Boston-based startup VirZoom has launched its $400 virtual reality exercise bike, VirZoom, for PlayStation VR. The bike is now compatible across Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR. The company was co-founded 18 months ago by serial entrepreneur Eric Janszen and Eric Malafeew, who spent 15 years at Harmonix as a chief architect, making games like Dance Central and Rock Band.
Malafeew told [a]listdaily that after spending so many years motivating people to dance and play music through game peripherals, he wanted to harness users’ emotional response to VR and motivate them to move.
“The idea came about where we could use games and VR to motivate people to move, and it’s actually easier to offer more motivating than ever before because VR is so emotional,” Malafeew said.
Spencer Honeyman, director of business development at VirZoom, told [a]listdaily that the product is being marketed to both the casual gamer and the fitness enthusiast.
“It’s like a Wii Fit for VR,” Honeyman said. “Our focus isn’t a spin class customer, but someone who wants to get in a workout but wants it to be fun. Ninety percent of people don’t like jumping on a bike at the gym, so they watch TV to distract themselves from what they’re doing. Instead of distracting you, VirZoom motivates you and you’re getting a good workout without realizing it.”
To date, the bike has been featured at tradeshows and events, including at the Vive booth at CES and GDC along with the Sony booth at E3 this year. VirZoom is also supplying gaming and fitness influencers with the bike so they can get the word out. “Word-of-mouth will be key to explaining how much fun it is to play and exercise,” Honeyman said.
Honeyman said VirZoom is focused on the consumer market with the bike, which is now available at retailers like Best Buy, Target, GameStop and Amazon. Come January, the bike will be available at retailers for customers to try it out before purchasing it.
The bike comes with a free VirZoom Arcade collection of seven games, which have been designed by the studio from the ground up to get users pedaling. The suite of arcade games includes Cowboy, Race Car, Tank, Pegasus, Helicopter, Kayak and Cycle. The last three games on this list are designed for online multiplayer, while the single-player games offer leaderboards and ghost challenge modes.
“Every month, we’re adding new levels for existing games and we’re also working on completely new game concepts,” Honeyman said. A free SDK comes with the bike for developers to make games.
Honeyman said the vision for VirZoom is to create an exercise game platform and the world’s first virtual sport. “We envision this technology and IP translating into the real world with specialized software motion controls,” Honeyman said. “We’re looking at different hardware platforms for higher-end bikes and the consumer market with the first announcement coming at CES.”
The idea would be to take the VirZoom Arcade games and tailor them to higher-end exercise bikes at health clubs. The first gym partnership announcement will be made at CES in January.
“In the early stage we want to establish community online, but our goal is to create a real physical eSport in the future,” Honeyman said. “We think games like Cycling are well suited for online competition.”
Ultimately, competitors exercising at one gym could be competing online with those at another. Malafeew added that all of the games for VirZoom Arcade have been designed for extended lengths of time, and they’ve been created to be comfortable in virtual reality without motion sickness, thanks to extensive testing with 500 early adopters over the past year.