According to an article titled “Amusement Parks Hurtle Into Dizzying Realm of Virtual Reality” in the August 31st Wall Street Journal, there are over 3,000 roller coasters worldwide. Did you know that? Well, unless you happen to be a coaster-fanatic, probably not. Why? Because amusement parks have never been firms that widely use technology. Yes, they may have PA systems and some digital signs. The ones that I have been to however have very little technology for entertainment. Is that about to change? I think so.
First, some facts from the article, which I encourage you to read (once you are done with this article, of course). Six Flags Entertainment this year has begun to introduce virtual reality into its theme parks, using the Samsung phone and its Gear headset. Mack Rides, which, according to the article is one of the world’s top producers of amusement park rides, has also been creating VR gear for roller coasters. Finally, a British company Figment Productions has launched a virtual reality ride in England.
This thing that amazes me about the article is that these firms are doing what I love most about technology. They are taking a technology that we have all heard about, and thought of little ways to use it, and they are using it to revolutionize their business. Is revolutionize too strong of a phrase? I don’t think so. Amusement parks spent millions of dollars trying to revolutionize their rides, create new rides and expand their parks. This gives them an opportunity to revolutionize rides on a more regular basis, at a fraction of a cost.
Think about it. How many times can you ride on the same roller coaster, at any park, before it becomes ho-hum? Probably a couple of times. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the Sheikra at Busch Gardens. I could ride that every time we visit there when we go to Florida. But eventually, I would stop going to Busch Gardens, because I have experienced all the rides, and I am ready for new ones. What if I could have a new ride, EVERY time I got on the Sheikra? What if the first time I was hanging upside down, waiting to get dropped into an empty pool? Then as we shot towards the bottom of the pool it suddenly filled with water and we got splashed? That would be fun. What if the second time, an hour later, we were being dropped into a cave in Mexico with bats all around us? Suddenly, every ride is different and I want to go on it again and again! What does this mean for Busch Gardens? More value to me, and therefore more value (cash) to them!
Several years ago we visited Disney in Florida. We went into the Stitch’s Great Escape ride. If you have been to Disney, you know that this is actually close to VR than it is to a ride. You don’t actually move, but you have an experience. My son was four years old at the time. When Stitch starting running around the room, burping chili dogs in your face (wind and scent included) he started to get really scared and freaked out. They actually strap you in for this exact reason, so you don’t get up and start running around in the dark. How does this relate to VR? Easy, we could changed the program for him. We could have given him an experience that was a little less scary. Perhaps in the VR the room would have been a sunny field, and Stitch would be speaking gently to him, while the rest of us got a different experience. You see, you can take a mass of people, and give them all a different experience.
So, how does this relate to the programmers, integrators and designers reading this column? I really hope I don’t have to answer that, but I will. This equipment, the videos and the programming does NOT create itself. These organization are going to need someone to do all of this for them! How new is this? According to the article in the WSJ, only 25 amusement parks in the world are using this type of technology. So, there is a lot of opportunity out there, now is your time to act!