• Lowpass
  • Posts
  • "Ghostbusters" is back in location-based VR venues

"Ghostbusters" is back in location-based VR venues

Who ya gonna call?

Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: “Ghostbusters” is back in VR, and Roku is entering the home security space.

A quick housekeeping note: I’ll be taking next week off to recharge, and tweak a few things with regards to this newsletter. Expect an all-new issue in your inbox on 4/13.

Subscribe now to get the next issue delivered to your inbox for free.

“Ghostbusters” is the VR experience that just won’t die

In the summer of 2016, The Void debuted “Ghostbusters: Dimensions” as its very first VR experience in New York, which in many ways marked the beginning of the out-of-home VR entertainment business. Seven years later, the “Ghostbusters” franchise is back in location-based VR centers, albeit with a few key differences.

The new “Ghostbusters VR Academy” experience has been produced by German VR startup Hologate in partnership with Sony Pictures VR and Sony’s Ghost Corps. I caught up with Hologate CEO Leif Arne Petersen this week to chat about his company’s approach to location-based entertainment, the importance of franchises like “Ghostbusters,” and his hopes for AI in the VR space.

Hologate is bringing Gostbusters to more than 450 locations in 42 countries. The startup is working with family entertainment centers and smaller in-mall operators around the world, which have seen more than 16 million players to date.

  • Unlike many of its competitors, Hologate isn’t operating any of its own locations. “We’re a manufacturer and distributor, but not an operator,” Petersen told me. “At the end (of the day), we’re a technology company.”

  • That helped during the early days of the pandemic, when the location-based entertainment industry shut down completely. Sandbox VR was forced into bankruptcy when its revenue disappeared overnight, and The Void ultimately had to shut down altogether.

  • Hologate on the other hand was able to hunker down and weather the storm, with Petersen telling me that location-based entertainment recovered after about a year.

  • Now, the company hopes to further grow its audience with the help of Sony’s iconic franchise. “Ghostbusters is the perfect IP for what we do,” Petersen said.

Hologate wants to be a VW, not a Bentley. The Void’s “Ghostbusters: Dimensions” experience relied on a heavily customized stage with doors, motion platforms and other physical props for a sense of complete immersion. Petersen acknowledged that the startup produced some of the best location-based VR to date, adding: “The Void was the Bentley in this space.”

  • The thing is, there’s only a limited market for luxury cars. Scaling up these kinds of bespoke location-based experiences can be challenging.

  • However, scale is essential to thrive in location-based entertainment, argued Petersen. “You are spending millions on making content,” he said. Recouping those kinds of investments requires a large footprint of locations.

  • That’s why Hovergate is focusing on a much simpler setup. Players experience “Ghostbusters VR Academy” on an open stage without walls and doors, and there are no VR backpacks for operators to worry about.

  • The company also made a version of the experience for its Blitz motion platform.

Next up: AI-powered humanoids? When I asked Petersen about technologies he is excited about right now, I expected him to talk about mixed reality and advancements in standalone headset tech. Instead, he brought up AI.

  • Hologate is looking to incorporate AI chatbots into future experiences, Petersen told me.

  • Combined with photorealistic avatars like Epic’s MetaHumans, those chatbots could offer a new level of interaction in VR, he said. “You’ll be able to talk to photorealistic humans.”

Seven years after “Ghostbusters: Dimensions,” it’s become clear that location-based VR has some staying power, even as at-home VR has gotten more popular. Meta may have sold more than 20 million Quest 2 headsets, but that’s still no replacement for a social in-person experience, Petersen argued. “People want to do something together,” he said. “We’re selling you a memory.”

Roku is getting into home security

Streaming platform provider Roku is expanding its smart home business with a line of home security devices: The company is getting ready to release a dedicated home security hub as well as entry sensors, motion sensors and a home monitoring keypad, according to FCC filings I discovered this week.

  • Like its other smart home hardware, Roku’s home security devices are being made by Wyze. In fact, Roku’s devices appear to be white-labeled versions of hardware sold by Wyze.

  • Roku will be bundling these products, with bundles also including a pair of “Protected by Roku Home Monitoring” window decals.

  • Roku will be offering a paid home security monitoring service to its customers, but I couldn’t find any details on how much the company is going to charge.

  • Judging from the product manuals included in the FCC filings, there won’t be any direct integration with Roku’s TVs and streaming devices at launch. Instead, consumers will need to install Roku’s dedicated smart home app for installation and maintenance.

I reported last month that Roku was scaling back its audio ambitions and instead putting a bigger focus on smart home devices which may offer a more immediate way to generate additional revenue with add-on services. With the impending launch of home security hardware, Roku now appears to look for yet another way to generate recurring revenue.

What else

Some Apple insiders are concerned about its headset plans. Apple’s mixed reality headset, which the company is expected to unveil this summer, is facing some rare internal pushback.

Or maybe Apple’s headset is being delayed again? Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo now thinks we won’t get an announcement until this fall.

Netflix gets to keep “Arrested Development” after all. The company struck a deal to get exclusive streaming rights for the show, which was scheduled to disappear from its service this month.

The Internet Archive lost a major copyright lawsuit. A court found that the library’s “controlled digital lending” program violates the rights of book publishers. The Internet Archive is going to appeal the ruling.

Disney layoffs began this week. The media giant plans to let go of a total of 7000 staffers this year; the first wave of layoffs included a metaverse division with 50 employees.

Cinedigm’s Erick Opeka takes issue with streaming taxes. “Adding a tax on top of rising prices is kicking both the consumer and streaming services while they're down,” Opeka wrote on LinkedIn this week.

Netflix’s password sharing crackdown may be working. Early data suggests the company is seeing strong growth in Canada, where it began taking steps against password sharing last month.

Roku is laying off 200 additional staffers. Roku is looking to “prioritize projects that the company believes will have a higher return on investment,” it said in a filing; Roku had already laid off 200 employees last fall.

That’s it

Generative AI appears to be everywhere these days … even at Ikea! Earlier this week, I wrote about Space10, a design lab funded by the furniture giant that has been exploring how designers and other creatives can put AI to good use. It was a fun story to write, but ever since, I’ve been left with a nagging question: What about AI … meatballs?

Thanks for reading, have a great weekend everyone. See you again in two weeks!

Join the conversation

or to participate.