Ever wanted to fly on the back of a dragon?
What about ride a roller coaster on the moon?
At a new business in Parksville, you can — virtually, that is.
Those are just a couple of the experiences possible at K&B Games Virtual Reality (VR) Arcade, owned by Karen and Brian Levesque.
For the lifelong gamers, owning an arcade of their own (much less a virtual reality arcade) is a dream come true.
The pair, who moved to Qualicum Beach last September, opened for business in mid-April.
Located at 1306 Alberni Hwy. in Parksville, the arcade features high-end virtual reality games and equipment, in addition to network gaming, and the classic platforms of Atari and Sega.
They’ve also got a racing simulator that literally puts you in the driver’s seat, and a virtual reality headset for it as well that can put a whole new spin on video-game racing.
On the VR side of things, they’ve got access to more than 700 games and experiences playable on two HTC Vive headsets, with everything from sports games and adventure titles to shooters, horror and also both games made by local VR company Cloudhead Games, based out of Qualicum Beach.
“It’s fantastic. I love it,” Karen said of her new business.
It’s not the first time Karen has had an arcade in the family.
Her dad owned an arcade/pizza place when she was growing up, and that afforded her some privileges, such as free plays of the arcade, provided she could sneak enough quarters from the cash register.
“I would think, ‘Oh no, I’m OK, my dad doesn’t even know,’ right? Of course he knew!” she said with a laugh.
For Brian, virtual reality gaming has been a goal for a while, well before the latest wave of commercial VR headsets became available in 2016.
“I wanted to actually build a VR system,” he said, but dropped the idea once work on the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive (the two major high-end VR headsets) got going. But owning a VR arcade is perhaps the next best thing.
Former owners of a cafe in Ontario, the Levesques knew they wanted to open up a business here, and eventually settled on an arcade.
The price of all this tech was one of the first hurdles to overcome. The VR rigs alone can cost up to $7,000 each.
The next hurdle was rather more unexpected.
“Nobody wanted to rent to us in Parksville,” said Karen.
“We actually got turned down by two separate places because we were going to open an arcade specifically,” said Brian.
“One landlord didn’t want kids bothering his other tenants — didn’t want kids around,” Karen said.
“Everybody in Parksville wants kids to be able to have stuff to do, but they won’t let you open an arcade because they fear it’s going to become a drug den, which is the old stigma,” Brian added.
But their arcade is nothing like the dark, maze-like arcades some might recall from an earlier generation.
“It’s, as you can see, well-lit, only so many people can be here at a time. It’s not really something that’s going to be like that at all. The stigma needs to disappear,” said Brian.
“One of the things about the VR arcade is, once they are in here and they are playing for an hour in a game, they are in another world… it’s getting them (kids) off the streets, it’s getting them out of the areas where they’re going to run into people selling drugs.”
Despite having to set up shop at a distance from Parksville’s core, the Levesques said the response to their new business has been great so far.
They’ve got a couple regular VR players already, in addition to a kid who comes in to play Sega every other day.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Brian.
A lot of people stop by just to check out what the arcade is all about, which is expected when you’re showcasing such new technology, Brian said. But, as word spreads, they expect the interest to really ramp up.
To that end, the Levesques are planning a grand opening in July, during which people will be able to walk in and get a taste of what it’s like to strap on a set of VR goggles and feeling like they’ve entered another world. Part of the fun is also watching others try the technology, as screens in the arcade show what the gamer sees, giving context to what otherwise looks like someone flailing about at nothing at all.
The business model works on a per-hour basis for network gaming and the VR rooms, ranging from $5 to $25 an hour, while the racing simulator is rented for $10 for each 15 minutes.
The Levesques said they’ve priced their arcade below others in the hope of sharing the fun of VR with more people by keeping it affordable.
For more info on K&B Games VR Arcade, go to kandbgames.com.