- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) - Considering he’s an owner over at Screams at the Beach in Georgetown, it’s not all that shocking to hear Brian Turner swoon over the tech inside the virtual reality horror game, Affected.

After all, there are experiences inside the game - a haunted mansion VR experience with an interactive flashlight and three distinctly different trails to an exit - that he couldn’t possibly recreate in Georgetown, like the scene where all the furniture on the ground flies up to the ceiling and then falls “on” the person playing the game. He’s seen people hit the floor in fear.

Turner this summer has quite literally entered a much different world with his new venture. His Beyond Entertainment Enterprises has partnered with Pete and Michelle Townsend of Sports at the Beach to bring the first dedicated virtual reality arcade, Escape Reality, to Delaware in Rehoboth Beach.

More than that, it appears to be the only dedicated virtual reality arcade on the mid-Atlantic coastline outside of New York. Turner, a Sussex County native, handles the operation of it, while the folks at Sports at the Beach handle the marketing, Turner said.

But the producer of many screams around Halloween isn’t out to scare anyone here in the new shop located at 27 Rehoboth Ave.

He’s ushering in a new experience with the future of technology. There are games available for all ages and the experiences range from cinematic viewing to first-person shooter games and more. There’s even a bike setup where users put a headset on and can fly a pegasus, race cars, ride horses, tanks or actually cycle. The faster you pedal, the better the game goes.

Escape is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends and closes at 10 p.m. other days. Turner said business has been booming since the soft opening around Memorial Day Weekend.

“There’s nothing like this,” Turner said. “It’s a brand-new concept because virtual reality is so new.”

Which makes it not so cheap.

Turner, 36, wouldn’t give an exact dollar amount on the startup cost, but did admit each unit costs five figures, and there are six units at Escape Reality. Experiences cost basically $1 per minute.

Escape Reality works with a company called Private Label, which works with game developers to distribute games and experiences to businesses like Turner‘s. There are more than 40 games available at Escape Reality and more on the way, including an escape room experience.

“A tough sell”

Turner, who says he’s always been into video games, was inspired by virtual reality after trying Playstation’s version of it.

“It was a tough sell for me to be convinced because it’s cutting edge,” Turner said. “There’s nothing to compare it to. There’s nothing to compare pricing against. There’s nothing to compare anything against, which makes it hard but also makes it exciting.

“You can’t compare me to stuff on the boardwalk because it’s all coin-operated and, let’s be honest, a lot of that stuff is starting to show its age.”

The tech in VR is still relatively new. And many have maybe gotten the wrong idea, having experienced it only on a mobile device, which may have led to a nauseating experience.

At Escape, Turner said not one person has gotten sick, and the only game that makes people feel “weird” is one called Downward Spiral, a zero gravity experience at a space station that has lost power. There is a floating element.

And while it’s new and cutting edge, it’s not hard to picture a not-too-distant future that features mainstream VR arcades.

The 2016 Virtual Reality Industry Report offered a 10-year roadmap for VR’s future. The report predicted two million non-Google Cardboard headsets would be in the hands of consumers by the end of 2016 and a staggering 36.9 million by the end of 2020.

Even then, though, the report indicated the hyper growth of the industry was still six-to-eight years away. By the end of 2025, a predicted 135.6 million VR headsets will be in use, with 122 million being mobile. A good portion of others may be in places like Escape Reality.

What does that mean for the traditional arcades? It’s a question that doesn’t have an exact answer.

Turner says his price point is not much different than that of a traditional arcade. He pointed to a recent trip to an arcade with his son Riley, 11, and some of his friends.

He said it wasn’t long before he had spent $100.

“You put your money in an arcade game that you don’t like, you’re stuck until you’re dead and you’ve wasted a dollar,” Turner said. “If you play a game (at Escape) for 30 seconds and you’re like, ‘Ah, it’s not what I thought it was.’ You can switch out as many times as you want.”

“A reasonable price”

Josh Mellinger, 32, owner of Makin’ Whoopie, the whoopie pie shop next door to Escape, said he’s been playing at his next door neighbor’s spot three-four days per week lately.

“I think for what it is, basically a dollar a minute, it is a reasonable price,” Mellinger said Wednesday afternoon as he watched his daughter Evylyn, 7, play a game called Kitty Cannon, which involved putting cats into a cannon and launching them as far as possible.

Mellinger, of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, said the previous day he and a friend went to a traditional arcade on the boardwalk and were playing a pirate shooting game. He didn’t last long there before he walked back up to Rehoboth Avenue.

“This is a waste,” he said. “Why am I doing this? I’m going back to VR. I don’t want gum tickets.”

But he’s in the minority for now.

On Thursday afternoon, while Funland on the boardwalk was humming with customers in the middle of the day, Evylyn Mellinger was the only person using one of the six units at Escape Reality.

The nostalgia factor at traditional arcades like Funland makes it a business that looks far from going by the wayside, especially when they, too, have the capabilities of adding VR.

“That’s part of what is our bread and butter and we know that,” said Funland personnel manager Chris Darr. “Our customers tell us all the time, ‘Don’t change it.’ If we were to take out the fire engines and put in a virtual reality simulator than we’d probably have a mutiny on our hands.

“We still try and incorporate stuff that works with what we are, but we’re not going to jump on the bandwagon of something that brand new until we know it’s tested and something that will really work for our customers.”

Darr said Funland belongs to a trade organization, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and is keeping a watchful eye on new technologies.

“It’s not that we aren’t worried about it,” Darr said. “When it’s affordable and when it’s something we can implement, we’d probably look at doing it. Right now, I think people are still trying to figure it out.”

Mark down Brian Turner as one of those people.

___

Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., https://www.delmarvanow.com/

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