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When you hear the words “virtual reality” and “rollercoaster”, the first thing that comes to mind might be a rollercoaster simulator for your VR headset. But as immersive experiences become more and more popular, it’s no surprise that virtual reality is starting to make its way into actual amusement parks. VR allows guests to experience rides and attractions in a whole new way, and it’s sure to be a hit with thrill-seekers and tech-savvy park-goers alike.

How will VR affect amusement parks?

With VR, amusement parks and theme parks will be able to offer more exciting and varied attractions. Virtual reality enables adding new environments, stories and settings that would otherwise be impossible to create. The rollercoasters, waterslides, drop towers, pendulum rides and even merry-go-rounds in VR amusement parks will be simply more engaging and fun for the visitors.

On the other hand, virtual reality also opens up opportunities for completely new immersive experiences, which we’ll talk about later in this article. It’s also worth noting that XR technologies can make indoor theme parks a lot more immersive and fun, by simulating larger spaces than would be possible to create in the limited interiors.

Enhanced rollercoaster experience

If you try a virtual rollercoaster ride on the Meta Quest 2, you will probably enjoy the fancy settings and unique surroundings a lot. As we already said, the main advantage of VR is that it can recreate things impossible in the real world. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to see pterodactyls flying around your cart or sharing your ride with a friendly skeleton. 

But you’ll quickly realize that the experience lacks the movement of an actual ride, which prevents users from getting fully immersed. And that really breaks the spell. Now, imagine if we were to combine the limitless visual possibilities of VR with the actual movement of a ride. That’s where things get interesting.

Just think of the possibilities this idea opens. You could turn a rollercoaster into a Jurassic Park safari or flight into space. Or you could have three different versions of the ride on one ride! This would make the experience a lot more fun and unique. And it could turn one ride into several different adventures.

Although we’re talking mainly about rollercoasters, there is nothing that prevents us from using the same idea in slower rides and even carousels. And if we use waterproof cases, why not improve waterslides too?

happy couple having fun at amusement park

VR arena with motion tracking

Arguably every attraction in an amusement park could be improved with VR in one way or another. But something that is still not so widely used although it can be really fun, is a VR arena with motion tracking. 

The idea is to have a physical space for players in VR headsets. Parts of the environment the participants see in virtual reality can be physically present in the area. A set of cameras could be set up to track where the players are and we can add pieces of physical equipment that can be tracked and used in-game as well! Finally, such a project opens the opportunity to use advanced peripherals like haptic vests, making the experience almost lifelike.

We’ve recently completed almost exactly that – a VR arena with motion tracking, physical guns and haptic vests. Sounds interesting? It is! In this particular project we developed for DreamTrace, the idea was to use the arena as a PvP shooter battleground. But nothing stops us from using the same solutions and equipment to recreate any other virtual world.

Why not create a VR escape room for instance? It offers a more immersive and interactive experience than its traditional counterparts. And one space can be prepared for several different scenarios for users to choose from. This way the experience can be enjoyed by both mystery lovers and horror fans, for example.

Realistic virtual reality simulators

Virtual reality simulators are becoming one of the most popular genres of VR applications. But anyone can buy a headset and play them at home, right? Why would they make an extraordinary attraction in amusement parks? Yes and no.

It’s true that anyone owning a VR headset could technically try virtual scuba diving or ski jumping from the comfort of their home. However, once again, the experience is limited. You won’t feel the salty sea water or the frosty gusts of wind against your face, which once again takes some of the realism away.

Amusement parks have the necessary space and equipment to create truly immersive virtual experiences complete with additional equipment and special effects. This includes haptic vests, gloves and tracked guns, but also effects that go with what’s happening in the virtual environments. These could be things like artificial rain & wind, splashing water or changing temperature.

With these techniques, we can realistically simulate extreme sports in extreme conditions, but in a completely safe setting! Or realistically simulate places that would be hard to see in person for many people. Scuba diving with sharks by the shores of Australia? No problem! And we mean actual scuba diving, in real water. As long as the headset is waterproof, why not?

People would most likely be also willing to pay for simulations that they could have at home but might not have the money to set up. For example, an advanced racing game or airplane simulator with a realistic cockpit. For most consumers, it would make more sense to buy a ticket to a VR amusement park than pay up to a few thousand to buy the equipment themselves.

Using VR for marketing

Finally, an amusement park can use virtual reality for marketing purposes. Of course, the sole fact that a theme park boasts rides with virtual reality can attract a lot of customers. But how about recreating your best rollercoaster experience for future visitors to try out in VR from the comfort of their homes? It could work as a teaser and get people hyped up for the real thing.

Places that already use virtual reality

So far, a few parks have experimented with VR, and the results have been very promising. For example, at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, guests can strap on a VR headset and experience the park’s “Verbolten” rollercoaster as if they’re really zipping through the German forest. And at Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, riders on the “Roller Soaker” water coaster can don VR goggles to see themselves as giant Hershey’s Kisses as they splash their way through the attraction.

These are just a few examples of how VR is being used in amusement parks, and it’s likely that we’ll see even more innovative uses for the technology in the future. As VR becomes more and more commonplace, there’s no doubt that it will change the amusement park experience for guests around the world.

people having fun at rollercoaster in an amusment park

The main challenges in VR theme parks

As for the downsides, it is challenging to set up such a park. And we’re not talking about the price. Although high-end virtual reality headsets aren’t particularly cheap, the initial costs can be easily offset by the potential increase in revenue.

But setting up VR attractions in an amusement park is difficult and requires a team of highly skilled and experienced developers. Synchronizing the digital environments with movement has to be precise & smooth and there can’t be any frame drops. Otherwise, users will experience nausea and won’t enjoy the experience.

Then there are the issues of safety and security, probably the most important challenge. For waterslides, the device has to be waterproof. When it comes to rollercoasters, the headset’s mount has to be steady, as if falling off could cause a genuine tragedy. Finally, it’s crucial to have perfect motion tracking and synchronization for VR arenas, so that users don’t bump into each other.

Choose an experienced and trusted partner

If you’re interested in making the concept of a VR amusement park come to life, we’d love to help! We’ve worked on a number of high-profile projects, and our team of experts is well-versed in the latest VR technology. We’ll help you create a VR amusement park that is both exciting and safe for guests.

Want to find out how you can benefit from XR solutions? Already thinking of developing an application? Schedule a free consultation with one of our business consultants today. Let’s take your business to the next level!

The author generated this text in part with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed, edited, and revised the language to their own liking and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.

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Marketing Specialist | + posts

Marketing specialist with four years of experience. Having spent part of his childhood in Ireland, he's fascinated with its culture and language. Loves history, football and any form of writing.