World’s first Oculus Rift cafe to open in Boston this fall

The world’s first Oculus Rift-equipped virtual reality arcade is scheduled to open in Boston this September, and the company is looking to the public for the funds to buy all the equipment.

Nick LeeNick Lee, founder of  Boston-based Good Game, first got the idea to open an arcade from his travels in Asia. In China, Japan, and South Korea he regularly came across PC cafes, where young people would come to play computer games.

In the United States, they are rare, because most people have computers at home.

“But nobody has the virtual reality stuff,” Lee told Hypergrid Business.

Lee hopes to start with 20 stations, each costing around $2,000, with a PC, Oculus Rift headset, and other virtual reality accessories such as gloves or guns. The Oculus Rifts are scheduled to arrive in August.

Photo Credit: Sergey Galyonkin via Compfight cc

A PC Cafe in Istanbul. (Image courtesy Sergey Galyonkin via Flickr.)

Eventually, he said, he hopes to expand to 100 stations.

The prices are finalized yet, but he is currently looking at $9 per hour.

He also plans to add the Virtuix Omni treadmill, which is scheduled for delivery in December.

The price for that will be in the neighborhood of $19 per hour.

That’s a deal compared to the list price of the equipment — the Oculus Rift development kit costs $350, and the Virtuix Omni starts at $500.

The question is whether he will be able to get everything together in time to be the first virtual reality arcade, or whether competitors will beat him to the goal.

“I’m scrambling to open it up, because I want it to be the first one,” Lee said.

He is currently looking at locations around Kenmore Square and Fenway Park and around Packard’s Corner near Boston University.

Crowdfunding plans

Lee, who is a manager at an area security company, estimates that it will cost around $40,000 to $50,000 to get the arcade started. He has already raised a significant portion of the money from family and friends, and is looking to a Kickstarter campaign for the rest.

Supporters will get double their money back in arcade credit. Someone who donates $50 to the project, for example, will get $100 worth of time on the virtual reality equipment.

He is not looking for outside investors, Lee said.

“Whatever I don’t get from Kickstarter, I’ll just go to the bank,” he said. For the relatively small amount needed, a bank loan would be the simplest option, he said.

And, based on feedback from members of Boston’s tech community, the cafe should be busy quickly.

“I expect profitability starting in month three,” he said.

One unexpected surprise has been in the interest from corporate clients.

“I’ve already got tech companies emailing me asking to rent the store for the day to bring in their staff,” he said. “I didn’t expect that at all.”

Corporate customers are a good fit because they’ll be using the facilities during weekdays, when business would normally be slow.

“Boston is a great town for this,” Lee added. “It’s a college town and a tech town.”

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

7 Responses

  1.' Cinder Biscuits says:

    There was a VR arcade at Crossroads Mall in Salt Lake City, UT in 1994. I know because I frequented it. So this is hardly the “world’s first.”

  2.' Askeptic says:

    This is silly, for two reasons:
    1) The Rift is going to be cheap in order to drive mass adoption. Facebook’s backing ensures that there will be no need to make a profit on the hardware. So just like everybody has a computer at home, anyone into VR will soon have a Rift at home.
    2) You wear this thing strapped to your face, pressed against your skin. Sharing such intimate equipment with countless strangers is yucky, just one step above sharing toothbrushes.

    •' NoFightingInTheWarRoom says:

      The first consumer version of the Rift probably won’t be less than $300. Add that to the cost of a gaming system and you are looking at a lot of money. Plus, the guy plans on having a bunch of accessories that many people won’t have, including the omnidirectional treadmill which, for me, would be worth the price of admission alone.

    •' Comment_Cop says:

      But to have the full experience, if you want treadmills and car setups then first of all the expense rises quickly and secondly you need a lot of space.. Not everyone has this luxury so why wouldnt it work? Not everyone is hardcore enough to have a full VR setup at home with treadmills etc but they might want to have a go as an experience.

  3.' Dana Hartt says:

    I’m curious about the legal issues. How is he getting around those? It is my understanding that Oculus states that the Rift is ‘not for commercial purposes’ (or something to that effect). Does he have special arrangements with Oculus? Does Oculus say ‘not for commercial purposes’ but not actually have any right to keep people from using it that way? What about the software? I would assume that, if the software is bought, the legality would work the same way as an arcade or Blockbuster renting video games. I don’t think either have to pay royalties, but I could be wrong on that.

    • Official statement:

      “We ask that people DO NOT use the Oculus Rift Development Kit for public display. As a development kit, it does not represent a finished consumer product that we feel is ready for the general public. The exception would be if you are a developer and are demoing a project you yourself worked on, which should be acceptable. However, even then, it should not be setup at an internet cafe or for rental or whatever. I think we have been pretty clear that commercial use is not allowed.”

      In practice, though, what can they do? Take, for example, the recent spate of very high-profile Comic-Con demos. If that’s not public use, I don’t know what is.

      I mean, if you sell chairs, can you go after people who put those chairs in restaurants or in other commercial settings, when you intended them only, for, say, household use? With physical things, you’re not selling a use license, you’re selling the actual thing. What they could go after you for is a violation of the software license agreement, for the software that drives the Oculus.

      If they find out what you’re doing BEFORE they ship, they could cancel your order. That’s probably the biggest worry for the Boston guy — he’s gone public with his plans, and if the Oculus Rift folks noticed, he might not get any devices. They’ve already done that with folks trying to sell their Rifts on eBay, and cancelled orders to China because of all the reselling.