the movies to see "Dunkirk" at an IMAX theatre* in Manhattan when I became distracted in the lobby. There,running along one side of the room, were 15 virtual reality pods . Each one was inhabited by people in headsets, some sitting down and some walking around, experiencing IMAX VR at AMC.
I was so taken by what I was seeing that I contacted IMAX to learn more. Below is what I discovered but first perhaps I should answer the question: Why should you care?
Why should you care?
1. Virtual Reality is getting better and is going to be an economic force that will have to be reckoned with by those of us in the toy and play industry. The fact that IMAX is investing in it as the theatre level means that they take it seriously as a way to deliver new modes of entertainment that can not yet be experienced at home due to continuing high costs for the equipment.
2. These Virtual Reality centers are going to compete with other play experiences for the consumer dollar. Let's not forget that the early video game arcades virtually wiped out the model car and plane business. All of those quarters going into machines in the 1980's were not being saved up to buy model kits.
3. Everyone in the toy industry needs to fully understand the new economic and technological dynamics in the market place.
4. Entertainment centers like these are going to begin popping up, not just at theaters, but at retail outlets like Walmart, Target or any other bricks and mortar player who needs to get people in their stores.
What I learned
First launched in Los Angeles in February of this year and in New York in June, IMAX has plans for new locations in Toronto Canada, Manchester England, France, the Middle East, Shanghai and Japan.
Each unit employs state of the art technology with VR headsets, 360-degree sound and room tracking. The games last from 7 to 15 minutes for which patrons pay anywhere from $10 to $15 for a single or multi-player experience. The pods were crowded while I was there and I was told that since the LA opening, 70% of the 30,000 people who have paid for the experience were Millennials or Generation Z and for 80% of them it was a first time experience.
I asked about the price of $10 to $15 which seemed high to me for a 10 to 15 minute experience. I was told that I should compare that to the cost of popcorn. I did by finding an article by Amanda Bell entitled: "Just How Big is the Markup on Theatre Food?" She tells us that the cost of a "large bucket of popcorn (with free refill)" is on average $8.15 ($6.31 average cost for a large soda with which to wash it down). When you look at it that way, its a pretty good deal (or popcorn is a pretty bad one). All in all, it looks like people want the experience and will pay for it.
No matter the price, content is king and it is my understanding that we can soon expect to see Justice League, Aqua Man and Avengers VR experiences from Warner Brothers as well as productions from other studios.
Bottom line, the landscape for play is changing seemingly by the day and it is essential that all of us keep up so that we can navigate a future that is right now.
*AMC Loews Kips Bay 15" theatre on 32nd and 2nd Avenue