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The Virtual Arena

The Virtual Arena: On Location At DNA VR – London’s Virtual Arcade

Kevin Williams reports on an exclusive visit to London’s first permanent VR arcade.

London joins Dubai, Beijing, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, with its own permanent virtual reality arcade location. VRFocus columnist Kevin Williams got the chance to be one of the first to visit this North London location.

I found myself being invited to York Way in North London, and directed to a nondescript doorway in a parade of shops leading to a basement location. Upon entering I was welcomed to London’s first permanent virtual reality (VR) entertainment location. A dedicated group of rooms comprising the latest VR technology offering a pay-to-play commercial model.

A humble entrance to the delights downstairs.
The entrance to the facility

Called DNA VR, this site has already held its public opening event the previous Saturday, and the owners were starting to get into the swing of running their unique operation. Coming respectively from an engineering, management consultancy and retail industry background, this marks their first start-up and move into operating a VR arcade. The team having worked hard to find their perfect location with strong transport links, and proximity to the popular Camden Market, attracting the site’s target audience: tourists. They are still in “listening mode”, collecting information from the players and visitors themselves on how to provide the best experience possible.

DNA VR co-founders Denis, Alexander and Anastasia

With DNA VR, the team are taking their time to evaluate the market, and has chosen a path of selecting games themselves, formulating individual commercial usage with publishers, or licensing selected titles from Valve’s SteamVR. The operation during our visit was evaluating a system that allows the guest to select the experience, with the facility team able to monitor operations and offer support.

Regarding the operations platform, within the enclosure DNA VR are using conventional HTC Vives, incorporating VR Covers, to offer the needed hygiene protection.  The group’s ten individual play areas are split between separate enclosures for individuals, and those that allow group usage. For example, with the likes of Steel Crate Games’ Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – offering a near escape room approach to team VR experiences.

Kevin Williams tries out his moves at DNA VR.

This was a well laid out, if utilitarian, approach to creating a VR Arcade, and seems to be a model that will see traction able to accommodate 12 people per hour model with their ten enclosures. As the team confirmed the first booking guests to the facility were familiar with the less permanent experiments to create a place to experience VR. In London’s Soho, the retailer GAME has added a VR demo-room to their Belong gaming area – but DNA VR is the first dedicated VR arcade.

The pricing model for the new venue sees single players paying between £20 ($26) to £25 ($32) for a 30-minute session (respective of off-peak and peak reservation); while for a 60-minute slots rise to £30 ($39) and £35 ($45) respectively. Group and party bookings are priced accordingly, while building on the Escape Room VR experiences available, up to six players are charged £115 ($150) to £125 ($163) respectively – all prices excluding VAT.

Selection of the larger and normal VR enclosures
Image via DNA VR

It is expected that London will now see a surge of new VR Arcade locations opening in the coming months. A number of these projects following the success of the escape room approach to the business, while several venues look towards opening dedicated franchise locations emulating projects such as IMAX VR, VR ZONE and VR Junkies, to name but a few, seen opening in the West after an explosion in interest in Chinese VR Arcade and VR Park projects. Expect to read more about this aspect of the VR scene in coming reports.

The Virtual Arena will be back later this month with another discussion piece.

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