So You Want to Start a VR Arcade
…and how to deal with your hardware
This is a sponsored post by SpringboardVR. If you’re looking for a software system to run your VR Arcade, check out SpringboardVR.
Starting a VR Arcade? Read this article on how to handle game licensing!
I get asked about VR Arcades often and one of the most common questions asked is “what is the best way to get VR headsets.” Unfortunately, there’s no good straight answer online. Until now. I’ve done some research into the major headsets that you might use in an arcade and condensed all that research into this article. Bonus! I’ve also done some research in collaboration with SpringboardVR on computer hardware for Arcades! And accessories! And… a lot more. This is a comprehensive guide on getting you started in handling the necessary hardware for your VR Arcade.
While there are a crap-ton of headsets, really only a couple stand out as the major players in the VR Arcade scene. When you’re picking a headset for your arcade, there are considerations you should, well… consider:
Ease of use: How easy is it for the headset to be used by a new customer? How easy is it to be put on and worn? Stored and maintained? How well does tracking work? Remember, it needs to be easy for you, and easy for your user!
Durability: How durable is the headset? A single headset could see up to and over 25 people a day using it, for months and years on end. It will be bumped, bustled, dropped, spilled on and god knows what else. You want a headset that can take those hits, day in and out. You don’t want to be sending out all of your headsets to be fixed every-other-day (I’ll talk about this later, actually)
Library: Some headsets can run some games, other headsets, other games. Some games can be on both headsets. You want a headset that gives you access to the widest possible library of games for your arcade. More games for your arcade, the more entertainment options you have. For more information on software for your arcade, check out my write up on how to start a VR Arcade and keep developers happy.
These are three considerations you should keep in mind when picking a headset for your arcade. With all that being said, there are really only a couple choices of headsets you could pick from.
According to SpringboardVR, who has data from 1000+ headsets in arcades across 30 countries, you can see the distribution of headsets in this handy-dandy infographic below.
Yep. The HTC Vive is the majority headset of basically every VR Arcade in the world. Even outside of SpringboardVRs’ data, the Vive is dominant in the VR Arcade world. Just take a look around the web at VR Arcades. So, now you must be wondering is how do you best get these headsets?
The answer is pretty straight forward; you get them however you’d get them normally. Of all the headsets manufacturers that I have talked to, none offered any deals for arcades buying in bulk. That is, most of the arcades who would be buying headsets, won’t buy enough to qualify for the bulk purchase discount. To add to that, you can’t even buy a normal headset. You must purchase the enterprise edition of each headset! You can not use the standard consumer version in your arcade — and that is kind of a good thing. We’ll talk about that more in a bit. First, lets talk about the Vive and Rift business editions.
The HTC Vive has the most comprehensive Enterprise Edition that I’ve found. If you plan to launch a VR Arcade, you’re legally only allowed to use the Enterprise Edition. You can not use consumer versions technically for arcades (sorry! not my rules). The enterprise edition may cost more (it’s $1,200 USD) , but it does provide with a large amount of bonus features with your purchase that I would highly suggest getting. This includes accessories (which I’ll mention later), a great warranty and access to a service line.
The Oculus Rift is another potential arcade headset. Oculus also provides an business edition, much like HTC does with the Vive. They also only allow you to use the business edition for arcades (as I understand it - It was a little hard to get a clear answer. Check the terms of service!). I personally don’t recommend an Oculus Rift for arcades. I don’t feel the current generation of tracking is suitable for a busy, bustling arcade setting. If you’d like to use a Rift, I would suggest trying one out and learning about their Constellation tracking system before purchasing.
Warranties — you need it
The headset is your lifeblood of the arcade, just as much the games your provide. Picking the right one and treating them well is important. Don’t flake out on getting the enterprise edition because it costs a little bit more. The warranty that both of these business editions provide is very important. The consumer edition does not have this same warranty. Your headsets will break! They will break often! It could take at minimum a month or longer to get your equipment back! When you order your headsets, get more than you need. Jason Van Hierden, owner of VRKade in Calgary, Canada says that for every 10 headsets one of their stores has, they have 4 extra on the shelf to replace broken headsets out on warranty. They also noted that one of stores, which has 31 headsets, sees anywhere between 6 to 8 out on warranty at any time. Always. Plan accordingly and do your research when ordering the headsets for your arcade.
Next, lets talk about some necessary accessories for your headsets to improve customer comfort and usability. They’ll make your life a little easier too, even provide some free marketing!
