The Void's Asia chief on the hyper-reality boom and collaboration with Hollywood

Hyper-reality firm The Void recently announced its expansion into Asia Pacific, with a focus on China, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. It is hoping to make more investments in China, a country where the virtual reality industry is expected to hit $8.5 billion by 2020.

It has also opened a 7,000 sq ft hyper-reality experience center in Genting Resort World, Malaysia, which features Star Wars among other experiences.

The Drum caught up with John D. Watkins, Jr., the chief executive officer for Asia at The Void on why is hyper-reality the next big thing, Disney's investment in The Void and how Hollywood is all over hyper-reality. He also speaks about the projected booming demand in China and Asia for hyper-reality.

How should brands ensure that consumers' privacy is not violated, or their personal data is not misused with mixed reality?

There is always a concern that personal data privacy could be compromised with the implementation of emerging technology. In the context of hyper-reality and mixed-reality, there is the concern that users’ data could be breached when consumers submit their personal information to VR companies as part of the registration and payment processes or through the hacking of the device when private conversations are being leveraged on when the devices are in use.

It is crucial for users to fully assess the credibility of the providers of these devices. In particular, users should understand how their personal information is being used and reasons for why it is being collected in the first place. Legitimate companies have explicit terms and conditions for how their personal information is being used, so it is crucial for users to vet through this too.

There are several steps companies should take to protect customers information from being misused.

Firstly, it is fundamental for companies to look into the manufacturers’ background, particularly whether the device’s hardware and software are securely protected from potential cyber attacks or breaches. Secondly, it is crucial for government bodies to ensure law and policies are made to protect end-users’ identity and private information.

Thirdly, it is vital for vendors to evaluate and review internal security risks and ensure that they provide a safe environment for their end-users.

Why is the hyper-reality the next big thing and what’s different?

Users will undoubtedly compare traditional location-based VR with the emerging hyper-reality experiences that The Void is pioneering. However, these are two very different experiences.

Location-based VR takes users from the traditional stationery and solitary experience to a social activity to enjoy with friends and family, giving it a visual experience. Compared with traditional VR, hyper-reality takes the experience a bit further. It is a new category in VR immersive experiences that blends the lines of physical and virtual designed to immerse users in different worlds. It encourages guests to become active participants in the storyline whereby they can see, touch, feel and even smell their surroundings.

After realizing the full potential of VR at home can be expensive and technically challenging, visitors can feel the full effects of this cutting-edge technology at dedicated hyper-reality experience centers. At The Void experience centers, guests are greeted not by hosts, but by engineers who ensure that the gear is properly tailored to each individual. For instance, we aim to bring visitors a step further into an alternate universe, in particular, using digital worlds mapped over physical stages with immersive and interactive sensory elements that empower each visitor’s journey and place them, moving freely, inside impossible worlds.

Hyper-reality has the ability to create a completely immersive perceived reality which sets it apart from other experiences.

What is the business outlook for the hyper-reality industry and how this will change consumer experiences across many sectors?

We believe people will experience VR through location-based hyper-reality, so we feel the outlook is a positive one. Location-based experience centers are leading the way in consumer awareness and adoption.

We see several industries that have incorporated hyper-reality experiences to attract more businesses and engage better with their customers. The obvious ones would be the entertainment theme park industry. In Asia, Resorts World Genting was one of the first theme parks in Asia to provide visitors with a hyper-reality experience. This new attraction is an investment of approximately RM10 million (USD2.4 million) and has attracted hundreds of visitors each day. It features a 7,000 sq ft first-of-its-kind hyper-reality experience center that offers The Void’s most iconic experiences to guests:

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire that takes guests through a breath-taking journey to the planet Mustafar, allowing teams of four to walk freely and untethered on an interactive stage. Guests feel the impact of blaster bolts, smell smoke from the surrounding environment, solve an interactive puzzle to escape enemies, all while coordinating directly with their team in real time through the blended virtual and physical world.

In Ralph Breaks VR, you and your friends sneak onto the internet disguised as “netizens” to play the newest, coolest video game ever. Guests will shoot retro alien spaceships, squash pixel bugs, and fend off hordes of bunnies and kitties in the Pancake Milkshake Diner while they team up with Ralph and Vanellope in a race against time to see who can rack up the highest score.

Other industries such as the education industry are also looking forward to such an adaptation to realize the future school field trip. For example, with hyper-reality, it can create experiences that simulate amazing places around the world, allowing students to visit and interact with different cultures, travel back in time, or explore the universe.

Furthermore, even the retail industry is quick to jump on this bandwagon. Last year, London’s Westfield Stratford City shopping mall opened a pop-up The VOID experience center offering Star Wars™: Secrets of the Empire. The VOID brought a whole new audience attracting more than 70% of first-time visitors to the mall.

Why is the entertainment industry seeking to collaborate with The Void and why Hollywood is all over hyper-reality?

The entertainment industry is faced with new challenges, in particular, they need to find new ways to present unique attractions and more real-life immersive experiences to users.

Partnering with some of the greatest storytellers and most renowned franchises (IP) to give fans everywhere unforgettable, entertaining content that offers a glimpse into the future of human experience is vital. For our next expansion in Asia, we plan to create localized experiences based on popular Asian stories/movies/games to tailor to local visitors. We will also look into collaborating with Asian IP holders and creative studios.

What is the projected booming demand in China and Asia for hyper-reality?

China’s VR market size is projected at RMB16 billion (USD2.3 bn) in 2017, it is anticipated to exceed RMB90bn (USD13.4 bn) in 2020. We see strong potential growth in both Greater China and South East Asia.

In particular, we see Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Taiwan as key markets for us to invest in and believe that it will be the up-and-rising hyper-reality hubs for Asia. For instance, the recent Resorts World Genting launch has attracted visitors from all corners of Asia with a strong entertainment portfolio.

China alone is gradually becoming the next entertainment mega hub, not just in Asia but globally as well. For instance, in February 2018, China set a global monthly box office record after topping RMB10bn (USD1.57 bn) for the first time, indicating the rise of the film and entertainment industry in the country.

These findings suggest that as the entertainment industry evolves, businesses will be exploring new ways to engage with their consumers. Hyper-reality could be one of these new approaches that companies can explore to implement in their strategies.

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