With haptic, full-body equipment you will be able to feel your environment as well as see and interact with it.
Sandbox VR is a virtual reality company that was founded in 2016 by Steve Zhao, who also serves as the current CEO of Sandbox VR. Although the company was originally based out of Hong Kong, it has since moved its headquarters to San Mateo, California.
Compared to other VR companies, Sandbox VR stands out because of its focus on full-body, in-person, social, virtual reality experiences. Instead of strapping on a headset and grabbing controllers while standing alone in your living room, Sandbox VR customers go to physical, brick-and-mortar locations with up to six of their friends where they are outfitted with full-body motion capture devices, VR-ready backpack computers, haptic vests, and other game-specific items that create a more immersive experience.
Sandbox VR steps it up another level in VR space by combining VR headsets with full-body motion capture to offer users an experience they’re not likely to experience elsewhere. Not only do the players get access to high-quality tech, but they can even high-five their friends, which creates an unheard-of level of immersion.
Due to its uniquely social aspect, the company was hit hard by the pandemic, though it is now making a convincing comeback with their recent announcement that they have raised $37 million in a new round of fundraising, with new investors including big-name companies such as Alibaba and Craft, as well as A12z who led this round of fundraising.
Global Expansion Plans Thanks to Latest Cash Injection
Sandbox VR currently employs around 200 people but has successfully raised $119 million in total, with this latest cash injection earmarked to assist with global expansion plan.
Andrew Chen, a general partner at A12z and board member of Sandbox, said in a statement, “With this new capital, Sandbox VR can continue building amazing experiences, growing their footprint, and moving the entire VR industry forward.”
Sandbox VR offers multiple VR entertainment locations across the US and Asia and are also planning to expand into the European area with their first office to be based in London, UK.
Sandbox VR are definitely on growing as they recently launched three new locations in Austin, TX, Las Vegas, NV and Shanghai, China. An additional ten locations are already in the planning stages, and this latest round of fundraising is intended to fund at least four of those locations. The planned new locations include Minneapolis, London, Dallas, Emeryville, Kirkland, San Ramon, and Cincinnati.
Steve Zhao, Sandbox’s CEO and founder, said in a statement, “We are excited to use the latest round of funding for content development, cutting edge technology and accelerated growth. With more stores on the way, we’ll be ramping up our internal studios as well as developing our SDK to open up publishing in the near future. As we continue to innovate in the VR industry, we’ll move towards the virtualization of our physical spaces. One day, it’ll be like stepping into a portal where players can embody their persistent virtual avatars.”
Virtual Reality (VR) has a long history of hype with little follow through, with the first mass-produced VR entertainment system appearing in 1991. More recent innovations have seemed more promising though, with a surge in VR interest from 2014 to 2016, however, once again the excitement began to wane in 2017 as users experienced new issues with the new technology. Consumer’s complaints ranged from issues such as the screen door effect, to the feeling of being a disembodied head or moderate to severe motion sickness. This coupled with a sticky price point that was unreachable for the average customer as well or substandard hardware for the dedicated technophiles who did pony up to take part.
But a lot has changed since the early days of VR, and the technology is once again making its latest comeback: the first wireless head-mounted displays (HMDs), such as the Oculus Quest, have made their entrance into the mainstream, and slowly but surely developers are finding fixes to some of the problems that have plagued VR from the beginning.
While VR is still at a very early stage in its development and is far from true mainstream adoption, innovative companies, like Sandbox VR, are laying the groundwork for a new VR paradigm that may prove to have more mass appeal and lead to faster consumer adoption than previous iterations of VR tech.
The VR Trifecta: Hardware, Software, and Location
Sandbox VR has hit a sweet spot in the burgeoning VR market by combining three ingredients: unique hardware, exclusive software, and an unparalleled location-based experience. So what does Sandbox VR bring to each of these components that stands them apart from the crowd?
