LONDONDERRY — Earlier this month, a company offering virtual reality entertainment quietly opened in a small retail space at 1 Action Boulevard Unit 3 in Londonderry, near Auto Auction of New England.
Action VR was started by Jennifer Dunne, 39, and her husband Joe Dunne, 41. It offers 13 virtual reality gaming stations in a total of 4,000 square feet between two floors. The upstairs will be used primarily for overflow and birthday parties.
Each station is equipped with state-of-the-art HTC Vive headsets and controls, along with a flat-screen TV for others to watch the in-game activity from outside.
The company offers a library of over 100 games and access to 300 games through Springboard VR, a central clearinghouse of virtual reality games. Joe Dunne said Springboard charges a flat rate of $25 per month for access to the system, and any additional charges for games that cost extra.
Customers only pay a set rate based on time spent playing. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, it costs $10 for 20 minutes of play, $18 for 40 minutes and $25 for an hour. On all other days, it’s $8 for 10 minutes, $15 for 40 minutes and $20 for an hour.
“We really tried to keep our prices as affordable as we could,” Joe Dunne said.
While some games are free to use, like Google Earth, others like the zombie shooter “Arizona Sunshine” costs the business owners 10 cents per minute.
The partnership with Springboard also handles all the licensing for individual games and there are arcade owner forums for troubleshooting technical issues.
So far, Joe Dunne said issues such as software updates have caused games to temporarily stop working, and sunlight has disrupted some of the wall-mounted sensors, but they’ve found a way to deal with those issues as they cropped up.
“So, it’s been a learning process,” Jennifer Dunne said.
Some of the games are haunted house experiences or job simulators. Others are shooters or boxing games. Many games are single player and some are multi-player. Joe Dunne describes a popular game called “Beat Saber” as a cross between Guitar Hero and Star Wars.
Jennifer Dunne said they spent about $20,000 of their own money to renovate the space, and about $40,000 to $50,000 for the VR equipment. They invested in some additional headset attachments, including wireless assembly, headphones, leather cushions and protective jacket.
Oculus Rift is the main competitor to the HTC Vive. Jennifer Dunne said they opted to go with HTC after learning that 95 percent of the VR arcades in the country use HTC. She said there are about 300 locations like Action VR in the country.
Other VR businesses, like MindTrek VR in Woburn, Mass., use a laser tag model rather than an arcade model. Jennifer Dunne said places like that can cost about $60 for less than an hour of play time.
She said she originally wanted to create a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab business that included booths with different activities like Lego creations and other educationally oriented tasks. Virtual reality was going to be one part of that, but then she found it had the greatest business potential.
“Virtual reality had the most viability,” she said.
The Dunnes will host a grand opening on Saturday, March 9, which will include weekday pricing, light refreshments and free demonstrations. Attendees on March 9 and 10 will be able to enter to win Red Sox vs. Yankees tickets and gift cards for play time.