As businesses begin to reopen, it’s becoming more and more clear that the out-of-home entertainment industry needs to adapt in a major way if it wants to move forward. Inspiring confidence in the cleanliness of VR equipment donned by the paying public is, without understating it, the biggest obstacle to clawing back the much-needed repeat business that many VR arcades have become accustomed to. To that effect, VR arcade company Hologate recently released a new set of guidelines that it hopes will set a standard for not only its own 300+ global network of locations, but also the VR arcade industry at large. But will it be enough?
Let’s get it all out on the table first. It’s way too soon to head back into public places without a proper face covering and the expectation of a six-foot bubble between you and anyone who you aren’t already isolating with. That said, it doesn’t mean companies aren’t devising strategies now to bridge the uncertain gap between the eventual reopening of arcades (depending on when regional lockdowns are loosened) and the release of a bonafide vaccine. Enter Hologate’s new hygiene and safety standards, something it hopes will get VR arcades back into business.
The company issued this statement, which proceeds a number of strategies outlined in a pretty comprehensive blog post. We’ll dig into those below.
Post coronavirus, we must accept the reality that we will be unable to operate as we have before. Cleanliness and disinfection will have to become paramount to customer’s confidence in enjoying our attractions and location based entertainment.
We must also ensure that standards are maintained by professionals and not left to the customer. Attendant run systems are at an advantage in regards to hygiene as they ensure that the public-accessed components are sanitized at at professional level.
Virtual Reality headsets and accessories have always been the target and topic of hygiene conversations, so it’s more important than ever to make sure that you have proper cleaning procedures in place to ensure that your customers are not only protected but also have full trust in your facility and staff.
Hologate recommends a smorgasbord of techniques for cleaning equipment, which seem pretty common sense—even before the pandemic:
- Start with a visual check on all components (VR headset, peripherals, haptic packs, etc).
- Ensure that all parts are free of detritus and other debris.
- Use a sanitizing wet wipe over any area that touches hands, face, or body.
- Only wipe the outside of haptic vests and parts that were touched by clients. The inside liners should be washed regularly.
- Allow the component to sit and air dry for at least 30 seconds, or until fully dry.
- If any areas remain wet, dry wipe with a soft single-use tissue. Gently dry wipe lenses. Check that all areas are clean and dry.
It’s not enough to just sanitize the equipment itself though. It’s also about creating the perception of cleanliness for arcade-goers. Hologate suggests making sure the process is “highly visible by your customers,” and done so via daily cleaning shifts and even hourly shifts for highly trafficked areas. And like everywhere else, anti-bacterial dispenser or disinfectant wipe stations should also be visible and convenient to access.
This even extends out to the realms of social media. Hologate says arcades should take “photos and video of your team in action” and post on social media channels to drum up the consensus that VR arcades are safe.
“Word of your company’s care and conscientiousness that you’re ensuring your location is a safe place for friends and families will spread through resharing and word-of-mouth. This customer confidence will build and people will respond by returning to the fun once again,” the company says.
Hologate is striking a hopeful note with its safety guidelines: simply sanitize everything, make sure people know you’re actually doing it, and the people will eventually return. But is it enough?
The company also suggests following guidelines established by The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), which take things a bit further. It stipulates that attraction owners should “encourage the use of masks/face coverings for guests and staff,” and to follow local guidance on social distancing. Locations may not even be able to ensure the required six-foot distancing.
The IAAPA guidelines also say to protect employees by including barriers, protective coverings, and distancing, which will definitely increase the weirdness-factor to people who may already be entirely unfamiliar with virtual reality.
To its credit, VR attractions are very different to mass gatherings such as baseball games or movie theaters though, which will likely be the very last to return to any sense of normalcy. Customer throughput is already fairly low in VR arcades, and hygiene considerations aren’t anything new either. Most reputable VR arcades use some form of wipeable facial interface, typically made of PU leather, have sanitizing regimes already installed, and have a lower staff-to-user ratio than many other entertainment venues, such as theme park rides or water parks. It may simply be a matter of making more time for cleaning and running less people through the experiences, and waiting for public consensus to respond accordingly.
This rings true for dedicated VR arcades such as The Void and Hologate’s network of independent locations, which tend to offer custom-built attractions that last a set amount of time. However pop-up stations that require less oversight, which can range from lone HTC Vive to proper arcade kiosk machines, well, those may be out for good until a vaccine is widespread enough to return to ‘normal’.
How that new normal will look, we’re no more certain than anyone else at this point. One thing is for sure though: yours truly won’t be trying on any public VR headsets without seeing it completely deloused first before my eyes.