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Insights EDU

Surviving COVID-19 as an LBE Company

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Kevin Williams | KWP Limited | Founder

10 Apr 2020 | 5 min read

The following is an extract from Kevin Williams in our COVID-19 Board Report. Over the last two months, we have spoken extensively to industry to identify and overcome the new challenges in light of COVID-19. We have identified LBE as an area of particular risk, and hence are looking to provide clarity and stability for those in sector through free guidance and advice.

The full report is available below, entirely for free.

Free download: COVID-19 XR Support Guide

The complete Academy COVID-19 resource built under the guidance of the Academy Steering Board. Complete with financial support, hygiene guidance, and all our top tips for navigating this difficult period. 

Kevin Williams, KWP on the Impact of COVID-19

The consequences of the Global Health Crisis on the Out-of-Home entertainment industry has been all embracing, once the public health emergency saw, first voluntary and then, nationwide closures of all entertainment, hospitality and non-essential businesses. Our consultancy has had to provide advice and direction to clients in the Location-Entertainment Center (LBE) scene, faced with a lockdown of undetermined length. All entertainment operations (from the largest to the smallest), have had to take stock. And we have been collecting examples of other “Black Swan” events, and their impact on the amusement, theme park and attraction industry. Also working to gather information on the first venues to emerge from the shutdown. 

The entertainment industry has seen the first openings of park and location-based entertainment sites in Beijing and Shanghai in recent weeks. Originally the first sector hit hardest, their considerable lockdown has started to see the raising of some restrictions with the first entertainment sites opening. These venues have not re-started as previously, but have now entered a new “normal”, with the increase in sanitization areas, and government guidelines towards the numbers of guests that can gather at one time. Based on these experiences, the Western market, once we come out of Social Distancing, is expected to be undertaken in phases towards achieving [some kind of] normality. At the same time the unique VR experiences available form LBE VR will see an influx of investment and issues.  

For LBE, in this new environment, it will be a difficult dancing act between customer needs and governmental advisories, particular to each location. In the short-term, the need will be to emerge from lockdown, which will be more than just cleaning premises and re-training staff; but will see the continued correct approach to the operation of immersive VR headsets in public-space. The industry has been working towards a professional and appropriate cleaning and operation process – and it is expected that this will expand towards guest’s hygiene across all aspects of social entertainment environments. A process that will be repeated throughout all kinds of LBE, be it amusement, theme park, cinema or VR arcade based.

Over the last few years, the landscape of LBE VR has grown into a varied and compelling range of platforms, comprising new developments such as “Virtual Ride Simulators”, “VR Amusement”, “Self-service VR Kiosks”, “VR Enclosures”, “VR Escape Games”, and “Arena Scale VR”, just to name the main platforms. The growth in multi-player free-roaming experiences has also seen serious investment, leading up to the crisis that will not be diminished. But there are other new examples of immersive technology that have had to delay their launch due to the Global crisis, and a number of these new concepts, and new game content, will be looking to burst onto the market after the dropping of restrictions.    

The close-knit nature of the LBE VR scene has seen the sharing of information and advice amongst the thousands of independent and franchise operations. The trade associations supporting the entertainment and attraction sector have also thrown open their resources including White Papers on best practice, and the available business financial support that can aid their return to operation. We have seen commercial content distributors pausing license fees, as well as other companies deferring payment on support and warranty on VR attractions. Developers of service and support elements for operating VR hardware have been deploying UV-C light systems to decontaminate hardware, long before this crisis, and have been developing new approaches. 

The long-term aspects of the LBE VR industry will be marked by how well the sector manages their return to full operation. It is obvious that the financial burden of months of lockdown will severely impact many, and the vulnerability for some operations will be seen by an expected spate of closures, acquisitions and mergers. But the audience that will also be exiting their enforced isolation, will be emerging with a hunger for escapism to cure their “cabin fever”. And as always, the VR Out-of-Home entertainment industry is a unique conduit to let off steam, and once again enjoy immersive social entertainment.

Free download: COVID-19 XR Support Guide

The complete Academy COVID-19 resource built under the guidance of the Academy Steering Board. Complete with financial support, hygiene guidance, and all our top tips for navigating this difficult period. 

About the author:

Kevin Williams is founder and director of the out-of-home leisure entertainment consultancy KWP Ltd, an interactive entertainment consultancy focusing on the development, research and application in the sector. He is also co-author of the leading publication on the sector (The Out-of-Home Entertainment Frontier).

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