Dreamscape Immersive Inc.’s launch at Westfield Century City checks all the boxes on today’s buzzwords: Immersive, storytelling and virtual reality. It’s also a show of the convergence taking place between retail, entertainment and tech as the VR firm tests its concept.
The company on Wednesday will unveil a VR experience at Westfield Century City that lets visitors explore an imaginary world, walking aboard a spacecraft and interacting with the animals living there over the course of their 13-minute trip.
“We’re at a time when movies and malls are getting a lot of competition from digital distribution. So one way to counteract that is to offer irreplaceable, unique experiences and that idea was certainly embraced by our studio partners and our retail partners,” said Walter Parkes, Dreamscape co-chairman. “That’s why the malls that are doing well are as much entertainment centers as they are retail centers.”
Dreamscape has a number of big names backing its vision. The company in December closed a $30 million Series B round that included investors Nickelodeon, Dubai real estate firm Majid Al Futtaim, VR Sense Solutions Ltd. and Image Nation Abu Dhabi. Warner Bros., 21st Century Fox and Westfield Corp. were among the company’s Series A investor pool.
The Dreamscape team, based out of Culver City, totals 28 and another 10 in Geneva, with executives hailing from entertainment. Parkes himself is a producer whose credits include the “Men in Black” movies and previously led the motion picture division at DreamWorks. Dreamscape chief executive officer Bruce Vaughn is the former chief creative executive of Walt Disney Co.’s Walt Disney Imagineering, the team behind the amusement park behemoth’s theme park rides and attractions.
While no one is suggesting there suddenly be a fusion of amusement parks and malls, the idea that virtual reality could tack on an experience just as full-bodied as an entire ride at a cost of $20 in a space that amounts to 200 square feet — in the case of what Dreamscape visitors utilize to go through “Alien Zoo” — opens up a whole new door for entertainers and retailers.
“It’s a shared experience,” Vaughn said of what Dreamscape’s offering. “You’re in there with a group of people. You could imagine coming back with a group of friends and we know that people do want to leave the home and have unique, shared experiences.”
“When you think of VR, you tend to be in the world of gamers and high-tech and we try to take the virtual out of virtual reality,” Parkes said. “So let’s make it as real as possible, make it tactile. All of the animals we’ve created have deep histories. We could actually write a book about what planets they come from. It’s a narrative-rich approach to VR and much more inclined toward our backgrounds. Texture’s everything.”
When people go through “Alien Zoo,” they select their own avatars and have an actual body within the experience as opposed to being stuck alone within a headset. What will show through March 2 at Century City adds another depth to shopping, much like gyms and trendy restaurants have helped to do in more recent years.
“When you think about it, there’s virtually nothing here [in a mall] that you couldn’t just get online,” he said, sitting outside the Dreamscape experience at Westfield Century City earlier this week, where an Amazon Books outpost sat just behind him. “So you better create environments — as I think they did here at Westfield — that offer the customer more, and that means offering entertainment experiences that justify getting into your car and making an evening out of it.”
Once Dreamscape ends its run at Century City, the company will take its concept to other markets, but its vision is much larger than what’s being tested initially.
The company sees the final version of its centers as true VR multiplexes with four to six “pods,” or rooms where each experience can take place, and a choice of three to four titles. There will also eventually be a food component.
“It will be a different kind of entertainment but this is as much to get our first public in [and] for us to learn. There’s a lot involved in getting people in and out [of the experience] and staging it. So this is a little dry run,” Parkes said.
He added the full-fledged version of all that Dreamscape intends to offer with its multiplexes is likely due out by the end of this year, which he said will roll out via a partnership with AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.