This year is one of immense change for the VR industry – and a lot of it seems to be for the better.
But there is, of course, some bad news floating around out there: From people questioning the future of the segment to Imax’s decision today to pull out of virtual reality entirely.
Imax announced that they were ending their pilot VR arcades program and writing off the project entirely. This came following a thorough review of the company’s position in this emerging segment and analysts ruled that there wasn’t a future for Imax in VR. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a future for the kind of service Imax was offering, however.
Initially starting with 7 VR gaming centers, the writing was basically on the wall when Imax suddenly closed four of those outlets earlier this year. The cities that have remaining VR centers include Los Angeles in the US, Toronto, Canada and Bangkok, Thailand.
Variety initially broke the store that Imax was withdrawing from the VR arcade business which prompted the company to issue the following statement to the publication: “With the launch of the Imax VR center 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 centers in multiplexes, we have decided to conclude the Imax VR center pilot program and close the remaining three locations in Q1 2019.”
The effort premiered to some fanfare and was praised by critics for its access, support staff, and friendly prices. Offering consumers the chance to experience VR through HTC Vive headset, many thought that Imax might be at the forefront of a new wave of VR gaming centers. The company, for its part, has always maintained a canny stance with regard to the venture and has always stuck to the marketing line that they were an “experiment.” These closures and wrapping up the project probably confirm that more than anything else.
It doesn’t mean that Imax didn’t give it a good go. The company planned 12 so-called VR gaming centers and even established a $50 million development fund to procure exclusive content for it. According to GearBrain, Justice League, An Imax VR Exclusive came out of this dev fund.
This isn’t the only VR-related effort that Imax pulled the plug on this year. A collab with Google to produce a VR camera was also canceled with little to no explanation attending it.
Pessimists are taking this as further evidence that the road forward remains hard for VR but others are pointing out that it is tough to turn a living-room experience into a viable arena project. That is, arcade games in the past offered a superior experience to what you could get at home, but it doesn’t seem like consumers perceived the Imax experience as being much better than a headset used at home. It implies that there are different consumers, and markedly different potential, for each segment with the home VR headsets being touted by many as the future of the niche.