Zero Latency: A free roam VR gaming experience transporting you to another world

Love at first sight, turned Parineeta Rajgarhia into a gaming entrepreneur. She wants to give the same experience that she had to all Indians with her Zero Latency free roam epic scale multiplayer virtual reality gaming and entertainment centre in Mumbai.

   
Free roam gaming experience, driving the VR gaming market in India

At one time virtual reality was a fad that only techies understood. However, recently there has been incredible growth in VR technology globally and that’s being leveraged by various sectors. One of these sectors is VR gaming, which is gaining roots faster than anyone had imagined, all while introducing us to a world that most of us have never seen before.

This is the power of VR.

And who knows this better than Parineeta Rajgarhia, an investment banker turned entrepreneur and founder at Samrey Entertainment (Zero Latency India).

“One moment you are living in your own world and the next minute you are lost in the VR world. You know you are just visiting but your mind is convinced otherwise. One moment is all it takes to be consumed in a world that will blow your mind forever,” she enthuses.

Day by day, VR gaming among Indian gaming fanatics is becoming increasingly popular. It’s a fun group activity and a stress busting pastime. But still, VR gaming is not as ubiquitous in India as it is globally. After noticing the gap in the market and having gone through the astounding experience of VR gaming herself, Rajgarhia decided to dive into the gaming market.

She is the one who brought the globally popular Australia based Zero Latency, a free-roam multiplayer VR gaming centre to Mumbai in August 2019.

The onset of free roam VR in India with Zero Latency India, allowing users to be transported into a virtual world untethered by wires, to roam around freely in a warehouse scale space, is driving the launch of VR arcades across the country.

An unforgettable experience turned her into an entrepreneur

It was on one of her travel excursions to Bangkok when she fell in love with VR gaming.

Rajgarhia recalls how an activity became a once in a life-time experience and changed the course of her career forever.

“I enjoy travelling and experiencing new things. In early 2019, I was in Bangkok and experienced Zero-latency, which blew me away. It was incredible to see how free roam VR transports you to another world. This was the first time I’d tried something like this,” she tells us. Completely bowled over by this experience, she realized that Indians were missing out on all the fun and decided to bring it to India.

“I realised that India is unquestionably the right market for such experiences, which people can enjoy on weekends as an alternative to the usual monotonous office dinners and off-sites. It was revolutionary, and since virtual reality is the future, why not? That’s how the idea of bringing this to India arose, and now we’re here – with this mind-blowing revolutionary experience,” she says.

Inside article-Free roam gaming experience, driving the VR gaming market in India

Also, Rajgarhia’s husband who is an avid gamer, helped her to make the decision to embark on her gaming journey. “He increased my confidence that this concept is needed here and will have a fantastic market in India. And what better city to start from than Mumbai! Given the current trends in the midst of a pandemic, there is a need for new gaming experiences in India,” says Rajgarhia.

It’s a hit

The VR gaming experience till now meant being entangled in wires with a headset and gears or sitting in a vigorously shaking seat in front of a screen. But Zero Latency is a free roam VR game. Which means that the players can move around freely in an open space while playing the game. But what if the players start to bump into each other? Rajgarhia says that it’s safe.

“Motion capture technology tracks the physical location of the players, which allows the in-game virtual location of their avatars to be generated accurately. Also, proximity sensors warn the players of the hazards and prevent them from leaving the physical play area,” she explains.

The technology behind Zero Latency allows a player to travel between 700m to 1km during a standard game session. They have incorporated the social element in the VR experience by accommodating up to eight players in the same game at the same time.

The experiences in these arcades are active and lifelike where the players play in a social environment. This involves motion capture technology and proximity sensors, giving them the option to experience the thrill of it along with their families and friends.

And the consumers are definitely enjoying it.

Rajgarhia tells us that the response has been overwhelming. “Mumbai has been kind to us! It was the right market and the Mumbaikars were clearly ready for this!” she says.

Zero Latency boasts of a high player experience with the most franchisees globally, breaking even within 14-16 months, post which the ROI is at around 50-70 per cent. “In Mumbai, we operated for almost 8 months (pre-COVID-19). The business had a robust revenue prospect, with very strong margins (>40 per cent) and the ability to generate free cash flows within the first 6 months of operation,” claims Rajgarhia.

Having said that, for Rajgarhia it was very challenging initially to get the footfalls. “Being a novel and different concept, it was quite tough to explain how free roam VR is different from traditional VR! But given the experience it is, referrals clearly helped us a lot and we are thankful to each one of our guests who have tried and loved it!” she tells us.

However, the COVID-19 lockdowns broke this cycle of fun, making it a challenging time for Zero Latency. “Within eight months of operation we were shut for almost the next eight months! We were open for the next four months again when the second wave kicked in and it is getting tough to find our feet now!” she says.

But despite that this market has immense potential, asserts Rajgarhia.

VR gaming has a vast scope here

VR gaming has come a long way in the last decade. It’s a market which grew at ~25 per cent to US$ 12 billion in 2019 alone and is expected to grow at ~30 per cent from 2020 to 2027, globally. Asia Pacific dominates the global VR gaming market with a 40 per cent share of the global revenue generated from it and is expected to do so for the next 5-7 years.

