The next big thing in theme parks may just be not having to leave the house at all: Landmark Entertainment, whose rides and entertainment attractions can be found in Universal Studios Hollywood, Paramount Parks and a number of Las Vegas hotels, is betting big on virtual reality (VR). Landmark has been raising money for VR development and is now looking to launch a number of projects over the next three years.
Taking the leap from theme parks to VR goggles is a natural progression for Landmark CEO Tony Christopher. “People like all of their sense being engaged,” he said during a recent interview. That’s why Landmark was an early pioneer of so-called 4-D and 5-D experiences that combined scents and rumbling seats with 3-D projection for attractions like the “Spiderman” ride in or “Terminator 2: 3-D” for Universal Studios. “We were doing virtual reality in the hardest way,” said Christopher, who founded the company 35 years ago after leaving Disney.
That’s why Christopher was excited when VR technology celebrated a comeback in the last few years, and finally looked like it could reach consumers soon. Landmark started to work on the idea of virtual theme parks in 2014, and raised an undisclosed amount of money from a group of Chinese investors at the beginning of 2014. Three months later, news broke that Facebook was acquiring Oculus for $2 billion, and Christopher knew that he was on the right track.
One of the first projects that Landmark is going to launch is still very much in the spirit of the entertainment attractions it has been building for hotels and shopping destinations around the world: L.I.V.E. Centers, as the company is calling them, will be built for shopping malls in China, and possibly one day other countries as well. Consumers will be able to visit these places, and then use VR goggles to step into virtual zoos, aquariums and museums. Landmark and its Chinese partners want to start construction for these centers within the next 12 to 18 months.
But Landmark’s plans go a lot further, said Christopher. The company is also looking to launch something Christopher vaguely compared to virtual theme parks that can be visited from everywhere in the world via VR, and is even looking to eventually launch a kind of “daily utility” — meaning some kind of service or entertainment experience people would want to use every day.
We won’t see the latter materialize until 2018 at the earliest, said Christopher, in part because it will take some time before VR technology becomes widely available. Oculus aims to ship a consumer version of its headset in early 2016 — but even then, it will take some time for prices to come down and consumers to actually buy headsets.
Landmark wants to be ready for that moment by investing in VR development now, said Christopher, adding that for the company, VR isn’t just about the next hip trend. It’s also about finding a way to become less dependent on theme parks and hotels, which thrive when the economy is doing well but are the first to take a hit when it doesn’t. “We will start creating our own projects that we will own and operate,” he said, adding: “The only way we can survive as a business is by owning the things that we do.”