The Void VR Glendale Galleria

Movie theaters alone used to be good enough to serve the entertainment function at malls, but more property owners are dabbling in virtual reality as the technology evolves and the range of its uses widen. Count GGP’s Glendale Galleria in on that when it debuts on Friday a “Star Wars”-themed attraction.

The experience, titled “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire,” lets guests take on the role of stormtrooper where they are able to walk around, interact with the imaginary environment and work on a collective mission. Utah firm The Void teamed with San Francisco-based Lucasfilm Ltd.’s immersive entertainment group ILM x Lab on bringing the experience to the shopping center.

Glendale Galleria is the first time The Void is working with GGP, with a second location to open at GGP’s Grand Canal Shoppes property in Las Vegas later this year. The Galleria property also marks the first time GGP is trying its hand at something VR-related on this scale.

“GGP is actively adding a lot of different entertainment and experience concepts to our centers,” said senior vice president of business development Melinda Holland. “I think that the consumer buying habits are interested in experiences and entertainment as much as they are in fulfilling other needs, such as apparel or hard goods.”

That shift in buying habits is changing just as much as how people want to be entertained.

“There have been a lot of changes across the board in terms of how guests are consuming entertainment,” said The Void chief experience officer Sarah Marsh. “There’s a lot of demand for the types of experiences that can really get people out of the home and into much more dynamic and social destinations. At the same time, the technology affords an unprecedented opportunity for folks to actually experience the protagonists.”

Glendale Galleria

GGP’s Glendale Galleria  Courtesy of GGP

The Void works with both malls and entertainment districts, such as Downtown Disney in Anaheim and Disney Springs in Orlando, with the placement of its attractions. The company was part of the Disney Accelerator program last year. A Recode report tied the company to a $50 million infusion from China-based Shanda. The Void, through a spokeswoman, called the raise amount reported inaccurate.

The race to firm up technologies and storylines for placement at major shopping centers looking for something new to provide guests is heating up.

Westfield Corp. in February brought Dreamscape Immersive Inc.’s VR concept to its Century City center for a pop-up that capped earlier this month. The experience allowed guests to go on a 13-minute journey through an imaginary world where they could play and pet certain animals as well as interact with others. Century City was also a means for Dreamscape to test the concept before going more broadly with it.

“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,” Dreamscape co-chairman Walter Parkes told WWD last month at the time of the Century City opening. “That’s why the malls that are doing well are as much entertainment centers as they are retail centers.”

Dreamscape — which counts Westfield, along with Warner Bros. and 21st Century Fox, among its investors — is expected to continue to iterate on the concept first seen at Century City, eventually with VR multiplexes that would also add a food component. Those full-fledged versions are expected later this year and will be done in conjunction with AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.

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