The “Platoon” from Chinese virtual reality video gaming company Nined, the first machine designed for multiplayer virtual reality gaming, isn’t easy to access in the U.S. Unless you have thousands of dollars laying around to purchase and ship it, you’d probably have to make your way to a virtual reality convention in New York or Las Vegas, or simply go all the way to China.
Or you could go to the mall in Lewisville, Texas.
In TVR Virtual Reality, a store in Music City Mall at Vista Ridge barely more than four weeks old, patrons can rent out time on the three-person platoon device, which owner John Jackson says is currently the only one in the country. They can also rent time on more traditional but similarly costly single-player virtual reality platforms like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. In addition to costing hundreds of dollars themselves, the Vive and Rift both require high-performance gaming computers to run properly, which can end up costing more than the devices. As for the Platoon, Jackson said it cost him almost $30,000, plus an additional $3,000 for transportation.
But through the end of the year, you can play on them for $5 per 15 minutes.
“I wanted to offer people the opportunity to play without spending a fortune,” Jackson said. Renting out video game systems is nothing new, dating back to the arcade heyday in the ‘80s. While gaming consoles grew more versatile and affordable over the course of the ‘90s and eventually became a fixture of American middle-class culture, time-renting arcades exist for them as well. But since VR platforms are so expensive, renting may be the only way for many Americans to access them.
“I was just trying to be a little forward thinking,” Jackson said. “We want to create a mini VR park.”
Manager Hiro Ando said virtual reality games are a much more immersive physical experience than console games, pointing to the store’s driving game.
“The racing simulator thing, where you’re inside the cockpit, that was really good for me because you get resistance on the wheel,” he said.
Even the least intense games can be so disorienting that Ando advised patrons take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes at least.
“We do offer an hour of gameplay, but people normally switch between games. They don’t normally go for a full hour, we haven’t had that yet,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little much to go all the way.”
Patron Hannah Lyle described playing Fruit Ninja, a game where the player is simply tasked with slicing apples and strawberries, as a rush.
“It was really fun, it was just confusing,” she said. “It felt like I was actually in it.”
Jackson serves as the pastor for Dallas Family Church, and said that all of TVR’s profits will be donated to funding the church’s youth activities. He said starting the business was a risk, but that he liked the changes that new ownership had brought to the mall, and that he expected traffic to only increase.
“They’re doing live music throughout the mall. They’re decorating like they’ve never decorated,” he said. “I have a lot of faith.”