To make virtual reality truly popular, you have to make cheap and accessible. And HTC is zeroing in on a huge market: Chinese internet cafes. It's the latest example of tech companies worldwide trying to get VR in the hands of massive groups of users, quickly and cheaply. At a VR conference in Beijing last Friday, Taiwan-based HTC announced plans to promote its Vive VR headset by partnering with Hangzhou Shunwang Technology, a Chinese internet cafe operator that could demo the headset to its 100 million customers for a small hourly rate.
The pilot program's already underway in Hangzhou, Road to VR reports, charging players anywhere from ¥10 to ¥30 ($2 to $6) for 10 minutes of Vive time. Shunwang Technology provides software for over 100,000 Chinese internet cafes, totaling 70 per cent of the market, which serves over 100 million people. (It's still unclear how many of those cafes will actually be participating in the Vive program, though.)
Road to VR points out that in order for VR gaming to grow, the "hardcore" community needs to become active in it — meaning users who spend lots of time and disposable income on gaming as one of their main hobbies. A great place to find those folks in China? Internet cafes.
The Vive headset is a joint development between HTC and US games company Valve, the developer behind Steam. Right now, Vive is only available to limited quantities among dev communities, but more are supposed to ship to consumers next year.
Guerrilla VR marketing is happening in the US; Google's Cardboard headset is incredibly cheap to both make and buy, and instantly turns any smartphone into a VR viewer. This spring, the New York Times shipped free Cardboard viewers to all of its Sunday paper subscribers to promote its new VR app and experience news stories in virtual reality.
Chinese internet cafes, infamous for being huge and filled with gamers for hours on end, have seen drops in numbers in recent years. It's still a big market in one of the world's biggest economies, however, and is a group with discerning tastes and who really knows gaming hardware. If VR can make it there, perhaps it can make it anywhere.
Top photo by China Photos/Getty Images