Last year, IMAX opened a number of VR Experience Centres in major cities across the world with the hopes of bringing movie-going crowds high-quality VR games and brand engagement experiences such as ILMxLab’s Star Wars: Trials on Tatoine. Now, the company has shut down their last remaining New York location, and has said they won’t be investing any more into VR during 2019.
As reported by Variety, IMAX says the closure at AMC Kips Bay in New York comes as the conclusion of a pilot test. An IMAX spokesperson told Variety this:
“With the launch of the IMAX VR pilot program our intention was to test a variety of different concepts and locations to determine which approaches work well. After a trial period with VR centres in multiplexes, we have decided to conclude the AMC Kips Bay 15 IMAX VR pilot run.”
This brings the number of closed IMAX VR Centres to a total of three, two locations in New York and another in Shanghai. Only four centres remain: Toronto, LA, Bangkok and Manchester.
In IMAX’s Q3 earnings call last week, CFO Patrick McClymont said the company is “not looking for new business projects. We’re keenly focused on the core business. And that will be approach for next year as well.”
While the earnings call didn’t reveal specifically how their VR locations have performed over the course of the last two years, its ‘New Business’ sector, which includes its VR investments, posted less than half the sales numbers in 2018 in comparison to 2017. IMAX’s ‘New Business’ sector includes the company’s virtual reality initiatives, content licensing and distribution fees of original content, IMAX Home Entertainment, and other business initiatives that are in the development and/or start-up phase.
The earnings call did however reveal that the company’s cost-savings initiative will result in “continued scale-back” of VR and other ‘New Business’.
IMAX’s heavy-handed pay-to-play strategy may be somewhat to blame here. At between $10 – $12 for only 10 minutes of playtime per game, it’s likely not enticing enough for repeat business, as it’s only short enough for a demo of the content, and much more expensive than an IMAX film. The most extreme example: the centre’s four-player room-scale game Curse of Davy Jones costs a staggering $120 for only 30 minutes of gameplay. A $1.50 online booking fee per experience is only adds insult to injury.
Early this summer, IMAX and Google also put a hold on their joint VR camera project, which came only a few weeks after the company closed its Shanghai and second New York VR location.
Whether the cut-backs mean the remaining four locations are due to close as well, we can’t be sure. As a pilot program, it’s been a relatively small exploration into the location-based VR scene in comparison to its core business, which oversees the operation of more than a thousand IMAX theaters worldwide.