Hold onto your controllers, NYC — a huge new virtual reality arcade called VR World just landed in Manhattan.
“You can walk in and try some of the best of what virtual reality has to offer,” says Yasser Ghanchi, CEO of VR World. “What we’re trying to do is make virtual reality accessible to consumers.”
Virtual reality has been the “next big thing” in gaming for years now, but unless you were going to a tech convention or shelling out over $1,000 for equipment, there wasn’t a good way to try it.
Enter VR World, where you can experience 50 of the hottest games and movies in a three-story space that feels more like an upscale lounge than the usual beeping, flashing arcades, complete with a full bar and, soon, food service. “It’s important that the experience is not too overwhelming, so you can play a game then have a snack and relax for a bit,” Ghanchi says.
Located right in the shadow of the Empire State Building at 4 E. 34th St., visitors pay a flat fee of $39 for all-day unlimited access. Children over 7 are allowed in; what they can play is at their guardians’ discretion.
The games start out fairly intuitively on the first floor with titles like “Fruit Ninja,” the retro-futuristic alien shooter "Space Pirates" and Google’s “Tilt Brush,” which lets you paint in the air then step through your own brush strokes. New to VR? Each game has an attendant who helps you put on the equipment and learn the controls. An electronic wristband lets you queue up at each station, where a turn takes about 10 minutes between instructions and 5-7 minutes of play.
Upstairs, the games get more complex: Cause havoc with “Rick & Morty;” bend time in "Superhot" or scale a cliff face in “The Climb.” “It sounds so basic, but it’s so realistic,” Ghanchi says. “We’ve had people screaming when they fall.”
Virtual reality is often accused of removing the social aspect of gaming, but VR World strives to keep friends connected. Each station has a screen streaming the current player’s game, and several stations offer multiplayer games like the space station shooter “Robo Recall” and a zombie hunt that prompted some screaming of its own.
The arcade also has several rigs that will likely never be available for home use, like four linked Formula 1-style racing seats and steering wheels, and a flight simulator you lay belly-down in. Ghanchi says developers are already approaching him to feature their games even before they’re marketed to current home VR users.
“We want this to be accessible to consumers and lead to wider VR adoption,” Ghanchi explains, “but we also want to partner with the content people because they need support.”
He would know — he’s funding the development of his own video game, which is what prompted him to start VR World. “I landed in the virtual reality world actually through my passion in life, which is cricket,” he says. “I’m originally from Pakistan, and it’s only because of a complete lack of talent that I’m not playing cricket.”
The next best thing should’ve been a video game, but “I was very frustrated that there aren’t any great cricket video games; and then I realized it’s because the console experience doesn’t lend itself to cricket. Virtual reality solves that problem.”
“I sound almost like a child talking about video games,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s only going to get better, and it’s only going to get more realistic.”