Sandbox VR, the out-of-home virtual reality destination, went through a rough patch this past year as the company both filed and subsequently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy following debt restructure. With the United States doing fairly well in terms of COVID-19 vaccinations now, the company appears confident in getting back to business as usual soon, as it plans to open a new location at the Grand Canal Shoppes inside The Venetian Resort, Las Vegas, in addition to operating 15 locations worldwide by the year’s end.

The Las Vegas location is slated to open in “the early summer of 2021,” the company says. Due to the pandemic, Sandbox VR was forced to close all of its locations and lay off most of its staff.

Its rebound strategy is one that may become fairly common in the coming months for battered (but not dead) businesses, namely Sandbox VR aims to fill commercial real estate locations that have also been hit hard by the pandemic.

Thankfully, the company is comparatively lean, as its multiplayer VR locations don’t need require elaborate 4D sensorial gadgetry like its ill-fated competitor, The VOID.

Interior of a Bay Area Sandbox VR location | Image courtesy Sandbox VR

The VOID had to permanently close all of their locations worldwide—including its flagship store at the Grand Canal Shoppes—when the company encountered similar financial trouble last year. There’s little hope of The VOID getting back on its feet either. The company’s website is down mere months after Disney abandoned it entirely, and its holding company isn’t showing any appreciable signs of life.

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Sandbox VR on the other hand is portraying a fair bit of optimism now that vaccines are being administered en masse. The company says it’s seen a 30% increase in demand from before the pandemic at their current locations outside of Chicago, Illinois and in Austin, Texas since local governments lifted restrictions.

“We have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to survive such a devastating year for everyone in the retail and entertainment industry,” said Steve Zhao, founder and CEO of Sandbox VR. “The pandemic has been so isolating for everyone that we are confident once it is safe to gather with friends and family from different households they will be looking for social experiences that offer some fun and escape from the difficulties that 2020 brought.”

It may be a long time until beleaguered VR arcades see pre-COVID levels of support, but with one of the most well-funded VR startups out releasing such a broad opening gambit, others may take heart in knowing there is money to be made in the near future.

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  • TechPassion

    Are they living in parallel reality or on a different planet?

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  • I think it’s still hard for them, but good luck!

  • Erilis

    I’ve been thinking of the profit margins on these kind of ventures. Parents who buys a ticket for their kids to try this ( probably going to be the main market, there’s not enough high end VR enthusiasts to go around) will spend maybe 20$ for 30 min of this. The rate they will really need to be charging would be closer to 150$ for location, equipment, and staff. There’s a huge disconnect here. If they fill a whole cinema each time, no manpower, perhaps that would work. headset manufacturers should sponsor these kind of companies as more people need to try high end VR

  • Amni3D

    On one side, naturally I’d want to see them do well. On the other side, VR arcades are just not an easy sell. When the pandemic is over, I’d just want to walk into a Round 1 since they’ve proved software that keeps you coming back and more creative input devices.

    At the current point in time, VR doesn’t have a SEGA, Capcom, or Konami to make arcade focused titles on a AA budget. You need people to keep coming back outside of “cool chair” if they’re going to risk eye herpes (and now covid 19) for it.

    I feel it’s less about “getting that VR arcade market share” as it is “we need to bring the western arcade industry back from the dead”. Not to mention price, it’s own can of worms.

    • Erilis

      Eye herpes!! you just killed the whole arcade idea. unless it’s some kind of “bring your own headset” idea. There was this headset UV cleaning box for this purpose. content doesn’t have to be all. For the newbie, the regular space pirate, Alyx, super hot, beat saber, is preferred anyway. Although any VR in multiplayer is far more entertaining. I’m just wondering what does backpacks with a 1070 laptop GPU can do that a quest can’t do. seems a little cumbersome now.

      • Amni3D

        Wireless is definitely a must have feature for this kind of location based VR. However, I’d imagine Wifi 6 isn’t sufficient for the “multiple people in a large room” use case. The moment the connection chokes, the moment it feels cheap.

        • I’ve visited many location based entertainment venues, some small and some huge (warehouse scale)

          Smaller venues used steamVR with tethers in solo booths or HTC wireless for Vive Pro in slightly larger space.

          Large venues used external systems like Optitrack with backpack PCVR

        • Erilis

          for high end vr, backpack PCs are still relevant. How are you supposed to take advantage of lighthouse 2 with an index headset unless it’s in a backpack. If the option is a 1070 gpu with a vive one headset, I kind of think that oculus 2 is a better experience. As much as WMR has got bad rep, their inside out tracking is well equipped for warehouse scale, or shared space. VR world in Manhattan had 4 shared space vive with wireless with arizona sunshine. I found it completely disorienting. Laserstrom with oculus quest was much more compelling, maybe it was just the non directional sound that threw me off. https://en.venturion.com.br/laserstorm

          • Amni3D

            Seems like an all around perfect option doesn’t exist (yet). I never got to try one of those backpack-PCs, but I’d assume any additional setup in a VR arcade isn’t ideal.

            Either you got a weird pulley system, the bandwith limitations of the Intel Wigig & multiple HMDs, or the instability and range of 5ghz Wifi for these purposes.

            I guess it makes sense now why backpack PCs are still favorited by arcades.

          • Erilis

            I got one. backpack pc that is. the hp omen with a 1080 in it. It’s awkward for home use, you can’t even sit with it. People think it’s just a laptop, but it’s a mixed bag, with a 400w battery, which is the main difference. Still, I’m much happier with cosmos elite with wireless module. I have a reverb g2 but I haven’t tried it with the backpack yet, even though that’s what it’s suppose to be for, I can’t be bothered, even getting the short cable meant for it, but rift-s is more fitting its gpu.

            Yeah, the htc wireless module doesn’t drop frames the way regular wifi does, the framerate is solid as the gpu can process, but image can look condensed or pixelated a little instead. It’s a much better experience for newcomers, but you can just get used to anything

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