If everything goes according to VRcade's plans, very soon gamers will be able to walk into retail locations around the country, lay down some cash, strap on special lightweight headgear, and enter a virtual world teeming with aliens, zombies or - if you're a 49ers fan - legions of Richard Shermans determined to knock down your Super Bowl dreams.
That's just one part of VRcade's entrepreneurial strategy. The Seattle-based startup, which so far has been providing its own funding, imagines its full-motion virtual reality technology platform also being used as the foundation for next-level business and training.
"The whole point of the VRcade is to eliminate the barrier of entry, not only for consumers but also for businesses," said Jamie Kelly, VRcade's co-founder, president and CEO. "It's where they can say, 'I want to walk you through your house, I want to show you this museum exhibit, I want to take your class on a field trip through space,' and there's only one place you need to go and the only place you can go is the VRcade."
The four-year-old company, part of the Washingtion Interactive Network's REACTOR incubator program, is beyond the working prototype phase of its startup journey. Kelly said he's been in discussions with a range of companies - entertainment-based and those from other industries - who are interested in VRcade's technology. "In the very near future, we should have a showroom, an actual facility, where people can go. We have a lot of momentum behind us."
Kelly and his co-founders have seen other virtual reality companies place their technologies within a consumer-based home setting, but they believe that results in too many restrictions and tech bottlenecks. Forcing consumers to buy cameras and custom-built computers, and making them set aside a certain amount of space, can take all the fun out of VR gaming.
"We thought, why not take it out of the home?" Kelly said. "Why not invest a lot of money into a perfect infrastructure and for the first time ever be able to offer to the public perfect VR without all those bottlenecks?"
The result would be a bricks-and-mortar arcade, maybe in malls or shopping centers, that uses the company's technology. The perfect amount of space would be set aside for gaming sessions that provide immersive, 360-degree environments courtesy of off-the-shelf hardware combined with VRcade's proprietary software. The headgear offers "perfect 3D, no eyestrain," Kelly said. "We've created the perfect human-to-machine interface, and that's something you currently can't get in the home...there's no learning curve, it's completely natural, extremely expansive. We can put anything in there."
That "anything" also includes the business/industrial uses that conjure up visions of scenes from "Minority Report" and "Disclosure." Medical students can practice surgery on virtual patients, architects and interior designers can place customers inside future homes, first responders can engage in danger-free hazardous materials training.
"You can get a lot of training done through gamification," Kelly said. "Gamification is just a fancy way of saying, 'instead of reading a book and training on something, you're playing a game' and it teaches you the exact same stuff."