VR Arcades: A Brief History of The Void

Blink and you may have missed it but there was a tease regarding a return of The Void. If you’re a bit of a VR veteran then you may remember – or even better played at – the location-based entertainment (LBE) venue. Famed for its major IP-linked experiences, the VR arcade rose to prominence then fell just as quickly. With its rebirth on the cards for 2024, we decided to have a look at the history of The Void.

Rise of VR Arcades

When VR began its comeback in the 2010s, culminating with the launch of headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in 2016, this presented a new retail opportunity. Headsets weren’t cheap and nor were the PCs required to power them. So enterprising individuals and companies decided that what was needed were VR arcades. Dedicated centres with enough space to walk around, wave your arms and enjoy virtual worlds in.

Initially, they offered the same types of experiences you could get at home. But over time these began to evolve, adding more features like haptics, gun accessories and more multiplayer-focused games. Eventually, LBE companies began creating content in-house, as a way of providing original experience found nowhere else.

There are plenty of VR arcades to be found worldwide nowadays. Zero Latency, HoloGate, OTHERWORLD, SandBox VR and more, all provide their own unique experiences. But only a few short years ago The Void sat a-top this pile, buoyed by exclusive content like Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, Jumanji and The Avengers. Games no one else had or had access to thanks to its collaboration with Disney. Unfortunately, when that partnership went sour so did the business.

The Void image

Filling The Void

The Void began life in 2015, just as the likes of the Oculus Rift DK2 were doing the rounds. Its mission was to bring warehouse-scale VR to the masses whilst combining experience with 4D effects. So alongside the VR visuals and 3D headset audio, there would be wind and rain effects, rumbling floors and touchable environments that would match what you were seeing.

It would provide an all-encompassing experience for around 4-6 guests at a time. I remember playing Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire with three other friends and having a great, albeit short, time. The technology was a superb way of showcasing VR to consumers, with pop-up venues appearing in malls and shopping centres. The Void also had permanent locations dotted around the US. Suitable for a variety of ages, experiences like Wreck-it Ralph and The Avengers were fantastic for all the family. But it wasn’t just IP-led titles The Void offered. Titles like Nicodemus were far darker, puzzle-themed adventures more suited to a group of adults.

But around 2019/20, VR arcades were struggling, trying to find that sweet spot between innovative experience and financial stability with a product people wanted to play. The issue The Void had, was many of its games gave you that initial ‘wow’ factor, but there was no replayability. Once you’d been through the 5-10 minute game there was nothing else to see.

Pandemic woes

Obviously, as the pandemic hit in 2020 that sounded the death knell for many venues. The lacklustre footfall dropped to zero, and so did the revenue. However, The Void had two other major issues to deal with. Firstly, Disney, The Void’s biggest partner shut its Downtown Disney locations in the US and most crucially, withdrew the rights to use its intellectual property. If that wasn’t enough, the company then defaulted on a loan. This resulted in its assets being assigned to a creditor and that creditor selling them off.

So all seemed lost for The Void, a once shining part of the bustling VR industry reduced to dust. But its story hasn’t been finalised just yet. A group called Hyper Reality Partners decided there was something worth saving. Run by Adrian Steckel, a previous investor and board member of The Void, Hyper Reality Partners acquired The Void’s patents and trademarks in 2021, managing to raise $20 million in the process. It seems like the process has been slow, yet the 2024 tease is the best sign that the history of The Void isn’t over.

It’s unclear as to what form the company will return and if any of the branded experiences will. Times have changed and people want more than a simple ten-minute ‘VR taster’. Hopefully, The VOID has changed too.

And so that is a brief history of The Void. Did you ever go in its heyday? We’d love to hear your memories of the place.