Game On!

VR Draws Gaming Crowd to Australian Nightlife

VR headset
by Jason Johnson
Freelance writer and editor

VR games create new possibilities for social interaction in a popular Australian nightclub, introducing gaming crowds to mobile-to-VR technology.

At Reload Bar & Games in Canberra, Australia, patrons are greeted with the scent of bubble gum, flowing from a fog machine. The bar owners chose the sweet smell to complement the laser beams crisscrossing the club in sync with the pumping music beat. It’s virtual reality (VR) night, and crowds stream into the bar.

“We’re all people with technology backgrounds running a hospitality venue, so we’re mixing the two worlds,” said software developer Ravi Sharma, who co-owns the bar with internet cafe operator James Andrews.

Australian nightlife
Reload Bar attracts experienced gamers and newcomers to VR gaming. Image courtesy of Ravi Sharma.

This Australian hot spot draws in customers with the lure of new and retro video games (played on the Xbox, PlayStation, Wii U and PC) as well as eSports, board and card games, and even anime and comics.

On VR night, the games on demonstration have a broad appeal, ranging anywhere from Fruit Ninja to soccer games where players take on the role of goalie.

One of the local favorites is Castle Rush, which pits four players inside VR against everyone else in the bar. The game uses mobile-to-VR technology to get everyone involved. While the four people in VR guard the castle with virtual bows and arrows, the other players try to dethrone them using their phones.

Up to 100 players control the pillaging horde, and according to Sharma, the patrons get carried away as the crowd cheers on players.

The owners expect the excitement will only heighten once they start the demo for VFC: This Is Fighting. The club plans to host a mixed martial arts (MMA)-style VR fighting league, where two players square off in a real fighting cage, although only the players’ avatars will actually hit each other.

Australian nightlife
The crowd cheers for VR players at Reload Bar, where everyone can have a turn playing the games. Image courtesy of Ravi Sharma.

“We typically attract a tech-y kind of patron, but we also have customers who have nothing to do with the tech world,” Sharma said. “Usually they are the ones with their jaws hanging open, trying to get a handle on what the heck is going on.”

Events like VR night provide people the opportunity to learn first-hand what makes VR technology so exciting. This is especially important for an experience like VR, which is notoriously hard to promote.

“Virtual reality is something you must experience to understand,” said Brennan Hatton, co-developer of the VR game Castle Rush. “Like going to Burning Man or visiting Yosemite National Park — photos, videos or even someone who just did it can’t explain the experience.”

Because many players may be trying VR for the first time, Hatton believes it’s crucial the experience goes seamlessly. An experience that is uncomfortable or makes players sick could discourage people from using VR in the future.

“Virtual reality should be a nice place to go — friendly, full of color and welcoming,” said Hatton. “That’s the easiest way to ensure people want to use it again.”

Australian nightlife
Reload Bar offers the traditional bar fare in addition to new and retro video games. Image courtesy of Ravi Sharma.

At Reload Bar & Games, all games on VR night are communal and inclusive.

“We wouldn’t want a single-player experience that is only fun for one person,” said Sharma. “We prefer the content to be fast and rotating so everyone can play.”

The bar also creates its own VR content. The club’s development wing, Reload Labs, makes in-house software, including simulations of cricket, football and rugby. The lab is also working on an augmented reality (AR) game that customers can play on their phones. When they scan a cocktail napkin or coaster, a Space Invaders-style game pops up, allowing players to play for two-for-one drinks.

Other developers in the local community are making VR games specifically for Reload Bar as well. In this way, dedicated public spaces for VR encourage the development of new types of gaming experiences.

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