1. The Hardware
For the most part, consumer VR experiences have focused on only three pieces of equipment: an HMD, two controllers, and a processor, which could either be a PC, mobile phone, or built into the headset, like with Oculus Quest. So your standard VR kit to put on would look like this:
And your standard VR play experience will look like this:
Sandbox VR ups the ante from here with additional hardware that makes the experience more immersive and enables haptic interaction where you can feel the shots and not just see them. So with Sandbox VR, the equipment looks like this:
And the play experience looks like this:
All in all, Sandbox VR has more hardware and therefore is able to bring a more immersive experience to players. If you go to one of their centers you will be kitted out with the following hardware:
- Head-mounted Display (HMD): Sandbox VR uses industry-standard VR headsets, like the HTC Vive and Oculus, in its locations. This part of its technology is not proprietary.
- Backpack Computer: To allow free range of motion, players strap a notebook computer, made by a company like MSI, to their backs.
- Motion Capture Sensors: Players are outfitted with motion capture trackers on their wrists, feet, headsets, and other peripherals and props, like guns. These devices use a combination of external motion capture and internal kinematics to track players’ movements. This is one of Sandbox VR’s proprietary technologies.
- Haptic Vest: To allow for further immersion, players wear a haptic vest, which simulates tactile sensations within the game. For example, if a zombie hits you, the vest may vibrate. This is another one of the company’s proprietary hardware items.
- Communications Headsets: Players wear headsets with microphones in addition to their HMDs so that they can communicate with their teammates throughout the experience. Some of these headsets are made by Razer.
- Additional Peripherals: Depending on which game the players choose, they’ll use additional peripherals, like prop guns, to get a more immersive experience. Some experiences also make use of wind effects (a row of fans) to increase the immersion.
One of the things that sets Sandbox VR apart from the competition is that all of its experiences and adventures are exclusive to Sandbox VR which means you cannot experience any of their games anywhere else.
Currently, Sandbox VR offers five experiences and adventures:
- Curse of Davy Jones: A pirate-themed game appropriate for both kids and adults. Players are tasked with finding a lost treasure.
- Amber Sky 2088: Players shoot robots and aliens in the future city of New Hong Kong.
- Star Trek: Discovery: A Star Trek-themed game built in partnership with CBS. Players use their phase guns to fight off enemies while they explore alien worlds.
- Deadwood Mansion: A horror, zombie-shooter game in which players try to survive a creepy mansion.
- Unbound Fighting League (UFL): A sci-fi fighting game in which players become futuristic gladiators and face off against their friends. The experience is designed to combine physical sports with esports.
Overall, the games that Sandbox VR offers are very much like arcade offerings: they are short, mechanics-driven experiences. They are designed primarily to give groups of friends a fun social experience with each other, so they rely heavily on teamwork and pure and simple fun. However, Sandbox VR isn’t a typical VR arcade, despite the similarities: its offerings are a cut above the rest, which gives it the feeling of a luxury, futuristic experience, rather than a run-of-the-mill arcade.
It is worth noting, however, that given the context these games are built for, they are very different from the longer, narrative-driven offerings available on PC VR and the Oculus Quest, which are better-suited towards solo experiences. However, that doesn’t reflect poorly on their quality at all: they are simply designed for different purposes.
The Sandbox VR experience starts before the first HMD is put on and the first game is loaded up. As soon as guests enter the Sandbox VR location, they’ll find a modern design, friendly staff, and a space that’s crafted to be a great place to hang out before and after a game.
This integration of the real-world location into the experience helps ease the transition between reality and virtual reality for the players.
And it’s no surprise that players love it: across the board, Sandbox VR locations have received fantastic reviews on sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor. In fact, Sandbox VR’s Hong Kong location is currently ranked as the sixth best activity in the entire city on Tripadvisor as of October 2021.
If you are inspired by this article and hoping to experience Sandbox VR gaming for yourself, you can find them at these current and upcoming locations:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Paramus (Coming Soon)
- Toronto (Coming Soon)
- Hong Kong
- London (Coming Soon)
Sandbox VR in 2022 and Beyond
As Sandbox VR continues to grow, one of its primary obstacles will be its ability to create and source new and exciting experiences. While Sandbox VR makes its own experiences, working with additional game studios could expand its offerings beyond what it is capable of making fully in-house.