“Every Customer Experience Will Be Different”: Virtual Reality and the Future of Theme Parks | Virtual reality

In the fight for theme park visitors, the battle lines have been drawn – monster trucks, VR zombie warfare and “smellscaping”, but thankfully not all at once.

And while there was a somber atmosphere in parts of London as tens of thousands lined up to pay their respects to the Queen, another 10,000 gathered at a convention center in east London to discover the future of the theme park.

The convention center hall was dominated by a monster truck on hydraulic rockers and a nine-foot-tall alien 3D printed within hours.

Along with that there were several full size bowling alleys and more soft play areas than you could fill with an entire elementary school of birthday parties. Pinball makers Stern, however, delayed the launch of their James Bond pinball machines as a sign of respect for the Queen.

Anyone walking through the cavernous lobby couldn’t help but notice the large amount of VR headsets. Using virtual reality, the monster truck passengers were projected as if they were being driven through a real arena, while roller coaster manufacturer Mack Rides was able to demonstrate some of its own rides without having to ship the participants in the company’s Europa Park in Germany.

People visit Ghostbusters VR Academy during the convention
People visit Ghostbusters VR Academy during the convention. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

The technology also helps provide interactivity, which Mark Beumers, managing director of Dutch “dark rides” provider Lagotronics Projects, says will become increasingly crucial to the experience.

“Visitors are expecting more and more, because they’ve grown up with technology these days, and they want to experience technology in a theme park in a different and better way than they can. And since they already have a lot of technology at home that they are positively experimenting with, a theme park has to be the extra step.

But, says Beumers, virtual reality has its limits. Simply putting on and taking off riders’ helmets can add unacceptable delays to loading rides, and technology limits one of the best parts of going to a theme park: sharing the experience with friends and family. family you are visiting with.

And while the technology was just beginning to be installed in parks around the start of 2018, the impact of Covid over the past two years has given operators a chance to consider and change their approach.

“In 2019, people were thinking, this is the novelty, this is going to take off,” says Emily Popovich of theme park design agency Outdoor Factory. “But then Covid hit, and everyone kind of forgot about that.

“And then, after Covid, everyone is calm and developing great new things, there are so many geniuses in this industry. So we are coming out of Covid and everything is better than 2019 and no one cares anymore.

In its place, says Mack Rides marketing manager Maximilian Roeser, there’s a new push for augmented reality that allows riders to experience all the benefits of virtual reality without being stuck in a bubble that cuts them off from the world. real.

In the company’s latest creations, riders even put on the helmets long before they get on the roller coaster itself, with queuing, boarding and riding all having virtual additions.

But Roeser says the biggest changes are likely to be those behind the scenes that this technology enables. “Theme parks will develop in such a way that you have more and more interactivity.

“More and more personalization for your customers too: all the parks will know who’s coming in, their name, their age, probably their likes and dislikes, and so they can transform the park for each guest. And every customer experience will be different and likely tailored directly to that customer.

Maximilian Roeser, Mack Rides (and Alex Hern with VR headset)
Maximilian Roeser from Mack Rides (and Alex Hern with VR headset). Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

“We’ve worked with this before, because we have alpha options for our roller coaster ride so you can choose your own experience: someone sitting on the left side might see a different movie than the person on the right side.”

Classic experiments aren’t going anywhere, though. For many, like Julie Rice-Witherell of conference organizer IAAPA, the global association of the attractions industry, there’s still nothing to match the thrill of riding a new rollercoaster for the first time. .

“Every time they build a new one near my house, it’s like something different. I wouldn’t say it’s better, but it’s faster, or it has more turns or you know, hits higher G-forces, whatever. It’s always something new that you’ve never experienced.

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