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.

Photo courtesy IMAX

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’.

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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.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • JesuSaveSouls

    The alien vr in southern califonia almost makes me want to go there to demonstrate.I much would rather have it come to steam and oculus.

  • Mythos88

    Cineplex owns the Toronto IMAX VR center and while it doesn’t look like they will be investing in IMAX VR anymore, they will be creating up to 40 VR centers in Canada using a different tech.

  • impurekind

    Those prices are just a rip-off. Playing a game in some VR arcade or wherever shouldn’t cost anymore than playing a game in a normal arcade or thereabouts imo.

  • sfmike

    The VR bubble continues to break. All those “experts” told them they would make a billion on VR by this time and now they are turning tail. Replay of 3DTV all over again. Hope we can hang on as a niche .

    • NooYawker

      There’s always some moron who compares VR to 3D who obviously are not only completely clueless but for some reason keeps visiting VR websites.

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      • Anders Eismann

        Perfectly said!

    • DanDei

      the failure of a greedy business model has nothing to do with VR as a whole. If they thought masses of people would be willing to pay $12 and more for 10 minutes of playtime they created their very own bubble aside from the regular VR market. I mean this is obviously for people who are first time VR users. I have demoed my VIVE to something around 50 people by now and 10 minutes are just enough to familiarize them with the controllers and world interaction. It isn’t nearly enough to give full immersion and have a well rounded experience that ends on a satisfying conclusion. They went into this market with dollar signs in their eyes but no understanding what they need to put on offer.

  • Nothing to see here

    Good. People going to theaters to wear VR headsets makes no sense. The whole point of going to a theater is seeing a movie on a big screen and great sound with your friends or family. You get none of that experience when wearing a VR headset. VR is something you do at home alone.

    • IMAX opened a number of VR Experience Centres

      What theatre?

      • Nothing to see here

        The ones they were planning to install this thing in after the public demos.

        • Rainfox Wolfstone

          opened then closed before the paint dried? how long were these around, give them time , what do they expect?

    • Rikka-sama

      Not everyone can do VR at home alone, it’s expensive and inconvenient currently. You could also see a movie at home on a big screen with great sound and with your family, but again, expensive. If you’ve never tried VR, watching movies in it can feel just like watching them on a big screen, and great sound depends on how much someone is able to spend, so if theaters invest in great sound then they’ll have great sound. The only experience you don’t get is watching with family or friends, but I don’t actively talk to people while watching a movie in theaters anyway. And VR headsets can still be social, I’ve sat in the living room with my family playing VR games and we’ve had a blast together even though we only have one headset. Nothing would be stopping you from talking to the person next to you if that’s your thing, not being able to see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

      Personally, if theaters invest in creating great video and sound for the VR then I’d be willing to go to a theater to see a VR movie, only when they start making full length good movies for VR, I don’t want to pay to go see a half hour “experience”. And if a theater REALLY invested they could enhance the VR experience to something no normal person would be able to get at home. It’s all a long way off still, VR has a ways to go before it’d be worth paying to go use in a theater, what will probably happen is something along the lines of what Avatar did for 3D, just gotta wait for the first great VR full length film to be created.

      • Nothing to see here

        You sort of made my point. Everything bad you can say about current VR can be said about VR in a theater and everything good you can say about it applies to VR at home. Theaters can’t invest in some new technology that defeats the purpose of having theaters and changes twice a year. They should stick to doing what they do best which is projection of very high definition video on a flat screen for a large audience to enjoy together.

  • NooYawker

    Rushing on the bandwagon, hoping to be “first”. It was pretty clear there WASN’T money to be made yet in VR. The market isn’t there yet.

  • kimdacosta

    VR experiences are still very mediocre!

    • nipple_pinchy

      Idiotic generalization.

    • care package

      I would completely agree, especially for commercial VR experiences. Not even there yet. I’ll idiotically generalize with you.

  • David

    IMAX was late to the party. They have no technology and no horse in the race. Just like can can to theaters with better giant screen film experiences with real (not IMAX) cutting edge technology.
    Same goes for VR and AR… IMAX doing mixed reality was a non starter to begin with….proof you cant make something out of nothing.

  • Patrick Bradley

    wasn’t StarVR their supplier for VR stuff?

  • nipple_pinchy

    I’m a VR enthusiast and what IMAX was offering doesn’t interest me in the slightest.

  • Sandy Wich

    VR doesn’t need bloody IMAX theaters. Who was the idiot who thought of this concept? My god some companies are tragically ignorant.

    VR needs demos across the world for casual people to see how incredible it is. Not an expensive, “out of the way”, VR trip nobody’s who’s ignorant is going to take a risk on when they could just go see a classic, loud IMAX film.

    FFS world… Put a high quality VR demo in every Walmart across NA and watch word of mouth fly.