Virtual experiences CAN work and yes, they can generate revenue.
Across the industry, we’ve seen questions on the effectiveness of virtual tours & experiences. Many argue it’s just a gimmick while others argue that it’s just a way to maintain customer relationships and build your brand awareness so that you’ll have interested prospects when travel reopens.
In late March, after the wave of cancellations hit, many businesses were impacted. From the internal reports in the Rezdy system, we could see that our operators’ revenues were wiped across the board. Except for one operator. This was Reason.
After speaking to Mike Chen, co-founder of Reason, an escape room based in San Francisco, we’ve got a different answer to the consensus on whether or not virtual experiences can generate revenue. Yes. They can.
In February of 2020, like many other businesses in the experience industry, Reason was hit by the wave of cancellations (we all know why), The cancellations brought the business all the way down to zero revenue. With no other choice, Reason had to find a new way to re-invent itself. After brainstorming multiple different ideas, they decided to create a virtual tour.
Here’s the key to Reason’s success. “Create”. They didn’t just turn one of their escape rooms into a virtual escape room. They scrapped their escape rooms entirely. They looked at their physical escape rooms and said “this is not going to work, let’s scrap it and create something entirely new”.
With that said, there’s still merit in turning one of your tours virtual if you didn’t have the resources to create an entirely new virtual experience (as you’ll see in this case study, it was a lot of work). Using a gopro to create a virtual version of your physical tour requires less effort but will still help your business survive. It’s an easy way to temporarily retain awareness of your business and bring in some revenue before returning your focus to your usual tours once this pandemic is over.
On the other hand, creating an entirely new virtual experience such as what Reason has done, could become a large part of your recovery plan. As you’ll see with what Reason has done, there’s enormous potential when creating new virtual experiences. When you consider how scalable they are, you’ll no doubt consider including them as a part of your ongoing business offerings.
With that in mind, when creating entirely new virtual experiences, It’s not about buying a gopro and bringing your tours online, it’s about creating something entirely new. Something built for conference calls, not tailored to it, something that’s actually immersive.
On March 17th, they launched ‘Lola in Spaceº’.
The game video conferences team members from different locations to interact with a real person “Lola” who is trapped in the supply module of the International Space Station. The players must communicate and collaborate with each other effectively in order to help Lola escape.
You can read the full press release here.
Escape: to break free from confinement or control
It’s funny isn’t it? Nowhere within the definition of escape does it say, to break ‘yourself’ or ‘oneself’ free. Yet, the idea of escape rooms has always been the same. You’re trapped in a room, find a way to escape. The slight twist of instead, helping someone else escape, suddenly turns the homes of Reasons’ customers into movie sets. We’ve all seen it before, in movies like Star Trek and Star Wars where instructions are given from the mothership.
That’s what makes the experience so powerful, it’s truly immersive in that giving instructions from the front of your screen within your own home is no different from a Star Trek scene of Captain Spock giving instructions from his Mothership.
The two elements:
The point of a virtual experience is to take people away from their current world. However, the alternate world doesn’t need to be created with some high-tech virtual experience developer. Let your customers build the world for you.
Imagination is the most powerful developer. Think back to when you were a kid, didn’t you used to imagine yourself as a hero or a princess of a kingdom? Didn’t you actually believe you were the protagonist?
As long as it’s believable, all you need to do is set the premise and the challenge, and your customers’ imagination will do the rest. Reason’s premise is space and the challenge is helping Lola escape. If you’re a historical tour operator for example, your premise could be the 1900s, and the challenge could be figuring out who killed the king. All you need to do is plant the seeds, your customers will do the rest.
Once you’ve created a believable world for your customers, you need to create the interactions they make with the world that draw them in further. Reason created AI chatbots and space control panels that allow them to interact and help “Lola” who is trapped in the space station. They take this a step further in Moonshotº. In their second virtual escape room, they built a full-on AI mission assistant , digital & real-life puzzles, and d remote controllable props that their customers can activate, further bridging the gap between the real world and the alternate. Again, if you were a history tour operator, maybe create some virtual tools (tools of the era) that your customers could use to investigate the murder.
When we asked Mike this question about his virtual tour, he said: “It was extremely hard. Especially since everything was closed, which made it difficult to get supplies. It felt like we did a year’s worth of work in a few weeks”. However, Mike also mentions that crisis-mode was a really big driver. Even if it was hard, they had no choice, they had to get it done.
If it’s that hard to create, is it even worth doing? We asked Mike if he believed virtual experiences would continue to be a thing post-covid.
“I couldn’t tell you. I don’t think anybody really knows for sure. Listen to your customers and see where this thing goes. That’s why we’re doing both, building products for either case.”
Reason built “Lola in Spaceº” as a response to the Covid crisis, but whether virtual escape rooms like this will continue to generate interest post-covid is anybody’s guess.
Which is why they created their second virtual escape room, one that cannot be experienced at their physical escape room post-covid. The main constraint for an escape room is space, there’s a limit on the number of people you can fit within an escape room. The strength of virtual escape rooms is that space is not a constraint. With that in mind, Reason created Moonshotº. A virtual escape game designed to handle up to 100 participants where teams compete to launch the first moon rescue operation.
Here’s the thing, Moonshotº can’t (or is at least extremely difficult to) be replicated in a physical space. And as companies continue to go more global, demand for large team building activities like this is only going to grow, especially if the company has employees all over the globe. Again, we can’t say for sure, but there’s a good chance that unique experiences like Moonshotº will continue to generate success post-covid.
And if demand for physical escape rooms does come back, Lola in Spaceº could be converted back into a physical escape room. They are also currently building a 3rd experience, a hybrid of both a virtual and physical escape room.
What Reason has created is nothing short of spectacular. However, the truth is, this will not necessarily work for all operators. For example, it would probably be tough to create a virtual experience for extreme activities such as white water rafting. The first place you need to look at to see whether or not virtual experiences are viable for your business is your customers.
The reason Mike and his team created Moonshotº was because of their customers. One of their customer personas were people in the tech industry who are looking for activities that their teams can do together. Because they’re in tech, they’re already more open to conference calls and sci-fi themes.
Think about your customers, what have they been exposed to and what are they open to, use those as a reference point. For example, some customers at cooking schools might follow tv programs such as Master Chef and Jamie Oliver, so they may already be open to following instructions from a screen while they cook, which is why many cooking school operators may be seeing success with their virtual cooking classes.
“With every shift, there are new opportunities. Try to evolve while doing what you can to survive. For some, it’s better to fail fast and start over when conditions improve while for others it’s an opportunity to hunker down and reinvent.”
– Mike Chen, Co-Founder of Reason.
What Reason has been doing is great. But there’s also nothing wrong with waiting for conditions to improve. These are just some ideas to get you going but at the end of the day, you know your business best, and only you will be able to come up with the best solutions to this crisis.
Reason is the world’s first future technology escape room and virtual escape room providing high-tech team-building experiences for companies and friends. Take on problem-solving challenges and experience drones, VR, and 3D printing puzzles with your teammates in a race against the clock. Reason’s mission is to humanize our relationship with technology and each other.