VR Makes Its Way into Australian Nightlife

Jason Johnson Freelance writer and editor

VR games are opening up new possibilities for social interaction in Australian nightclubs.

At Reload Bar and Games in Canberra, Australia, patrons are greeted with the smell of bubble gum. It’s coming from a fog machine, which the nightclub’s owners have selected to complement the throbbing music and nightclub lasers. It’s VR night, and crowds of Aussies are filing in, in steady streams.

“We’re all people with technology backgrounds running a hospitality venue, so we’re mixing the two worlds,” said Ravi Sharma, one of the bar’s proprietors.

Reload Bar

“We typically attract a tech-y kind of patron, but we also have customers who have nothing to do with the tech world,” he said. “Usually they are the ones with their jaws hanging open, trying to get a handle on what the heck is going on.”

The games on demonstration have a broad appeal, ranging anywhere from Fruit Ninja to soccer games where players take on the role of goalie.

During game sessions, the bar can grow quite noisy with the crowd cheering on players. The owners expect the excitement will only heighten once they start demoing VFC: This Is Fighting. The club plans to host an MMA-style VR fighting league, where two players square off in real fighting cage, though only the player’s avatars will hit each other.

Reload Bar

Events like these provide people with the opportunity to learn first-hand what makes VR technology so exciting. This is especially important for an experience like VR, which is notoriously hard to advertise.

“Virtual reality is something you must experience to understand,” said Brennan Hatton, co-developer of the VR game Castle Rush. “Like going to Burning Man or visiting Yosemite National Park, photos, videos or even someone who just did it can’t explain the experience.”

Because many present will be trying VR for the first time, it’s crucial the experience goes seamlessly. An experience that is uncomfortable or makes people sick could be bad enough to scare people away from using VR forever.

Reload Bar

“Virtual reality should be a nice place to go—friendly, full of colour and welcoming,” said Hatton. “That’s the easiest way to ensure people want to use it again.”

All games on VR night are communal and inclusive.

“We wouldn’t want a single-player experience that is only fun for one person,” said Sharma. “We prefer the content to be fast and rotating so everyone can play.”

The bar also creates their own VR content. Their development wing, Reload Labs, makes in-house software, including simulations of cricket, AFL, and rugby. The Lab is also working on an AR game that customers can play on their phones. When they scan a cocktail napkin or coaster, a Space Invaders-style game pops up, allowing players to vie for two-for-one drinks.

Other developers in the local community are making VR games specifically for Reload Bar as well. In this way, dedicated public spaces for VR encourage the development of new types of gaming experiences.

One of the local favourites is called Castle Rush, which pits four players inside VR against everyone else in the bar. The game uses mobile-to-VR technology to get everyone involved. While the four people in VR guard the castle with virtual bows and arrows, the rest are trying to dethrone them using their phones. Up to a hundred players control the pillaging horde, and according to Sharma, the patrons get quite carried away.

But first and foremost, Reload Bar remains a bar, full of singing, dancing, and carousing well after midnight. Around ten thirty, after everyone has gotten a chance to play, all of the delicate and expensive Oculus Rifts and HTC Vives are packed away. The lasers and bubblegum-scented fog continue. The VR gear will return for another night.

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