Want to experience virtual reality without buying a $1,000 kit? Try a roller coaster ride.


Six Flags has added Samsung VR systems to rides at a dozen theme parks nationwide.

While some people will plunk down a few hundred dollars to try out virtual reality, many others are getting their introduction through a less expensive one-time interaction.

Six Flags, for example, has added virtual reality at a dozen of its amusement parks nationwide, overlaying interactive adventures atop existing rides using Samsung Gear VR headsets.

And it’s not alone. Movie theaters, arcades and stand-alone attractions are tapping the novelty of virtual reality, giving many mainstream consumers their entry ticket into the virtual world.

While excited about the potential for one day selling hardware for people to use at home, many in the nascent virtual reality industry see these one-time experiences as a good way for people to try out the technology and get the hand-holding they need to have a positive experience.

“I think core gamers are either interested in or starting to buy their own hardware,” said Todd Hooper, co-founder of VR gaming startup VReal. “Most people are not going to spend $1,000 or $1,500 on a dedicated desktop VR rig so they are going to miss out.”

VR attractions, he said, are a great way to reach non-gamers.

For Six Flags, adding VR is a way to breathe new life into old roller coasters, while for partner Samsung, it’s a chance to show off its technology to throngs of potential buyers.

The Void, a dedicated VR experience, showed off a demo of its experience at TED earlier this year. It has since opened a spot at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in New York City’s Times Square.

Movie theaters also see the possibilities of adding VR, with IMAX testing out virtual reality in the U.S. and Europe.

Meanwhile, smaller-scale VR rides have become a staple of county fairs and arcades.

Bubba Muraka, a partner at venture firm DFJ, said that many people will probably get their first taste of VR by adding Google Cardboard or a similar device to their phone. But those experiences are limited compared to a true VR headset.

“Location could well be their second experience — and first for fully immersive VR,” he said.

Forest Gibson, co-founder of stealth VR company PlutoVR, notes just how early it is, saying right now is like people being excited about a DOS computer. We don’t even know what the interfaces should be, he said. But he’s keen on the idea of mixing the current hardware with a roller coaster.

“Unless it makes people sick,” adds Maureen Fan, CEO of Baobab Studios, which just had a Hollywood production house buy an option to turn one of its VR shorts into a feature film.

Hooper says the VR industry today is similar to where smartphones were at the time of the Palm Treo 650. The hardware shows a glimmer of the potential, but without really doing what it needs to do to be a mass-market hit.

And while some people are buying VR headsets, it’s mostly early adopters or people that got a Gear VR for free with their phone.

There isn’t enough out there to keep casual users putting on a headset. “The engagement numbers aren’t really high,” Fan said, during a panel at last month’s Mobile Future Forward conference in Seattle. “We need more compelling content.”

That’s another argument for delivering VR as part of a one-time experience rather than trying to sell the masses on hardware that could well end up in a drawer.

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