The VOID, a Utah-based virtual reality startup, is gaining ground on its plan to sell its virtual reality experiences as an "add-on" for retail centers, a bid to draw shoppers back to malls and into the worlds of Hollywood's most popular franchises.
On Friday, the company will open its newest outpost at the Westfield World Trade Center in New York, an initial step in its plans to open more than 25 new locations by 2022. That move should ultimately double The VOID's size, and will also bring the company to Europe.
"It's a great pairing, I think, with malls and retail spaces because we're providing an extra experience, another reason to shop," Curtis Hickman, the company's co-founder and chief creative officer, told Cheddar on Thursday.
"When you put a VOID in a mall location, you drive a lot of traffic there. People who have never even been there before will show up just so they can go to The VOID experience, and then, of course, they stay, and they shop."
The company has focused on using content produced by larger studios, such as Disney and Sony Pictures. Its currently available virtual reality "experiences" are spin-offs of movie franchises including "Star Wars", "Wreck-It Ralph", and "Ghostbusters".
The VOID has also produced its own original virtual reality content.
"It's not just virtual reality, but we add all these sensory experiences on top of it so it really feels like you're there," Hickman added. "We call it presence. You feel like you're in 'Star Wars'. You feel the heat. You can smell the burning in the air. You can actually feel it when you get shot. It's a whole, encompassing sensory experience."
He explained that smell, for instance, is simulated through scent canisters that trigger throughout the experience.
"You step in — you literally step into this stage, this setting that we have, with everything matched one and one. If you see a wall, you can touch the wall. If there's a bench, you can sit down on the bench," he said.
The company's investors include the Walt Disney Company and Qualcomm, which Hickman said provide intellectual property and technological expertise. He added that the son of media titan Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch — who reportedly invested a cool $20 million into the startup — is "a great resource for us."