“Within this region, South Korea and India are expected to witness remarkable demand for VR games. Which is driven further by the higher disposable incomes of these countries and the technological advancements in the gaming and entertainment industry,” she says, emphasising that India is a perfect market for VR gaming.

According to her millennials and Gen-Z are driven by the YOLO culture and are thereby more attracted to such premium experiences (VR arcades) vs just products (VR headsets).

“They are keen to enjoy heart pounding, lifelike experiences in a simulated setup along with their friends and feel the adrenaline rush vs play alone on devices or VR headsets at home. Hence, VR experiences and arcades which fill in the gap are witnessing great popularity in the metro cities, and it is only a matter of time before penetration across the country will lead to their robust growth,”

avers Rajgarhia.

5G to make gaming more seamless

One of the most used jargons of the VR gaming industry is latency. If latency is high, it causes a time lag. This delay means that your brain cannot process the virtual world and it can make you sick. Thus, having low latency is crucial while experiencing VR.

Generally, an acceptable latency is anywhere around 40 – 60 milliseconds (ms) or lower. But for gaming it needs to be much lower, Rajgarhia tells us. “For any non-VR games, we need minimum 50 ms latency to enjoy it. While for a VR experience, if latency is higher than 20 ms then the player can experience nausea. Hence, connectivity and speed are crucial for any VR experience,” she further explains.

With the advent of 5G, this issue will be resolved. Internet connections will become almost 100 times faster, which in turn will beget lower latencies.

“5G technology promises much faster data upload and download speeds, wider coverage and more stable connections. It will take the whole gaming world to new heights ensuring a lag-free and seamless gaming experience. Hence, with 5G ensuring sub-5 and sub-2 ms latency, one can only imagine how incredible the VR experiences will be, thereby rendering more immersive experiences than ever before,” she comments.

The time is right for VR gaming

“I do believe that VR gaming will be the highest growth driver for the gaming industry in the years to come but the factors that restrict the adoption of VR in gaming currently in India are the cost and the absence of social experience!” says Rajgarhia.

Adding to that is the intense competition among the players (HTC, Facebook, Google, Sony) in the VR gaming market to provide cost effective VR headsets and penetrate the market to increase the consumer base.

If the Indian market overcomes the drawbacks of traditional VR which restricts the VR experience to a stationary, isolating and expensive affair, then there are plenty of opportunities.

Rajgarhia says that free roam VR arcades are serving to act like app stores where they provide the hardware, technology and games from different developers under various genres at affordable prices. Consumers, especially Gen-Z, who like to enjoy active and immersive experiences with their friends & families will prefer coming to gaming zones rather than using a VR headset at home.

Recently Ubisoft, one of the largest developers has launched the VR version of its popular game ‘Far Cry’ in partnership with Zero Latency. Rajgarhia is positive that people will prefer to come and play and experience this popular game at the arcade at a nominal price, rather than investing a hefty sum for an in-house VR headset, which is expensive.

“It takes you to a different world. VR experiences and arcades are getting popular in the metro cities, and it is only a matter of time before they penetrate across the country, which will aid in their robust growth. I believe free-roam VR experiences will become a leader in this segment. Further, with age and gender not being a bar anymore to enjoy such experiences, we believe that there is a huge opportunity that lies ahead for the VR gaming companies!” she asserts.

A career in gaming is an option now

If you search Google for jobs in VR gaming, you will find a plethora of options. This indicates that as the industry grows, the VR gaming arena is becoming a viable career option for young Indians.

It’s basic economics that demand generates supply, says Rajgarhia.

“VR is witnessing exceptional growth and returns, so the workforce and entrepreneurs will automatically be driven towards it. Something similar is happening in the gaming industry,” she says.

There is a plethora of career options both for direct and indirect employment in this sector. Direct gaming careers could be that of a gamer, a developer or a streamer while the indirect options would involve roles in the related industries like telecom, marketing, finance etc which will need more and more people as the entire VR gaming segment expands its footprint.

“Being in this industry for almost two years, I have seen the employment demand surging. Also, people are taking gaming seriously. The younger generation is considering career options here and women are competing at par with men in the gaming and VR industry, thereby breaking the notion that it’s a man’s world,” Rajgarhia adds.

It’s been almost two years for Rajgarhia in the VR gaming industry. When she began in this field, she was met with a lot of quizzical looks. “As a newbie and especially as a woman, there were eyebrows raised towards me. But I stayed put and my biggest learning was that – women in gaming are inherently given the tag of an ‘outsider’, but instead of being disheartened, just believe that YOU are the ‘GAME’ changer!” she asserts.

Zero Latency navigating ahead

Rajgarhia has many plans in the pipeline, as Zero Latency looks towards expanding its footprint in India.

“With the promising start and the love that we have received from our customers in Mumbai, we plan to take Zero Latency across the country in the due course of time. We are already about to launch the second one before this year ends!” she tells us.

She also informs us that the Mumbai arcade was a kickstart, and now they intend to work in phases to bring their expansion plans to fruition. In the first phase they will be targeting the metro cities, by opening at least three or four more VR gaming centres in them by next year. Then they will focus on entering the tier 2 cities from the year after that.