The Imax VR Centre in Los Angeles officially opened in January, and now, the company signed agreements to open four new pilot Imax VR locations in the coming months across the United States and China.
Imax and Guangzhou JinYi Media Corporation, one of the largest exhibitors in China, will install a pilot Imax VR Centre in Shanghai at the Shanghai Hongkou Plaza multiplex. Imax and AMC Theatres will open a pilot centre in New York, while Imax and Regal Entertainment Group will open establishments at two of Regal’s locations in New York City and California.
Rob Lister, chief legal officer and chief business development officer at Imax, told [a]listdaily that the company is trying to get people to experience VR for the first time.
“With 70 percent of people in our LA centre, it’s their first time experiencing VR,” Lister said. “The home consumer proposition is still expensive for most people. We think the location destination approach makes sense to bring people in and let them experience VR. There are a lot of things we can do there you can’t do at home. And our fourteen 12’ x 12’ pod configuration is conducive to multiplayer experiences.”
The pilot centers currently incorporate HTC Vive and Starbreeze’s Star VR technology, which has been specifically modified for location-based entertainment. Customers pay $7-to-$10 to play experiences like Starbreeze’s John Wick Chronicles and Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight and Rabbids VR-Ride.
“We’re taking an end-to-end approach to the platform,” Lister said. “We’re not just creating content or centers to exhibit content, we’re developing a VR camera with Google to capture VR content to use our relationships with Hollywood creators, we’re partnering with HTC and Starbreeze to aggregate the best tech to feature in centers. And we’re opening six pilot centers, maybe a couple more, in the coming months to exhibit content.”
Lister said Imax is also investing $50 million in new VR content with nine international investors.
“There’s still a chicken-and-egg issue with VR content not being as compelling as it needs to be, and there not being as many headsets being sold to get the big content makers creating for VR,” Lister said.
Lister believes Imax is perfectly situated to help solve this problem because the company works with filmmakers like Michael Bay, Christopher Nolan, James Camera and J.J. Abrams as partners on the film side.
“We can introduce them to this medium, where they can trust the quality and incentivize them to make VR content for us,” Lister said. “Our VR fund is investing in AAA content and we can help co-finance early stage VR pieces.”
Imax has partnered with Skydance Interactive to release a pair of upcoming VR games that tie into movie launches—similar to how Imax worked with Lionsgate on John Wick Chapter 2 and John Wick Chronicles.
Life VR, set for release March 24, is based on the upcoming feature film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. The film-driven VR experience will take players deep inside of the sci-fi thriller genre. This July, Archangel, Skydance’s first original title, drops players into the cockpit of a six-story-high war-machine, a one-of-a-kind weapon that must stop a tyrannical corporation from taking over a post-apocalyptic America.
Imax will also release Ubisoft’s Star Trek: Crew Commander across its locations in the coming months. Like John Wick Chronicles, that game will also be available on home VR platforms. Imax is getting specially modified versions of games. For example, Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight game has been designed as a three-player experience where customers can team up with players in the pods next to them.
Another area Imax is interested in exploring is virtual reality eSports designed for customers.
“ESports is a really cool initiative where I could see people in one Imax location competing with people in another, and then maybe the winner gets to compete with a group in another centre,” Lister said. “That’s very ‘eSports-y’, where great gamers are competing instead of great athletes.”
In addition to its focus on multiplayer experiences, Lister said Imax is focusing on social platforms to generate word-of-mouth.
“We’re allowing customers to share their VR experiences across social media platforms so they can send their experience to friends,” Lister said.
Imax has joined Warner Brothers/Time Warner, Twentieth Century Fox, Metro-GoldwynMayer (MGM), Westfield Corporation, Bold Capital Partners and Steven Spielberg as first round investors in Dreamscape Immersive, a new tetherless room-scale VR technology. Imax and Dreamscape are also contemplating a strategic partnership that will bring Dreamscape’s technology into Imax-branded properties in the future, which would offer multiple VR platforms under one roof and a wide range of experiences from Hollywood as well as original IPs.
“We believe allowing customers to explore VR experiences untethered in a large room environment is going to open up a lot of interesting opportunities,” Lister said.
Lister is confident that Imax VR can grow into a global network, following in the footsteps of IMAX movie theaters.
“Even though we’re in a pilot phase testing six centers, we’re using this time to understand consumer preferences and pricing,” Lister said. “If we can solve that and demonstrate a good product, our strategy is to leverage our exhibitor network around the world. We can go into the UK and China and roll out a few hundred with exhibitor partners and use under-utilized space in the multiplex or lobby to set up VR and help exhibitors attract some Millennials that have abandoned movies and bring them back to the multiplex.”