Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles closed its location for the month, and a VR tournament cancelled the portion of its event to be held at VR arcades, as the response to the coronavirus shifts on a daily basis.
On March 13, before the closure, the Los Angeles entertainment venue sent an email saying Two Bit Circus installed a thermal camera at the park entrance and planned to check the temperatures of employees and guests, intending to turn away anyone deviating from normal temperatures. A fever is one of the primary symptoms associated with COVID-19 and Two Bit Circus is a Los Angeles-based entertainment venue featuring a number of VR-based attractions, like a Terminator Salvation VR ride, the Birdly flying experience and VR pod seated motion platforms running games like Battlezone VR.
By March 14, however, the location was closed through at least March 31.
Responses to the spread of COVID-19 are changing on a nearly daily basis with a series of social responses and new measures by governments worldwide. A national emergency was declared by the White House in the United States on March 13 while sporting events, like the NBA and MLB, have suspended or delayed their seasons. Television shows also paused production or stopped recording with live audiences as corporations institute work-from-home policies.
VR arcades and attractions are fairly new businesses facing some difficult realities even before the spread of COVID-19. Each headset can only transport one person at a time to a virtual world and physical locations are typically forced into high-rent areas to get the foot traffic arcades need to maintain a constant flow of new guests. Some arcades featuring off-the-shelf headsets also compete against new home experiences. The $400 Oculus Quest, for example, provides fully wireless VR and some incredibly popular games competing with roughly $25 for an hour with a tethered experience at an arcade. These tough realities led a number of VR arcades to close over the last few years, like the IMAX VR arcade effort.
And now the locations which survived face their toughest challenge yet — the spread of a virus.
On Friday March 13 the arcade portion of a tournament for Pistol Whip — one of VR’s best pick-up-and-play arcade games — was cancelled just as the Virtual Athletics League holding the event was nearing 200 arcades participating in the competition. An online portion of the event will continue.
“The impacts from the coronavirus are still unknown, but as arcade owners, we have traded private messages back and forth over the past few weeks. It’s been a nerve-wracking couple of weeks for us all,” reads a note from Ryan Burningham, CEO of the league and an arcade operator. “VR arcades, in general, are not huge businesses. Most are operated to support themselves and their owners’ and staff’s families. From one business owner to another, we are seeing corporate cancellations, some arcades (especially in Europe and all over Asia) having to close due to mandatory restrictions being put into effect. The VR arcade industry is quite young, but never have we faced a moment quite like this.”
I’ve reached out to Dreamscape Immersive, SandboxVR and The VOID which all feature backpack-powered untethered VR projects at locations worldwide. The companies feature attractions built around some internationally recognized properties, like Marvel’s Avengers, Star Wars, and Star Trek. I’ll update this post with more comments and updates.
The VOID responded quickly on Saturday March 14 to say they are welcoming guests “as usual” while they “implement additional preventative measures in order to ensure the health and safety of our communities.” I confirmed on Sunday March 15 the Downtown Disney location for The VOID remained open while nearby Disneyland closed for the month.
“We maintain a high level of cleanliness throughout our sites and are continuing our thorough cleaning and sanitation procedures for all equipment used by guests,” a statement reads sent by The VOID on March 14. “Additionally, we have increased the frequency of our cleaning and disinfection procedures in all common areas and are continuing to provide hand sanitizing stations in all of our venues. We have also imposed companywide travel restrictions and limitations for the sake of our employees and partners. As the situation continues to evolve, we are prepared to enact additional health and safety protocols.”
The CDC on March 15 recommended ” that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”