Last year full time Mum Rebecca Assice launched the only room-scale VR experience in Australia - Virtual Room Sydney. But how exactly did she get the business up and running?
We spoke to Assice about the challenges, and rewards, of starting a Virtual Reality experience business.
Can you describe what the experience at Virtual Room is like?
Quite simply it’s mind blowing! People walk out of the experience totally wow’d as it’s unlike anything they have tried before. Players start in their own 3m x 3m dark room and put on our high quality VR gear (HTC Vives). Once in the game, they join their friends (up to 4 at once) and can talk, collaborate, move around and interact with them and the virtual world. The virtual world is stunningly realistic – our adventure takes you back into 5 different periods of time and you really do feel as if you are in ancient Egypt or have landed on the moon.
Why virtual reality?
We see virtual reality as a major trend that’s about to go mainstream. It’s been around for many years already but only now is the hardware and software up to the quality where people will really rave about the experience and come back for more.
Where did the idea come from to open Virtual Room?
We have run the Escape Hunt brand of escape rooms across Australia and NZ for nearly 4 years now and have seen how popular this form of entertainment has become. We knew VR and AR would start to be used in escape rooms soon enough and decided to go a step further than just a few puzzles here and there.
So we developed one of the world’s first full length, collaborative virtual reality adventures. Virtual Room is a bit like an escape room 2.0 – taking similar concepts of immersive entertainment with team work, problem solving and time limits, but putting it into a totally realistic virtual world.
What were you doing previously?
Before I got involved with Escape Hunt and now Virtual Room, I worked in management consulting for over 13 years – both in Sydney and Singapore. So I had a pretty demanding job, with long hours and lots of travel.
How has your life changed?
It’s changed a lot! I live in Singapore and run 4 businesses across 3 countries from home. I work only a few hours a day, have total autonomy and flexibility with my life. I have much more time for my young family and for things I love such as travel.
What challenges did you face?
Setting up the business is always a big challenge – especially when you are doing something for the first time – contractors don’t know what you need, things get delayed and there’s always a mad rush at the end to make the launch date – because customers have already pre-booked!
Once launched, the other challenge we faced was lack of awareness – most people don’t even know to search for a virtual reality activity in Sydney as it’s such a new concept.
What are the considerations you need to have when starting a technology-heavy business?
Make sure the technology is truly customer ready and that you invest in using very high quality hardware and software. Earlier operators of VR experiences were not able to provide customers with a sufficiently awesome experience (too short, caused motion sickness, poor graphics etc). We were only willing to launch Virtual Room because it provides the world’s best quality team-based VR experience - and absolutely no motion sickness!!
Also, get good warranties - technology equipment will always break down and need components replaced – we chose to pay more for the HTC Vive Enterprise Edition because of the warranty provided.
How did you utilise online marketing to get the word out?
We tried some Facebook advertising but by far and away our most successful campaign has been with Groupon. It’s a fantastic platform when you are launching something totally new as people are more willing to give it a try at a better price point. We also make use of a lot of 3rd party partnerships – places like RedBalloon, Adrenaline and The Entertainment Book are a good source of customers for us as well.
We find commission based partnerships are much more effective than simply paying for direct advertising – we only pay if we make a sale so the ROI is clear.
What has the response been to the experience so far?
Phenomenal!! We are already the #1 activity in Singapore for Fun & Games on Trip Advisor and # 6 in Sydney. We get daily inquiries asking when our 2nd mission is coming out – good news is it should be any day now!