There exists a quite few accessories for VR headsets that can help improve the quality of your customers experiences and save your employees some hassle when setting up stations for customer use. Here’s the big ones I suggest:
The Deluxe Audio Strap (DAS) — This is an HTC Vive only accessory that replaces the current “soft strap” on the HTC Vive. Not only does it provide more comfort for the user, but it also is more durable and comes attached with headphones. The headphones in my opinion are great because it’s one less cable for customers to use. If your arcade doesn’t use headphones (which… you should be…) then you should still consider upgrading your straps if you don’t have the DAS already. Note that the Enterprise Version of the Vive already comes with a DAS as part of the purchase. I would probably pick up a couple extra to keep in storage, just incase any break — you can quickly swap out the DAS’s and not lose a station.
Vive Wand Charging Dock — These make your VR stations much more organized and clutter free. Just drop your wands in, and they’ll automatically begin to charge in between customers. These are significantly easier to manage than individual cables, and can be mounted on just about any wall. This is one that I found on Amazon, but you should be able to find other models relatively easily online. You can also look for the 3D printing files, and make your own.
Base Station mounts — this applies for both the Vive and the Rift. You want to ensure that the base stations and tracking cameras (Vive and Rift, respectively) are mounted securely and safely. If they can wobble, tracking will be rough and the users experience will be bad or nauseating! I don’t have any hardware recommendations for this specifically for arcades, but I do know that 3D printing websites like Thingiverse do have a large catalog of base station mounts that you can try. Amazon also has pipe and wall based mounts that you can try too. Do your research, experiment a bit if you want and find the mount that works best for your arcades layout.
Joystick Thumb Attachment — I saw this on Reddit and absolutely loved the idea. It’s a simple attachment for the Vive wands that turns the thumbpad into a simple joystick. I wouldn’t recommend that you keep these on your wands all the time, but they could be a nice accessibility addition that you can offer at your arcade for those who may be struggling with the thumbpads. The inventor of the accessory sells them via their ebay store for relatively cheap. You can also download the 3D printer files on their Thingiverse page, and print your own.
Stickers — The one thing that I always see (and encourage) when demo’ing VR is people taking pictures and videos of their friends doing VR. You see these videos all over the internet. This creates a perfect opportunity for you to get some free advertising. Get some stickers made of your VR Arcades logo, and put them on the front of all your VR headsets. Make sure they’re nice, big and clear. Whenever someone takes a picture or video of their friend looking silly in VR, your logo will be right there on the front of the headset.
Remember! Don’t make your stickers so large that they cover the receivers on the Vive or Rift Headsets, as this will negatively impact tracking. I’ve been recommended Sticker Mule for getting stickers printed, but if you have a favorite sticker maker, that works too.
Behind every Vive or Rift is a powerful VR capable computer. But, whats the best one to use? The answer to that is difficult to say, as it varies widely based on budget, location and time of year (sales and whatnot). Below, I’ve listed some of the major computer components that SpringboardVR says are the most common parts in machines that use their software. I’ve also included some additional infographics provided by SpringboardVR, that provide other options.
- Graphics Card: NVidia GTX 1070 (Newegg Link)
- CPU: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7–7700k (Newegg Link)
- RAM: 16GB (Really, just pick your favourite brand)
These are the most common major components of SpringboardVR powered Arcade computers. As the infographics show, you don’t have to use these parts. You could opt for a cheaper CPU to allow you get a more powerful GPU. You shouldn’t jump into buying parts and building your computers yourself right away. I would strongly consider prebuilt computers, and allow me to explain why.
The current Graphics Card problem (March, 2018)
I would like to point out the current elephant in the room when it comes to computer parts; and that is graphics cards. With the increasing popularity of Cryptocurrency, the price of graphics cards has gone way up. This means that graphics cards are going to cost a lot more than they might have a couple years ago. As such, I would recommend looking at prebuilt computers, instead of making your own, as you may be able to get a better deal on the computer. Do your research before buying computers and make sure your getting the best bang for you buck AND are getting hardware that is reliable. Make sure it’s easily fixable for when it inevitably breaks down (get a warranty!). I would also recommend maybe having some spare parts in storage so you can do some quick fixes and not lose a VR station for a week because you’re waiting for parts to come in.
And thats everything. I hope that this article has helped you in some way plan out your VR Arcade. Next to your game library, hardware is extremely important to get right! Make sure you pick a headset that is durable, easy to use and has a great warranty! Don’t get cheap headsets! They are the motor that keeps your arcade running. Make sure you get it right!
If you have any questions or would like to talk more about VR Arcades, you can reach out to me via Twitter at @Fr0z3nR. Additionally, you can learn more about SpringboardVR, who sponsored this article, at their website SpringboardVR.com. I would highly recommend you check them out if you’re planning to start a VR Arcade.